Patricia E. Clawson
John Shaw, the general secretary for the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, recalls how he inadvertently learned to evangelize. His boss kept asking him questions about the Bible and his faith. He simply answered, never realizing that he was sharing the gospel—until he was called into the office of his boss, who excitedly described his conversion. Then John understood what normal evangelism is: just talking about your Savior when the opportunity arises.
Eric Watkins is today the pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine, Florida. But when he was twenty-one, he was a deadhead hippie skeptic—and then transformed into a Christian who yearned to tell others about Jesus. Newly converted, Eric often showed up at a rural Baptist church with a car full of deadhead hippies! Although he made mistakes, Eric found that his evangelistic efforts were worthwhile when God worked faith in other people’s hearts. Thankfulness for those whom God used to share the gospel with him helped prompt his evangelistic zeal, especially for millennials. His earlier questions as a skeptic spurred him to work on five academic degrees as he wrestled with ways to defend the faith. His Ph.D. dissertation focused on preaching Christ from the Old Testament in a postmodern world.
Both Shaw and Watkins have spent much of their ministry as OP pastors on the front lines planting churches. Reformed Evangelism, a new course offered this summer by the Ministerial Training Institute of the OPC, emerged from their experiences, their Reformed theology, and their belief that the preaching of the Word in church is the ordinary means that God uses to evangelize. This MTIOPC class weds their zeal for evangelism with an emphasis on the regular ministry of the Word and prayer, and a call to love our neighbors in word, deed, and prayer.
This course is aimed at filling a gap in the training of pastors and elders. While most are schooled in the theology of evangelism, they often have not been instructed in the practice of it. “Our goal is to consider how the faithful ministry of the church (word, sacrament, and prayer) is necessarily evangelistic,” says Shaw.
Shaw’s own evangelistic ministry follows the pattern that the Lord sometimes uses: using normal conversations to save people. Shaw encourages being a friendly, quick, and willing listener, and being a clear and gentle speaker when the opportunity arises. “Conversations often come from the overflow of loving our neighbor,” he says.
The course will “consider how an evangelistic focus informs their preaching, teaching, praying, leadership, discipleship, and house-to-house ministry,” explains Shaw. They will not only discuss what it means to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4: 5), but also consider the next step: how the session should lead, train, and equip the congregation to do their part in the evangelistic ministry of the local church.
Evangelism programs or event-driven evangelism will also be reviewed, with a goal of enabling the students to separate the wheat from the chaff.
This course is intended to be distinctive in several ways, according to Watkins. The class will be taught from an unapologetically Reformed orientation and present a high view of the church and the ordinary means of grace. Offering the perspective of pastoring and church planting in the OPC, both instructors have the goal of strengthening the work of evangelism within our denomination. “Our real goal is to equip servants in the OPC not only to be better at evangelism, but to strengthen the role of evangelism in our churches,” says Watkins.
OP pastors, seminarians or graduates who are licensed to preach or are under care of a presbytery, and elders may take this class.
Many pastors’ evangelistic ministry may be similar to their prayer ministry. They know they should do it, Shaw explains, but are ashamed of how little time or attention they give to it. “This class provides a good opportunity for experienced ministers and elders to recharge in the area of evangelism,” says Shaw, who wrote a booklet on Evangelism in the Local Church, which is available on the OPC website. Pastors will likely come away with practical ideas that they can implement in their churches, says Watkins.
Although every minister is called to “do the work of an evangelist,” many don’t carry out this task with energy and effectiveness. “This is a great opportunity to improve in our role as evangelists, and even to build accountability relationships where we can encourage each other to do the work of an evangelist and celebrate the plentiful harvest the Lord might gather through our congregations,” Shaw explains.
Seminarians are engaged in the intellectual challenge of ministry preparation, but many lose sight of the practical ministry that flows from their theology. “The typical evangelism class in seminary focuses on the why of evangelism (the theology), but there is usually little emphasis on the how,” Shaw says. This course seeks to keep students from feeling paralyzed in the practice of evangelism by putting their theology into practice.
The class will first consider evangelism from a Reformed perspective by looking at what the Bible says, what church history reveals, and what OPC history shows. They will also evaluate various evangelistic tools. The highlight will be hitting the streets of Columbus, Ohio, sharing the gospel with residents of the community.
“Our hope is that we might all be willing to be stretched beyond our comfort zone for the sake of Christ,” says Watkins. “By doing evangelism together and then reflecting on it, we should be able to take some ideas back to our churches and consider, alongside our pastors and elders, how we can do the work of evangelism better together.”
“Years from now, we look forward to hearing the stories of how God has been pleased to use our frail gifts to honor his name through the spread of the gospel,” says Watkins. “My prayer is that students will come away with a greater love for Christ and his church, and that a renewed zeal for evangelism will flow from that love.”
Reformed Evangelism joins a slate of summer MTIOPC classes: A Hebrew Refresher, A Greek Refresher, and OPC History. The registration deadline is May 30, 2017. Online classes begin on June 7, 2017. The Intensive Training session will be held August 15–17 at Grace Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio. Applications and more information are available at www.opc.org/cce/MTI.html.