Editor’s Note: For the book “Reaching for Passion,” published in 2005, our dad Jerry Jenkins wrote the following article. It is a book about preaching. If you are interested in purchasing this book there is more information on our website at www.thejenkinsinstitute.com. We believe our Dad was a wonderful role model for all preachers. We know he was for us.
The commission given by the Master is very clear that His followers are to tell others the marvelous gospel: "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation"(Mark 16:15). "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:19). It is obvious that those whose faith leads them to obedience are to teach this redemptive message to others.
As one views these passages there are two major questions that arise, i.e., who is to follow this instruction and how are we doing in obeying the instruction? Both commandments were given to the apostles sometimes after the Lord's resurrection and sometimes in that forty-day period before he ascended from the Mount of Olivet back to heaven. The instructions were clear that a message was to be preached, those who accepted the message were to be immersed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the immersed were to teach what they had been taught. This unending cycle would assure the success of the Lord's plan.
In the early years of Christianity, the design worked beautifully. These early Christians spoke the Word of God (Acts 16:13). These early Christians shouted it. Without the use of PA systems, they literally shouted the message (Acts 2:14). They wrote it down (Ephesians 3:3). They read it (Ephesians 3:4). They traveled to preach (Acts 13), and they preached while they traveled (Acts 8:36). They preached to the poor people (II Corinthians 8:2). They preached to the rich people (Acts 12). They preached to people who were in jail (Acts 16:29).
The results were phenomenal. Opponents affirmed, "Ye have filled Jerusalem, with your doctrine" (Acts 5:28) and sometime later, "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also" (Acts 17:6). The assessment of friends agreed, "But I say have they not heard? Yes, verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world" (Romans 10:18).
This highly successful plan was discarded by the return to a clergy/laity system. The Old Testament makes a distinction between the clergy and the laity (Deut. 10:8-9, Lev. 16:33). The word "clergy" is used in the Old Testament. It is from the Greek "kleros" and it occurs 13 times. The word "laity" is from the Greek word "laos" and it occurs at least 141 times. The clergy or priest was responsible for instructing the laity in the law (Malachi 2:7). One of the key factors of the new covenant is that the church, or the kingdom of Christ, is composed entirely of priests. Every child of God is a priest of God. Every disciple is a minister. More and more the priest or preacher took a dominant role in being the one responsible for teaching or converting the people to the Master.
The plan outlined by Jesus was not that only those in positions of leadership in the church would do all the teaching, but that every disciple would be involved in personal work. How are we doing in following this instruction? In a Barna Research Press Release, the researchers were most surprised by the depressed percentages of people who share their faith in Christ during the previous twelve months. Of the twelve groups surveyed churches of Christ ranked fifth, with 35% stating they had explained their religious beliefs to someone who had different beliefs in the previous twelve months, in the hope that they might lead them to Christ.
There are congregations that are truly growing, not because they have been fortunate enough to move into a growing area, but because members are following the instructions given in the Great Commission. However, most would readily agree that the potential is not being met. Many churches have experienced little or no church growth for a number of years. No doubt, there are many factors in this decline of church growth, but in this context, emphasis is given to the proposition that congregations often follow the lead of the local preacher in doing evangelistic or personal work. One factor which deserves note is the understanding of the work of the local preacher. As the term "preacher" implies, he is to preach. Paul's admonition to preachers is: "Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables. But be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry" (2 Timothy 4:2-5).
The term "evangelist" is an anglicized form of the Greek euanglistes, from eu ("well") and aggelos ("messenger"). It refers to one who proclaims the good message, a gospel herald. Often, the term is used in the New Testament in a restricted sense, equivalent to a gospel preacher, a minister (cf. Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5). In this sense, a woman cannot serve as an evangelist (1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:12). However, in a general use of the term, any person, male or female, who brings the gospel to others through various means, is an evangelist.
In our schools there are classes which not only study in a verse-by-verse approach, but which deals with difficult textual problems. There are special classes in which one studies the original language in which the Bible was written. Special classes which teach how to present this information to others in class settings and from the pulpit. But comparative few of our schools are offering specific classes designed to instruct others in personal evangelism.
Personal evangelism, or when one talks personally to a relative, friend, or stranger, received great emphasis in the Bible. Not only are there numerous admonitions, the scriptures have many examples of this approach of reaching others. Jesus often spoke to individuals, i.e., woman at the well (John 4), Nicodemus (John 3), two disciples on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-32), etc. Andrew met the Messiah and immediately brought another to Him (John 1:41). Paul stated, "I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly, and from house to house" (Acts 20:20).
There are many effective ways in teaching the gospel to others, but none surpasses the personal approach. Churches that are growing most of the time have some organized evangelistic or personal work program. The preacher cannot lead in this effort when he is not practicing his message. It is sad that some preachers never personally teach another unless they seek out the preacher and ask for his assistance in understanding the gospel. A dear friend of this writer, who is an outstanding pulpiteer and speaks on lectureships frequently, some time ago mentioned that in more than twelve years the only people he had personally taught, that is one on one, were those who had come to him requesting a study.
On May 22, 1849, Abraham Lincoln received Patent No. 6469 for a device to lift boats over shoal, an invention that was never manufactured. However, it did make him the only U.S. president to hold a patent. There is a scaled model at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. How valuable is this item? It is priceless. It is priceless, not because of its usefulness but as William H. Herdon, his law partner, stated, "Occasionally he would bring the model in the office, and while whittling on it would descant on its merits, and the revolution it was destined to work in steamboat navigation. Although I regarded the thing as impracticable I said nothing, probably out of respect for Lincoln's well-known reputation as a boatman." Indeed some items are valuable simply because of who made them.
Another factor which determines value is the duration of an item. Thousands of dollars will be paid for some object, which unless the age factor enters the picture would be worthless. An old car, stamp, or coin becomes extremely valuable because of its age. Jesus once noted, "And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life" ("Matthew 25:46). As long as the righteous are enjoying life eternal the wicked are being eternally punished.
Finally, the soul of man is valuable because of the price paid for it. On August 7, 2003, there was a G.I. Joe action figure that sold for $200,000.00. This is believed to be the highest price ever paid for a toy soldier. Its value was not determined by its artistic work, but because of the price that was paid for it. One may never really consider the lost until he stops and counts the cost! The price to redeem man's soul was the death of Jesus on the cross. The horrors of the ordeal exceed the limits of human language. Truly, in a day in which man knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, the soul of man is his most valuable possession.
Every Christian, including the preacher, must be a personal evangelist because of what it does for him. The primary work of the fruit tree is to bear fruit and the primary work of the Christian is to bear fruit. On the night Jesus was betrayed and falsely accused He said to his apostles, "Ye did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you" (John 15:16). If you had someone working for you and he did not cause one ounce of trouble. He was always on time. He had only one problem. He would not do what he was hired to do. How long would you keep such an employee?
There is no joy like that of bringing another to the Lord. The beloved disciple affirmed the greatest joy possible was to hear that those he taught were walking in the truth (1 John 1:4). Paul affirmed the crowning joy were those he had been privileged to teach (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). The reverse of this joy is to have someone say in judgment, "You met me day by day and knew I was astray, but you never mention Him to me."
Christians, and this includes ministers, must never be guilty of keeping the only message that brings redemption to themselves.
Some might believe it to be a futile action to encourage the local preacher to be involved in evangelistic work on the personal level, but one cannot lead unless he leads. The late W. A. Bradfield, a great promoter of personal evangelism, often told the story of a man chasing a group of men. He stopped at a service station asking the attendant if he had seen a group come down the road. He explained his desire to catch the group for he said, "I've got to catch them, I'm their leader!"
The local preacher must be committed to personal work, not only verbally, but also experientially.
The preacher, when properly and personally motivated can lead the congregation in personal work by constantly training members to be effective soul winners. This writer recommends an ongoing class in constantly training members.. The most important thing is that one selects the material with which he would be most comfortable in using himself and in encouraging others to use.
The preacher should not become discouraged at how difficult it is to motivate members to be personal workers. One can fill a Bible class with lessons from the book of Revelation, parenting, or some popular issue facing the church, but it is difficult to inspire members to attend sessions on soul winning.
Let each be reminded that one cannot lead where he is unwilling to go. The local preacher must be a soul winner if he is to encourage the congregation to be soul winners.
Jerry Jenkins is the inspiration behind The Jenkins Institute. He preached for over 50 years, 43 of those at the great Roebuck Parkway church in Birmingham, AL. He and our mom were married for 49 years and have four children. Ten of their children and grandchildren are in full-time ministry. Dad was a dreamer and builder, having founded Jefferson Christians Academy, Maywood Christian Camp, Rainbow Omega, The Living Word Radio and TV Ministries, and Birmingham Bible School for the Deaf, but his greatest passion was telling the Gospel story—whether from a pulpit or one-on-one.