Our Campus Minister, Nate Bostian, has received the "Bishop Donis Patterson" award for excellence in Evangelistic preaching. Part of his reward for the award is to preach Saturday at 11am at the Stanton School for Ministry, located at St. Matthew's Cathedral near downtown Dallas.
So, to come hear Nate preach at the Eucharist for the Stanton Center, show up at St. Matthew's Cathedral at 11am, Saturday April 19th. Lunch will follow. To find the Cathedral, go here:
When contacted for comment, Nate said "Huh? I won what? You're kidding, right?"
Just joking. I am very grateful for the award, and hope that this award will be an encouragement for Episcopal Seminarians and Clergy to actively engage in evangelism, so that all those who come in contact with us and our ministries may come to know, love, and follow Jesus Christ as Lord.
The task of preaching, week-in and week-out, can be a daunting task for anyone. And the biggest temptations are to get in a comfort zone, and roll through our little hamster wheel of favorite topics in preaching. But, when we do that, we do not challenge ourselves nor our congregations.
For me, evangelistic preaching is essentially a challenge: A challenge to deeper conversion to Christ, and a challenge to more fervent love for the Lord Jesus. I think, in our culture, evangelism is often too tied with that one, big, initial decision to follow Christ, and too disconnected from the process of Christian formation and discipleship.
On one hand, I believe there is a moment in everyone's life- perhaps at baptism, or perhaps at a decisive conversion- when we cross from death-apart-from-Christ into eternal-life-in-Christ. On the other hand, I know from my own conversion, as well as ministry in several different "flavors" of Church, that no convert is fully "converted" at the moment of conversion. They may have crossed from death to life, but there is an ever deepening process of growing into that life, and converting every part of ourselves over to that new way of living.
While salvation happens in an instant, conversion is a lifetime process. It doesn't happen over night.
So, with that said, I see little difference between the "first" conversion that puts someone on the Road with Christ, and the hundreds or thousands of deeper conversions that happen in a person's Journey with Christ. All are conversions. All result in a greater surrender of one's entire being to the Risen Lord Jesus. All are challenges.
For me, evangelistic preaching challenges the hearer to deeper conversion. It may be the first conversion. It may be the five hundredth deeper conversion that happens after that first conversion. It may be a conversion of mind (how we think), a conversion of will (how we live), or a conversion of heart (how we feel). It may be a conversion of how we treat others (which in turn will influence how we see God), or a conversion of how we see God (which in turn will influence how we treat others).
For some, a challenge of worldview and mindset may trigger initial conversion to Christ (in a manner like CS Lewis). For others, a challenge of the emotions- such as guilt over sin and the existential need to have burdens lifted- may trigger initial conversion to Christ (in a manner like Martin Luther). And yet for others, the conversion may be a mixture of mental, emotional, and social factors (in a manner like Augustine).
And you never know which kind of "challenge" might "do the trick" of awakening the hearer's conscience and converting to Christ. Some put evangelistic preaching in the "formula" box, and say that it must always follow "four spiritual laws" or "five stages" or whatever. Others make it a kind of recipe: Take one funny story, follow it with a tear-jerker story, add in three ways we have sinned and are under God's judgment, put in a dash of guilt, and top it with a sentimental song and an altar call, and there you have it. Others think it must always be some kind of logical dissertation, where we take a false worldview, systematically refute it, show how only Christ is adequate, then push for a decision.
And, I think good evangelistic preaching can learn from each of these methods. Because, each of these methods (or some mixture of them with other methods) COULD be the tool that the Holy Spirit uses to bring about conversion. But not always, and not uniformly. So, to put evangelistic preaching in a box and say "It must always be done this way" is to both oversimplify it, and to ensure that your preaching is going to miss different types of people.
Instead, here is what I see as THE THREEFOLD CORE of Evangelistic Preaching:
FIRST, good evangelistic preaching should connect with felt needs of your congregation. This requires creativity. It is not enough to proclaim the Risen Christ if your people have no felt awareness of their need for Christ. It is not enough to urge conversion of our minds, our hearts, our relationships, or our work life to Christ if the congregation really feels OK with where they are at in these areas. So, you have got to dig and know your congregation. You have to know where they are feeling the struggles and the pains. Then you have to find a way to connect those problems to solutions in Christ.
SECOND, good evangelistic preaching should find ultimate resolution in personally knowing, loving, and following Jesus Christ. It is easy for sermons to degenerate into abstract ideas, a laundry list of ten things to do better this week, or a political party to vote for. It is easy for preaching to become merely academic, merely moralistic, or merely political and entirely miss connecting with the Person of Jesus Christ. Now, preaching cannot help but introducing new ideas, moral principals, and even political ramifications. Following Jesus means that ALL of these areas of life will be impacted. But, it is so very easy to think that following Jesus means JUST ideas, morals, and politics. We have to aim for a personal conversion to a personal relationship with Jesus who we personally know, love, and follow (just as we personally know and love our friend, spouse, or child). Without this dimension of personal relationship, all of these other things become meaningless and dispensable. So, aim to connect people personally with Jesus.
THIRD, good evangelistic preaching issues a challenge to do something definite with Jesus Christ. We can connect with people's felt needs, and then talk about how those felt needs find personal resolution in Jesus Christ. But, if we do not challenge people to DO SOMETHING with that knowledge, it profits no one. Good evangelistic sermons should leave us with the equivalent of: "Now that you have heard all of this stuff, here is what you can do about it". It may be something for people to sit and pray about right at the end of the sermon. It might be something to do upon leaving. It might even be a good old fashioned "altar call" like you would find at a Baptist Church. But, I think our Eucharistic liturgy provides more opportunities than you might think for evangelistic commitment.
Most "evangelicals" I know see liturgy as an impediment to evangelism. And, if you are only talking about evangelism of the tear-jerking kind, perhaps they are right. But, if you are talking about the evangelism I am speaking of, I think our liturgy actually gives us an "evangelical edge". Consider the following:
- After every sermon we have an opportunity to affirm our faith in the Creed. You can challenge people to recite the Creed and really think about it, really mean it, and really use it as a prayer of conversion and belief in the Triune God.
- After every sermon, we have prayers of the people. Have you ever thought about re-writing the prayers of the people to aim them toward a personal conversion, and a meditation upon what was just preached? Have you ever thought about adding in times of silence during the prayers for meditation and deeper conversion?
- After every sermon, we literally have an "altar call" at Eucharist. Every Sunday, our people come up to receive Jesus in their hands. Encourage them to receive Him in their hearts and minds as well.
- After every sermon, we are blessed and sent out to do God's work in the world. This could easily be adapted and expanded to be a concrete act of conversion for your congregants.