Evangelism by J. Mack Stiles

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I had been looking forward to reading this book for awhile.  I honestly don’t know why I waited so long!  It’s a very quick read.  My husband and I actually read it out loud to each other together over a few evenings.

Stiles defines evangelism as ‘teaching the Gospel with the aim to persuade”.

Stiles’ main focus in the book is the importance of building a culture of evangelism within the church.  This will not happen primarily through evangelism programs that are sponsored by the church (an excellent point).  Stiles intimates that church leaders long for a culture of evangelism in their own churches.  My question is:  are church leaders willing to do what it takes to achieve this?  Even if it means cutting long standing programs or reducing the amount of formal meetings on the church schedule?  Are they ready and willing to release their people for the work of the ministry outside the brick and mortar church building?

What is a culture of evangelism you might ask?  The characteristics of a culture of evangelism are, according to the author:

  1. A Culture Motivated by Love for Jesus and His Gospel
  2. A Culture That is Confident in the Gospel
  3. A Culture That Understands the Danger of Entertainment
  4. A Culture That Sees People Clearly
  5. A Culture That Pulls Together as One
  6. A Culture in Which People Teach One Another
  7. A Culture That Models Evangelism
  8. A Culture in Which People Who Are Sharing Their Faith Are Celebrated
  9. A Culture That Knows How to Affirm and Celebrate New Life
  10. A Culture Doing Ministry That Feels Risky and is Dangerous
  11. A Culture That Understands That the Church is the Chosen and Best Method of Evangelism

While there’s a lot to like in this book, there is one rather glaring point that is missing and I would argue that it is a serious oversight.   Stiles’  writing came across as if he was blaming the average church member for the programmatic culture of evangelism that is the current norm in most churches.  There is no mention (that I noticed) of how pastors and other church leaders contribute to and perpetuate this problem.  The author says “a culture of evangelism is grassroots, not top-down.”  I strongly disagree.  Leaders must model and disciple their people in evangelism in order to grow a culture of evangelism.  What leadership celebrates and models, the church will become.

An area where this oversight stuck out for me was Stiles’ point that many Christians are isolated from non-Christians.  One reason he gives for this is that we can become too busy with ‘ministry’.  This is another area that I see as, in part, a failure of church leadership.  Many churches have a packed schedule of formal gatherings throughout the week.  What if we freed up our church schedules allowing members more time to pursue friendships and activities with unbelievers?  Does the leadership make it clear to their people that every believer is a minister and that ministry does indeed happen outside the walls of the church building?

Until church members AND church leaders recognize their own contributions to the problem of lack of evangelism in church culture, we can not move forward with solutions.  Every believer needs to take responsibility, repent where needed and seek to move toward obedience in evangelism by faith, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

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