"Evangelism and Home Missions: Mentality and Methodology"
EVANGELISM AND HOME MISSIONS:
MENTALITY AND METHODOLOGY
Gordon Thomas Walker
As an old Scottish preacher once said, "Before I begin to speak I have a few things to say." Before I address the subject at hand, I wish to express my deepest thanks for two things: First for the invitation to give this lecture. It is very encouraging and gratifying to be invited to speak to such a distinguished group as my church is yet in the process of becoming canonically Orthodox.
Second, thanks to all of you who have prayed for us and helped us in our journey to Orthodoxy. Without the support of the faculty of this school and so many of you Bishops, Pastors and Laity, we could never have successfully completed that journey. May God bless you for your encouragement and help.
The Issue Is Evangelization
The issue before us is not proselytization but evangelization! However, it must be admitted that the Orthodox have lost large numbers to proselytization by all sorts of sects and denominations. In that respect they owe us a great many! But to evangelize is to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. And there are multitudes in our nation who have little if any idea of the Orthodox understanding of that message. Furthermore there are many Orthodox who are only nominal Christians and need to be it “evangelized” for their own faith.
Evangelism and missions requires many things of the Church but two of the most important requirements are the Proper Mentality and an Adequate Methodology. Without these there will be no consistent evangelization. By the "proper mentality," I am speaking primarily of the necessary attitudes essential to doing evangelism and missions.
The Proper Vision Is Needed
First, we must adopt the proper vision for evangelization. We must accept our Lord's command to proclaim the Gospel to "every creature." As He declared in Mark 16:14-18,
Afterward He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Our Lord has given us the unending command to fulfill the Great Commission in each succeeding generation. The words of that Great Commission have challenged the Church for 2000 years:
Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen. (Mt 28:18-20)
We must accept the challenge of this command for our generation. No matter how overwhelming this vision might be, we must own it for ourselves! And within the command itself is the grace to fulfill it, for He has said, "Behold I am with you always..."
We Must Give Up The "Siege Mentality"
Let me humbly say, the Orthodox Church in this country must give up its "siege mentality" and go on the offensive! Certainly there is plenty of reason for having a "siege mentality". With over 50 million martyrs in the 20th century alone there is good reason to feel that way. For those who question my statement, the World Christian Encyclopedia published in 1982 by Oxford University Press reports that the Stalin regime slaughtered over 60 million people in Russia and the Ukraine with a minimum of 30 million of those being Orthodox Christians. An additional 66 million were incarcerated in labor camps with a minimum of 30-35 million being Orthodox Christians. Without doubt one of Stalin's objectives was to break the back of the Orthodox Church in Russia. The devil must see the Orthodox Church as a great threat to have gone to such extreme measures to destroy it.
And in Turkey (as well as in other Islamic nations) more than 20 million Orthodox Christians have been murdered in this century. When seven Evangelical missionaries were martyred by the Auca Indians in the early 1950's it made headlines all over America. And certainly we should take note of those martyred for Christ. But we in the West have been strangely ignorant and silent about the mass slaughter of over 50 million Orthodox Christians in this century, not to mention the countless martyrs of the previous 19 centuries. Certainly no other body of Christians has ever suffered so. Thus, the Orthodox Church has rightly been called the "Church of the Martyrs".
Orthodoxy: America's Best Kept Secret
However, we must not let this fact force us to stay in the "siege mentality". That mentality may be necessary for survival in those countries where the Orthodox Church is still being persecuted so vigorously but, thank God, not in our country. No war is ever won by locking ourselves in our fortresses. And don't be mistaken, we are engaged in a massive unseen warfare and any effort to do evangelism and missions will evoke strong attack from our enemy the devil. To overcome these attacks along with our own natural inertia we must make a strong commitment to the vision of fulfilling The Great Commission in our generation. Otherwise Orthodoxy will go on being "America's best kept secret," as Peter Gillquist, the former presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Orthodox Church has declared.
This vision should cause us to see the needs of people around us. Our Lord Jesus Christ described them as being "sheep without a shepherd."
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Mt 9:35-39)
With such a vision we will begin first by doing what I mentioned at the beginning – evangelizing among the Orthodox themselves, calling them back to a vital and wholehearted participation in their church. Many of these sheep are broken and wounded and in need of the healing balm of Orthodox life. They especially need the medicine of immortality, the Holy Eucharist.
Expansion of the Eucharistic Renewal
We must pray for the continuation and expansion of the present Eucharistic renewal in the Orthodox Church. It is a cause for shame that still so few Orthodox Christians take the Eucharist every week. In the New Testament Church it appears this sacrament was received on a daily basis (Acts 2:46). When I and my fellow E.O.C. Bishops were in Istanbul in June of 1985, we attended the Patriarchial Church of St. George on Pentecost Sunday. We were astonished and frankly distressed to see only a tiny handful of lay people go up to receive the Holy Eucharist.
In addition to an increased participation in sacramental life, many of these broken sheep are in need of increased and personalized pastoral care. There is a need to pray and call for an increase in the number of deacons who have no intention of moving on into the priesthood but who will devote themselves to caring for the flock under the direction of the priest. Furthermore, an argument could be made for calling and training "bi-vocational" priests who earn their living at a "secular job" but who assist the senior priest in carrying out an adequate regimen of daily hours of prayer as well as pastoral care for the flock.
The Main Point: Vision
Back to our main point, we must have a proper vision if we are to implement and carry out a vigorous missions and evangelism program. And that vision requires us to see our people as our Lord saw them – as sheep needing nurture, care, instruction and discipline. If we do not gain this vision for evangelizing our flock for Orthodoxy, many of them will continue to be proselytized into cults and sects of all kinds as so many have already experienced.
Furthermore this vision obviously should extend beyond our Orthodox boundaries if it is to include "every creature" as Christ commanded. We must seek and gain a vision for the multitudes of nominal or non-Christian people who, if confronted with the claims of the true Faith in an attractive and compelling manner, would respond. They can be won to Christ and His Orthodox Church because the Holy Spirit has already prepared them. Many are hungry and seeking – but we must develop ways to find them.
Never Pre-judge Who May Be Interested
And we must not pre-judge those who are around us, assuming they wouldn't want to hear the Orthodox Gospel. Many of us are like the vacuum cleaner salesman who begins his sales presentation with, "You wouldn't like to buy my vacuum cleaner, would you?"
Back in my younger years when I was more bold than I am now in my approach to witnessing for Christ, I still would fall into the trap of assuming a certain person would not be interested, based on outward appearances. An example of this happened early one morning as I was flying home from a weekend college retreat on a commuter flight from Milwaukee to Chicago. A dapper young business man in a three-piece pin stripe suit with his shining new attache case and Wall Street Journal sat down beside me.
Having just come from a conference which emphasized one-on-one witnessing for Christ I felt obligated to share my witness with this man. But as I looked him over I judged that he was the successful worldly type who would have no interest in spiritual things. So as we flew along the struggle raged in my mind. "Should I speak to this man about Christ?" "No, he wouldn't be interested and would probably be turned off," came back the mental reply.
Finally as the plane was in its final approach to the runway I wound up my courage and blurted out, "Have you ever made the wonderful discovery of knowing Christ as your Savior and Lord?" To my astonishment his eyes began to fill with tears and he answered "No, but I need to." Then in those few moments we had in the landing and taxiing to the ramp I tried my best to share Christ with him while he poured out his confession of sins of the night before to me.
We were still intently discussing his need for forgiveness and a relationship with Christ as we walked up the jet way. He seemed oblivious to all the people around us in his eagerness to hear the message. And I was feeling exceedingly guilty for having wasted all the time while we were in flight. There have been several other similar experiences in my lifetime when I have pre-judged a person not to be interested in spiritual things only to find they were intently so. We must continually pray for a Christ-like vision, the ability to see the heart needs of those around us, and the courage and compassion to do our best in sharing our faith with them. Without vision the people perish (Proverbs 29:18 KJV). We will never do the work of missions and evangelism unless we have a vision for it. If we lack vision and its resulting motivation let's ask God for it.
Faith and Love are Essential to our Mission
In addition to vision we must seek to be filled with faith in order to do evangelism and missions. In Mark 16:14 Jesus rebuked unbelief and the resulting hardness of heart. If we are filled with unbelief we will never be used by God to evangelize. First, we must fully believe God loves all men, no matter what their background or racial origin. And that same Divine Love must fill our hearts as well. If we truly believe that God loves all people and if we allow His love to fill us, we will be willing to do the work necessary to share the Gospel with everyone.
Furthermore, we need to believe those outside of Christ are perishing that they have no hope for eternal life outside of Him and His Church. I am convinced that few of us really believe this. In our pluralistic society with its pluralistic mentality we must take care not to fall into the attitude that everybody is really OK as long as they are sincere.
Believe that People Can Be Changed
We also need to believe people can be transformed – changed into Christ's likeness. Sometimes the most perverse and sinful people are the most ready to give their life to Him. Even the hardest heart can be transformed by God's power. St. John Chrysostom was constantly affirming that anyone who is willing to let the Lord have His way in their lives could be saved. In essence as long as there is life there is hope.
As a young minister years ago, I had spoken several times with a man in our community who was not a Christian. He was a good man though an alcoholic. One day I had made an especially fervent appeal to him to give his life to Christ. Instead of answering me he simply turned and walked away. I later confided to my wife that I feared he had committed the “unpardonable sin” and that I never intended to speak to him again. Thankfully God didn't have the same opinion as I did as only six months later this man went to a family gathering where he knew some of the newly converted family members were studying the Bible together. That night he humbly repented of his sins and asked Christ into his life and the next Sunday presented himself to the Church for Baptism, much to my surprise. And though he had been addicted for years he never touched another drink of alcohol from that time until he died. God is able to transform lives even when we have given up on them. It is important for us to believe this and to keep trusting and praying for the salvation of those that we love.
Believe God Can Use You
Finally you need to believe that God can use you to bring others to Christ. Our tendency is to believe that only those who are especially gifted or trained can lead people to Christ. And it is true that the catechesis (instruction) of a convert to Christ should be done by the pastor or properly trained catechist. But the most important first steps of loving witness and appeal to the non-Christian can be done by anyone. In fact it is often the enthusiastic new convert who can have the most impact on a non-Christian.
Unbelief will prevent you from speaking out boldly for Christ. You will tend to believe that what you say may "turn off" the person with whom you are sharing your witness. And it is possible to do that if we exhibit an arrogant, superior or "know-it-all" attitude. But if you speak in love, faith and humility, it will have its effect on the person. Even if they reply harshly or appear to be hostile to you, they will never forget that someone spoke to them in love about their relationship with Christ. And perhaps some day that seed you planted will bear fruit. At the least if it was planted in faith the Lord will reward your faithfulness.
The Attitude of Humility is Essential
As already mentioned, we must eagerly and sincerely seek to gain humility of heart, which is an essential element of the mentality necessary for missions and evangelism. God hates pride and so does the world – especially if it is religious pride. Father Alexander Schmemann, of blessed memory, used to warn us often of the danger of triumphalism – that spirit of superiority instead of humility which resembles so closely the Phariseeism of Jesus' day. In the area I came from it isn't necessarily wise to make a big issue of the truthful claim that the Orthodox Church is the true church. This is also claimed by the Church of Christ, the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses and numerous others.
To be sure, people need to be taught the truth of the historic origins and continuity of the Orthodox Church. It has been a great comfort to me to learn that it is the Church founded by our Lord and His Apostles. And it has remained true to the Apostolic faith and practice. But this needs to be taught in great humility. After all, it is not through our merit but only by grace that we have received this understanding.
Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23). This requires that in humility I must die to my own self-aggrandizing programs, ambitions, desires, and prideful attitudes. For us who pastor churches we must be especially careful not to enter into an evangelism program with the competitive spirit of wanting the biggest church in town or in the diocese. We must ever remember that we evangelize because the love of God compels us to seek the lost sheep and bring them to Christ. We must go forth in humility to do this, not in arrogance or a self-seeking way.
Personal Commitment to Christ Is Essential
To be effective in missions and evangelism we must make and live out a life of personal commitment to Christ. As we pray often each week in the Divine Liturgy and Daily Hours, "Let us commit ourselves and each other and all our lives to Christ our God." A life of genuine heart commitment to Christ is winsome to others. Hypocrisy in this area is offensive to all. Again our Lord said:
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple...So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Lk 14:26,27,33)
This kind of commitment requires my obedience to Christ in witnessing to others. I must be careful not to be indolent or unconcerned about this vital matter. If I allow myself, I will find all manner of excuses not to go out and visit in homes or to speak to others beside me on the plane or in other opportune moments about Christ. In fact, as I have been writing this paragraph on a flight from Santa Barbara I have been compelled to lay down my pencil and share Christ with the young man in the seat next to me. Even after more than 35 years of attempting to give my witness for Christ in numberless situations, it is still difficult and requires a process of dying to self. But the joy of it is worth it all. (Incidentally he turned out to be a fine young military officer and active lay minister in the Catholic Church.)
This personal sacrifice of commitment to Christ and sharing Him with others must be made by both our clergy and our people. It is everyone's calling. Not everyone is called to be an evangelist, but everyone is called to share Christ with others by word or deed or both. Later I will attempt to address some of the questions about how one goes about doing this and how a pastor may become more effective in calling and training his flock to this life-giving task.
Needed: Solidarity Among Orthodox Christians
Another aspect of the proper mentality for missions and evangelism is development of a greater solidarity among Orthodox Christians. Because of the relatively recent immigrant origins of Orthodoxy we are still faced with considerable fragmentation, and in some cases, isolation of Orthodox Christians and parishes. There continues to be too much suspicion and reluctance among some of us to work together to reach America for Orthodoxy.
The practice of love and the recognition of the true basis of unity among us is essential to our witness. We all know and believe the Church transcends ethnic boundaries but we don't always practice it. Unity not only in theory but in practice will greatly aid and accelerate the growth and spread of Orthodoxy in America. Our Lord prayed for this unity in His High Priestly prayer:
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me (John 17:20-23).
Only as the world sees our true solidarity expressed in true unity and love will they see Christ in us and be drawn to Him through witness and missions.
This solidarity needs to be expressed from the top down. Our hierarchs are duty-bound before God to work tirelessly and selflessly in producing unity among their ranks. The present uncanonical anomaly in the hierarchical structure of Orthodoxy in America simply must not be allowed to exist indefinitely.
And down on the parish level we must labor sacrificially to express this solidarity. Our commitment is to Christ and His Kingdom above any favorite but not necessarily Christian practice. I am personally aware of a situation in which the use of belly dancers and fortune tellers in an annual parish festival greatly offended a small group of sincere seekers after the Orthodox Faith. My prayer is that they will yet see through these external trappings to the "pearl of great price" beneath.
But let our solidarity in the Orthodox Church be expressed in our total commitment to Christ and the unity of His Church and a love for the lost world around us rather than in certain community practices that reflect negatively against the deep spirituality of our Church. Not that I am opposed to the enjoyment of Orthodox community life as expressed in our feasts and festivals. Certainly of all people, true Christians should be able to enjoy life and find true pleasure in these community endeavors. In fact, one of the most powerful forces the Orthodox Church has going for it is its strong emphasis on family and community life. But let us keep this emphasis properly based and focused on love for God and all men.
We Must Develop A Genuine Expectation
Another important element of the missionary and evangelistic mentality is a genuine expectation of greater things to come! We should expect God to do miracles as Jesus predicted would happen.
And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast our demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mk 16:17-18)
The history of the Orthodox Church is replete with examples of holy men and women who were used by God in miraculous ways. Perhaps our problem today is the shortage of holy men and women. But that should be a call to repentance for us all and a challenge to pray for the development of a great cadre of holy people who can call down the miraculous powers of God. But this will only begin when we develop a sense of expectation – expecting God to do great things among us in transforming and healing the broken lives and families around us.
In summary, to be effective in missions (home and foreign) and evangelism we must have the proper mentality and certain necessary attitudes. They are vision, faith, humility, commitment, solidarity and expectation. None of us possesses all of these perfectly, but we can and should pray earnestly for a greater measure of them.
Our Goal: A Fully Indigenous Orthodox Church
It must be kept in mind that effective evangelism and home missions has as its goal the reaching of all men and women for Christ, and the planting of a fully indigenous Orthodox Church in America. Of course this same goal applies to foreign missions as well. To accomplish this we must not only have the proper mentality but we must also have an effective, adequate methodology.
At this point I must speak more as a former Baptist evangelist and pastor than as a former E.O.C. bishop. Keep in mind that though evangelism has always been a deep love of ours, we have been fighting endless battles and going through many struggles in our journey to Orthodoxy. We have spent most of our energy trying to keep our ship afloat until we could get into the harbor or Orthodoxy. This means that little time, energy and resources have been available for evangelism.
This is also why we can appreciate the "siege mentality" that has so long characterized so many Orthodox people. But now that we have come through this phase of our battles, we feel God is directing us back to evangelism and missions, which is precisely what Metropolitan Philip has instructed us to do. However, we keep reminding ourselves that if the past portion of our journey is analogous to the wilderness wanderings of the Hebrew people, and if Orthodoxy is our Promised Land, then most of the battles are yet ahead. And may I again remind you, if you set out to seriously do evangelism and missions, Satan will attack you in all sorts of ways. He is not happy when Christians devote themselves to this great work.
An Adequate Methodology is Essential
A fully effective methodology in evangelism and missions would require volumes to elucidate. In fact, there are many volumes on the subject and some seminaries have devoted many courses to the subject or have established a whole school dealing with advanced missiology. Obviously I shall be able to only touch on what I believe to be the most basic elements of an adequate methodology.
Sacrificial Stewardship is Needed
There can be no effective evangelism and missions program unless there is a commitment to sacrificial stewardship. The initial stages of evangelism and missions is by nature non-revenue producing. Furthermore, the Orthodox Church cannot continue to ignore the use of the media if we ever expect to reach the masses with our message. And obviously this, along with sending out evangelists and missionaries, will require great sums of money.
Even if we limit our evangelism and missions programs to a local Church, our pastors and people must be aware that this will require the sacrificial giving of money. The Bible teaches that we all (pastors first) must give at least 10% of our income to the Church on a regular basis.
Nowhere in the New Testament are we told that Malachi 3:10-11 has been rescinded.
“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and prove Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field.”
A careful study of this passage reveals several important facts. First, sacrificial giving goes beyond the tenth. It includes tithes and offerings. Offerings are those gifts (often called "alms" in the Bible) that go beyond the tithe. And once you've given until it "hurts," then keep giving until it quits hurting. Jesus taught that almsgiving is every bit as essential to our spirituality as is fasting and prayers ( Mt 6:1-4).
Secondly, the passage in Malachi teaches us to bring our tithes and offerings into the storehouse. I personally believe for Christians this means the Church, not simply every charity that comes along. Sometimes we give people the impression that giving to organized charities is equal in importance to giving to the Church. And some of these charities are down right secular, if not anti-Christian, being involved in sponsoring abortion and other anti-Christian activities.
In our age of affluence, there are many who can give much more than a tenth of their income to the Church and still not be making a sacrifice. I once knew a man who gave 95% of his income to his church and to Christian missions. True, he was a wealthy man and his remaining 5% was more than enough for him and his family to live on. But nevertheless he was doing something that I personally have never known anyone else to do. Sadly, I cannot report that he was an Orthodox Christian. Imagine what we could do if suddenly all Orthodox Christians in America began to tithe and make sacrificial offerings above the tithe to the Church? As I facetiously said to the faculty and students at Holy Cross School of Theology the night I gave this message, it would take the Church leadership years to figure out what to do with all the money! We would have more than we need to evangelize and do mission work. We would have a situation like Moses who had to tell the people to stop giving to build the Tabernacle because they had given so generously that no more was needed. When you think about it, that was an incredible circumstance! 0h that Orthodox Christians today could become that highly motivated in love for our Lord and His Church!
Another important lesson from Malachi is that God made certain promises to those who faithfully give tithes and offerings. First, He promised that such a practice would eliminate need from among the people of God. In other words there would be plenty with which to carry on the programs of the Church with an abundance left over for caring for the poor.
Furthermore, He promised to rebuke the "devourer" if we are faithful in tithes and offerings. My own parish is made up almost entirely of young families who are struggling "to make ends meet." But I have consistently taught them that they cannot afford not to give tithes and offerings because they can't afford to have the "devourer" attack them. A wealthy person on the other hand can experience an attack by the devourer and still have plenty left over.
What a joy it has been for me to watch these faithful young families grow slowly but steadily in financial stability and prosperity. To my knowledge not one of the faithful tithers has yet experienced a major financial disaster from which they could not recover. And I am confident that should such a reversal happen in the future, because they have been faithful, God would rescue them from it. And He might even use the “storehouse” (i.e. the Church) to do it.
There is yet another lesson of importance from this passage: God said "Try Me", "Prove Me", "Test Me,” and see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. What an offer! How can we the people of God keep refusing it and in so doing be guilty of robbing God? Virtually nowhere else in Scripture does God give us the right to "test" Him or "try" Him. Here He virtually commands it! If all of us would believe God and step out in faith on these commands and promises, we would have more than enough to support every needy evangelism, missions, and social program the Church is or could be involved in.
Bear with me for two more comments concerning stewardship and missions. If you are a person of means, keep in mind that "it is God that gives you the power to get wealth" (Dt 8:18 ). You have not been made wealthy by God for your own selfish benefit, but in order that you may benefit those around you, especially the poor. And one needy person that many well-to-do Orthodox people are overlooking is their pastor. It is a shame that so many Orthodox pastors' wives have to work to enable their husbands to serve in the ministry when the parish is either well off or potentially so if all would give tithes and offerings!
But pastors, don't expect to be able to teach and inspire your people to give sacrificially unless you are first doing so yourself! Most of us in the ministry cannot afford the devourer. We of all people need to claim God's promises and provisions in this area. And in doing so we can lead our people to be faithful stewards of God's benefits to them.
Sacrificial Giving of Time Is Needed
Perhaps time is the hardest of any gift to make. We live in a busy, often frantic world. So many of our people feel the pressure of too many demands on their time and consequently do not respond well to a call for more time given to the Church. But it requires time to extend loving care to the needy. It requires time to develop an effective program of evangelism and missions in the local parish. The pastor's first task will be to develop a group of men and women who are willing to sacrificially give their time and money for this holy purpose.
An Organized Structure and Program is Needed
No effective evangelism gets done unless we organize and plan for it. An overall plan should be developed with a calendar of events carefully laid out. Then a special mobilization dinner can be held to generate enthusiasm for the program and enlist recruits to help carry it out. To help you with developing your program you may wish to order and study Fr. John Chakos' program entitled "Come Receive the Light" or the recently developed OCA evangelism and outreach program. Any program you use should be adapted to the needs of your own parish.
A Religious Survey is an Important Beginning
One of the most difficult but important components of an adequate evangelism/mission program is the religious survey. Jesus said we are to "preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15). But unless we know who these people are and where they live we can't accomplish this. You will often find people who live in the shadow of the Church whose hearts have been prepared by the Holy Spirit for your witness.
As a Baptist pastor I used the religious survey (census) on several occasions to locate prospects for the Church. Along with the door-to-door survey, I used a map showing every house in the area surveyed. Different colored pins marked Church members and prospective members. This is useful in linking up active Church families with those showing strong interest.
To take a survey of the area you wish to begin with, you must first recruit survey takers. Then conduct two or three training classes to acquaint them with how to fill out the forms and how to approach a house and its occupants. For example, a couple would ring the doorbell, then step back two steps so as not to appear overbearing. With a cheerful smile you explain who you are, and ask for the information while standing at the door. When finished, you leave a couple of brochures explaining the Orthodox Church and giving information about your local parish. After a cordial invitation to attend Church, you leave.
In correlation with developing survey-taking teams, the pastor must recruit and train follow-up visitation teams to visit those prospects gleaned from the survey. You may be surprised at how many people are willing to participate if lovingly and positively recruited.
There will need to be several evangelism training classes teaching these people how to communicate their faith. This begins by having them write a three-minute "personal testimony" of their life in Christ and His Church. They should emphasize how they came to the Lord and what He and His Church have meant to them since. This short personal testimony should be basically memorized so the person is not caught off guard when the opportunity for witness presents itself.
During the evangelism training classes each member should have the opportunity to give his testimony before the class for experience and positive reinforcement. The goal is to seek to communicate your own experience with Christ in an intelligible and appealing manner. One of the positive side effects of this procedure is the strengthening of the individual's faith as he or she writes out and speaks his experience. Other subjects that should be covered in the evangelism training class are how to meet people and begin an evangelistic conversation, the basic theological content needing to be communicated, how to lead a home Bible study, along with the basics of personal spirituality and prayer life.
Small Groups Are An Important Element
To have an effective evangelism and missions program in the local parish we must develop a system of small groups which are oriented toward both pastoral care and outreach. These can take the form of home fellowships, home Bible studies, agape groups, etc. We in the E.O.C. started with "house churches" but later felt the need in areas where there were a number of these, to combine them into larger congregations.
The largest Protestant church in the world is an Assembly of God Church divided into what they call "house churches" with an elder over each. Undoubtedly we could learn much about outreach if we studied such a congregation. The difference in our evangelism and theirs would be that we are evangelizing to bring people into the fullness of the faith. But keep in mind as you develop these groups that the leadership must be trained to keep the groups open to strangers with definite attitudes and actions of outreach. Otherwise they will become quickly turned inward and lose their evangelistic impact.
Attractively Printed Materials are Essential
As we have made our long and sometimes difficult odyssey to orthodoxy we have observed a great need for more attractively printed evangelistic materials. We must develop easy-to-read aesthetically appealing pamphlets, booklets, magazines and leaflets to distribute in large quantities. But as previously discussed this will take large sums of money and can only be financed by the faithful tithes and offerings of the people and parishes.
In this same vein we Orthodox must stop ignoring the use of radio and television. We will never reach the masses with our message until we learn how to adapt to and use the media. I would like to challenge our seminaries to consider offering courses of instruction in this field. Just because TV and radio evangelists have so misused and abused it is no reason for us to abandon the media to the heterodox, the world and the devil. In fact our faith would teach us that we are obligated to redeem all things for Christ, including radio and television.
Powerful Preaching is Needed
Though logically this may belong earlier in this presentation I wish to close with a few words about preaching. Without doubt, the greatest preacher in the history of the Church (except for Jesus Himself) was St. John Chrysostom. His homilies and commentaries are a great and important part of the written heritage of Orthodoxy. His method of verse-by-verse preaching through books of the Bible is very much needed today if we are to develop effective evangelism and evangelists. Our seminaries must develop more than nominal courses in homiletics. We need advanced courses in preaching. But may God have mercy on us if we do not strive to develop humble, godly, Spirit-filled preachers. Too often preachers get carried away with themselves and subtly (sometimes overtly) use their preaching to promote themselves. We must never forget that it is God's kingdom we are building, not our own!
This presentation has only lightly touched my subject – Evangelism and Missions: Mentality and Methodology. It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit may use it to stir someone to greater motivation and effectiveness in this extremely needy area of our Church life. May God enable us all to become better witnesses for Christ and His Church!