What Exactly is Evangelism and is that Even the Proper Name for It? A Response to the Recent Steadfast Quarterly, by Pr. Dean Kavouras

(Editor’s Note: We received this note this week and it is further proof that this recent edition of the Steadfast Quarterly is upholding the high standard of this periodical set by its first three issues. To receieve the Quarterly select the “Join Now” button above and for annual dues of $25 you will become a Brother of John the Steadfast and receive this full color periodical once a quarter. To view past issues click here.)

Reading the Steadfast Quarterly (Easter/Pentecost 2009) got me thinking about the missions.

I don’t like the word ‘evangelism’ much because to me it connotes people on the lookout for other people whom they can ‘witness to,’ weekend seminars, and other similar ideas. (I don’t care for the word “witness” when used in this context, but am even less enamored with the word “share” as in “share the gospel with others.”)

Personally I don’t think the LCMS leadership (those who promote and defend CW and Church Growth) is interested in saving souls, but in changing the LCMS into an American Evangelical body, in order to suit its misinformed sensibilities as to what the Church is and isn’t, does and doesn’t do. The evidence for this is that it promotes CG and CW which are a combination of fluff and legalism, neither of which can forgive sins or give sinners a hearty faith in Christ, or confidence in trial or on the day of judgment. This being the case, I consider refuting their methods to be shadow-boxing.

But that aside, what they propose doesn’t work. They burden consciences with the “need to evangelize.” But the laity is neither called, nor qualified to do such a thing, nor are they quickly or easily trainable. What they’re being asked to do IS rocket science, theologically speaking.

Nor does our leadership ever tell a person how to do it. There’s talk of door knocking, sandwich making, igniter events, and literature left on door knobs etc, but it’s all inchoate. Anecdotally speaking, every time I’ve told a group of Lutherans that it’s not their job to be “evangelists,” I’ve gotten an audible sigh of relief. The latest word I glean from CG/CW adherents is that evangelism is best carried out by starting new congregations using the “coffee house,” golf-shirted-pastor model. They pin their hopes on this to win the world, but to what I’m not sure.

So how is mission work done today, in the 21st century of the Christian Church? It’s done primarily through established congregations (and establishing new ones) that faithfully preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments, and do so in their natural setting which is the Mass/Divine Liturgy. The Gospel and Sacraments don’t come naked, or without a context. We must not deny the history or mystery of Christ’s Church.

That’s the macro method, but for the record let me give some examples of the micro method. First we note that every person who is in the church was at one time an unbeliever. Most were evangelized through infant baptism. They were then taught, absolved and fed over a period of decades. This counts, though CG/CW adherents don’t seem to think that it does as far as I can tell.

Besides this, on the micro level, there are numerous other outreaches, large and small that occur. Members bring friends and relatives. Young ladies and men bring fiancés. Children bring their friends to SS. VBS and Lutheran Day Schools (more so in the past than now I think) were responsible for leading many out of the: power of darkness, and bringing them into the Kingdom of His own dear Son. (Col. 1:13) Besides this, every pastor has numerous contacts in his ministry from inquirers, troubled people who are referred to him by members and others, people he meets in nursing homes and hospitals, people who stop the collared-man on the street or in a restaurant to talk. If we were to list the contacts of other pastors (and I’d love to hear some of them) we’d find some amazing stories and possibly understand that the Spirit is at work even when we might think He’s not. These contacts may lead to further instruction or membership, or they may not. But the Word has been planted or watered (1 Cor 3:6) and that’s the extent of the Church’s Call. The results are up to the Spirit. When you add up all these “micro” contacts, you get an impressive record of the Holy Spirit creating faith in men when and where He will.

Is there a place for formal, intentional, large scale mission work? Yes, whenever and wherever God provides the qualified people and resources. Otherwise, the methods stated above obtain.

Rev. Fr. Dean Kavouras, Pastor
Christ Lutheran Church – Cleveland

For an interesting bio on Pastor Kavouras from the Fort Wayne seminary click here.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Comments

What Exactly is Evangelism and is that Even the Proper Name for It? A Response to the Recent Steadfast Quarterly, by Pr. Dean Kavouras — 25 Comments

  1. Dean,

    You have put in writing many things I have discerned over the years of observing the Church Growth emphasis on personal evangelism.

    I frequently challenge my members to find a single passage in the New Testament that promotes personal evangelism. So far they have only been able to come up with one – one of the verses of Jude, I forget which one.

    Another observation is that when you do a word search on “evangelism,” or “Gospel” and the like, it is striking that these words are connected in the New Testament with the work of the pastor.

    One final observation, based on the way the CG folks speak of this new found found emphasis on personal evangelism one wonders how in the world the church has survived for 2,000 years without it. Your commentary answers that question. Even more astounding is the fact that the organized church has actually shrunk during this generation of personal evangelism.

    TR

  2. Pastor Rossow –
    Oh that I could have the joy of being in your Bible class. I would respond with Matthew 5:16 and 1 Peter 3:15.

    The light we reflect to the world is not from us but is given to us (and for us) as a gift from God in our Baptism. This Christian light testifies to the glory of our Father and the joy we experience due to the saving work of His Son, Jesus Christ, at the cross. The world does not know or understand this joy – they only can see how each and every christian is compelled to act toward them with mercy and forgiveness. We even pray to our Father on their behalf since they have no access to God due to the hardness of their heart.

    By this christian witness, when they (the world) inquire as to the hope we express, then Peter tells us our apology (defense) is Christ the Lord and his atoning work for us. (Many would add John 3:16 at this point – I prefer 1 John 4:10 so I may labor over “propitiation”; tends to focus on Christ’s work accomplished on the Cross.)

    Christians need to be catechised that our daily lives are a reflection of our Lord; it is His light which we relect and this is most certainly good news – the evangel. I will not surrender the evangelical nature of Christianity to modern interpretations or any other satanic tricks which seek to rob us of our testimony. Our holiness comes from Christ and this treasure should be shown and confessed to the world by each and every Christian each and every day.

  3. Dennis,

    We don’t allow “peskey” sorts in our Bible classes. 🙂

    Good to hear from you Dennis. I am not saying that folks ought to not talk about Jesus. I am merely saying that there is no Biblical mandate for it particularly as we hear it in the church today.

    Notice that Peter does not say go and tell people about Jesus. Instead he is consistent with what he says in the second chapter – be priests, i.e. do good works and if someone asks you why you turn the other cheek, tell them about the love Jesus has for you on the cross.

    The same is true of Matthew 5. Do good works and let people see how much God has loved you then, as Pastor Kavouras teaches, bring them to church and let them hear the word preached and receive the sacraments.

    Does that make sense?

    TR

  4. I personally I don’t think the LCMS leadership (those who promote and defend CW and Church Growth) is interested in saving souls…

    =====

    Oh. Well. That’s nice.

    This certainly is proof of the high standard that the Steadfast Quarterly is setting.

  5. Mark #4

    Maybe a better way to word it is that LCMS Inc isn’t intersted in saving souls as taught in the Bible and the Lutheran confessions (Law & Gospel), but rather as taught and promoted by Church Growth (CG) and Contemporary Worship (CW) methods and programs (Law – Gospel – Law).

  6. In response to #2 from Dennis . . .
    Although most of my adult life has been spent working in and around Lutheran churches & schools, I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to also work in “secular” jobs. It has definitely been my experience that the most natural and easy form of witnessing comes when someone approaches you and says things like “How can you be so happy/content/peaceful/etc…?” And that is when we can then joyfully and confidently speak of the hope that is within us, Jesus, the Christ! It needs no program, no organization, no “counting noses” . . . we live our lives in response to what God has done and continues to do in us through His Word & Sacraments. Thanks be to God!

  7. Adding to what Jim said in #5…

    I believe what Pastor Kevouras is saying is that when one puts evangelism before pure doctrine then one is really not interested in saving souls as our Lord would have it done but is interested in saving souls even if it means watering down the Gospel, which of course is no Gospel at all.

    Please read it in context Mark. We can all make each other say silly things when we take things out of context.

    TR

  8. Rev. Kavouras writes, “But that aside, what they propose doesn’t work. They burden consciences with the “need to evangelize.” But the laity is neither called, nor qualified to do such a thing, nor are they quickly or easily trainable. What they’re being asked to do IS rocket science, theologically speaking.”

    This is most certainly true. Evangelizing, or preaching the Gospel, is no easy task. Untrained evangelists do not know how to properly distinguish law and gospel. When they confuse these they endanger the very souls they seek to help. Yet, many in the LCMS have come to the false belief that anyone can be an evangelist or minister similar to an ordained pastor. As a result we have begun to develop a ministry for everything. You can be an outreach minister, a visitation minister, a small group minister, etc. We have laymen preaching sermons, leading in worship services, and administering the sacraments. Some pastors are handing more and more of their work over to the laity and becoming administrators instead of ministers. Some seem to have the attitude that it is easy to be a pastor and so it should be easier to become a pastor. I am guessing that most pastors would tend to disagree.

  9. “I don’t care for the word “witness” when used in this context…”

    Maybe it would be better off if people understood the word as related to how it developed in the early church – martyrdom.

    Plus, witnesses are called to speak; they don’t just stand up and shout from the gallery.

  10. Passing Commenter,

    Can you help us out and point us to the differences and/or similarities between Barry and this article?

    TR

  11. The fact that #4 Mark Louderback is fond of saying “We won. You can leave.” to life Lutherans proves he doesn’t care much about their souls, at least.
    I’ve heard the same thing from other CG/CW types, and I left (over open communion). Nobody asked where I would go, either.

    If I had remained “unchurched” you might think I’d be a candidate for their “evangelism”… Not so: I’m baptized; by their lights they need have no further concern for me.

  12. If you sit in an office big enough to practice your putting (and with a back door so that no one knows whether you haven’t in fact gone to the golf course) it’s easy to be a CEO (I won’t dignify it with Pastor).
    Somebody else has to do the Seelsorger stuff.
    You are too important for all that.

  13. What I experienced in 13 years of neo-evangelicalism was that the Lord isn’t happy with you unless you’re cornering your co-workers in the break room with “The Four Spiritual Laws.” Of course, to make Jesus –really– happy, you’d give up your “secular work” (because that job doesn’t matter to Him anyway) and become a full-time missionary. While that certainly is an abuse of the doctrine of calling and vocation (perhaps a lack of understanding of vocation is at the root of this problem), Christians can indeed give a reason for the hope that lies within them as the Lord gives opportunity. How? Perhaps they could invite their friends, coworkers and neighbors to Divine Service or to weeknight Vespers/Bible study; or perhaps when discussions of spiritual or ethical issues come up, one could weigh in (this assumes proper catechesis). The days when it was assumed that all “decent people” would automatically go to a church seem to be long gone– the pagans are our neighbors and they’re not necessarily just wandering in the doors.

    Incidentally, with the discussion about contemporary worship (it always seems to be at the heart of it, yes?), we’re getting a number of visitors and young families at church because they are tired of praise bands and are looking for something with history, stability, the Word and true relevance. It’s funny that out here in SoCal we’ve a generation that’s grown up with praise bands their whole life; now that they’re on their own, they see contemporary worship as “old-fashioned” and campy, something to be categorized with the harvest gold appliances and orange shag carpet.

  14. I would have to say that the article makes sense to me. I work in an office and I do not use offensive language and I do not swear. It did not take long for people to notice this and so when I am in the lunchroom eating lunch the conversations suddenly become devoid of “spicy” adjectives and expletive deleted type words.

    Some people that I work with have asked me why I don’t use those type of words and I, just like Scripture instructs, am ready with my answer. Which is usually followed with the question “How often do you attend church?” My “every Sunday” answer gets a look of surprise and shock.

    When asked on Monday morning – “How was your weekend?” I am straight forward and if I attended a congregational program will say that’s where I was and tell what happened. Just yesterday I invited a colleague to attend Divine Service on Aug 2 with me as my son will be conducting the service – he is in seminary – they are considering the invitation. Is this not what we are to do? I don’t find it hard at all.

    ***“How often do you attend church?” My “every Sunday” answer gets a look of surprise and shock.*** Unfortunately, I have gotten this same reaction from members of my own congregation. Apparently it is asking too much of members to commit to a 12 Sundays in a row Sunday school teaching schedule. (Shaking my head in disbelieve)

  15. Pr. Rossow – Wow, went and played a little golf before it rained and I get buried in the response count. I guess I should first apologize for my first comment which sidestepped Pr. Kavouras’ original post. The LC-MS’ current emphasis on the “need to evangelize” I find, at best, misdirected, and at worst, counterproductive.

    I’ve yet to understand how one can “evangelize” without speaking the “evangel – the Gospel.” Certainly, I concur the best place to find Christ and His Gospel is where he promises to be – in His Church speaking through his servants, our Pastors. To this point, I struggle with the modern interpretations which fail to properly divide Ephesians 4:12 to wit, I read it is the calling of the Pastors and teachers to “equip the saints” (then I put down my ESV and pickup my KJV) “comma, for the work of the ministry, …”.

    My error was to place emphasis on your “promotes personel evangelism” which I took as the reality of every Christian in their vocation. When the wording changes to a “Biblical mandate”, this is given only to those properly called and ordained. My emphasis is for all Christians to realize we speak God’s Word in all we do – this is what the world can see. But only Christians can learn to see with their ears (as Dr. John Kleinig explains so well in “Grace upon Grace”). We “see” Christ in our lives through His Word delivered to us and for us by our Pastor in the Divine Service. It is by hearing the good news that we learn to see all that our God has and is doing for us.

    This is the primary failing (which Pr. Kavouras laments) of the CG/CW adherents. The light we reflect to the world, the hope which indwells in us, the holiness we have is all a gift from God, a measure of Christ’s gift to his Church given in His Church through Word and Sacrament. I’ve yet to see (or hear) this in any “evangelical” setting which troubles my heart. Why our Synod chooses this way deeply disturbs my soul for I see neither Christ, the Cross nor any forgiveness or mercy. For this, I pray for a intercession of the Holy Spirit to overcome such satanic influences.

  16. Several years ago I gave two very long and boring talks at a retreat for pastors of a certain district, and my series was called something like “Evangelism or Evangel?” I meandered through the evolution of euaggelion from classical Greek through the New Testament and the Early Church. In the second talk, I hammered the Willow Creekification of the LCMS and threw in some Walter Ong and Kenneth Korby. The timing was awful and fun and sad. I was immediately followed by the DP, who unbeknownst to me was to report on his wonderful time with his staff at a Willow Creek Learning Experience. Awkward.

    Here’s something from the first talk (“The Word Does It All”), on the origin of the word “evangelism.” (It first appeared in English in 1626, in Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis):

    “The word euaggelismos did, in fact, appear in Greek long before The New Atlantis. In its original usage, it was not an ism in the modern sense. Sometime shortly after the Council of Ephesus, in 431, the year after St. Augustine died, the churches of Asia Minor began celebrating a new feast of Christ on December 26. The council had proclaimed the Blessed Virgin Mary Theotokos, God-bearer, in sharp response to Nestorianism. This feast would celebrate the mysterious and miraculous maternity, which we call the Annunciation. Its name, as the Greeks still call it, was Euaggelismos.

    “For there, in the presence of the Archangel Gabriel, by the power of the Holy Ghost, a Babe was conceived through the ear. The Word became flesh by the power of the Word. The angel gospeled her. This, then, was the first evangelism, as the New Creation was spoken through her ear and into her womb.”

  17. What is “evangelism” anyway? It’s simply “good-newsing” isn’t it? Not just to those outside the church, but to those within the Body of Christ. When the Gospel is treated as a “given”, and our people are clubbed with a truncated version of the Great Commission, (effectively ignoring the “teaching them to cling…” part), it ain’t the Gospel and it produces guilt. All our members–adults, youth, children need to be evangelized–every Sunday, and all the time. That’s why we come to church. Do our laity and pastors understand vocation? Do we understand that we are masks of God, and that He works thru our vocation? Back to the issue: Too often, the evangel has been forgotten.

    I’m sure the hierarchy wants to save souls, but it thinks that sociology, not the Means of Grace, is the way to do this. 35 years of Church Growth leaven has had a baneful effect on our Synod–the whole loaf–from Purple Palace to purpose-filled pastor to pewsitter.

    Enough, already!

  18. > I’m sure the hierarchy wants to save souls, but it thinks that sociology, not the Means of Grace, is the way to do this. 35 years of Church Growth leaven has had a baneful effect on our Synod–the whole loaf–from Purple Palace to purpose-filled pastor to pewsitter. <

    Spot on, Johannes!

    A seelsorger is not one who saves souls–that’s the vocation of the Yeshua. A seelsorger, is the one who cares for the souls our Lord has already saved on Calvary and at the font. When we bring the soul to the font or the good news to the soul, that is nothing else than approaching the already saved with the good news that it is so.

    Enough with this business of saving souls, already.

    It is finished, and their names are written in the book of life no matter what we do or don’t do.

    Thank God for that!

  19. Rev. Hering–you are, of course, correct about saving souls. It’s easy to forget that it’s the Holy Spirit who gives the growth. We get caught up in the language of evangelicalism and church growth, and lose sight of what the Church and Holy Ministry are all about. And what God is about–it is He who saves souls. Once again–it’s not about US.

    Thanks for the needed corrective.

  20. Helen,

    I beg your pardon.

    I have *never* said what you have me saying. And nor is that what I personally believe.

    You should be more careful before putting words in other people’s mouths.

    I will accept your apology.

  21. Tim Rossow, Jim Claybourn:

    I’m all about reading in context. But saying that people who support Contemporary Worship are not *really* interested in saving souls seems to be just as much of a misreading of context.

    I’m sorry: if you want to disagree with Contemporary worship and church growth that is fine. If you would like to point out instances of positions that are bad theology, go for it.

    But if you highlight an article where the pastor judges others to not be honestly interested in the salvation of others…then you should expect a little highlighting of these unfortunate statements.

  22. The most humorous thing about the article is the responses to it. Because we see a contradiction with what is written and the life of the Lutheran.

    So, Pr Kavouras says:

    But that aside, what they propose doesn’t work. They burden consciences with the “need to evangelize.” But the laity is neither called, nor qualified to do such a thing, nor are they quickly or easily trainable. What they’re being asked to do IS rocket science, theologically speaking.

    And then Marcy #15 gives a wonderful witness to what lay evangelism looks like. She sees that her action, her behavior, in her work place is not simply done solely to the glory of God–it touches others and acts as a witness to others.

    Doesn’t exactly seem like Rocket Science then does it?

  23. To #23

    “Besides this, on the micro level, there are numerous other outreaches, large and small that occur. Members bring friends and relatives. Young ladies and men bring fiancés. Children bring their friends to SS. VBS and Lutheran Day Schools (more so in the past than now I think) were responsible for leading many out of the: power of darkness, and bringing them into the Kingdom of His own dear Son. (Col. 1:13)”

    I think Pr. Kavouras covered that here.

  24. Anonymous,

    I know! So, it really does beg the question: is evangelism rocket science or is it not?

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