by Ty Hale
In 1985, the Times Reporter of New Philadelphia, OH reported a celebration of a New Orleans municipal pool. The party was held to celebrate the first summer in memory without a drowning at the New Orleans city pools. In honor of the occasion, 200 people gathered, including 100 certified lifeguards. As the party was breaking up and the four lifeguards on duty began to clear the pool, they found a fully dressed body in the deep end. They tried to revive Jerome Moody, 31, but it was too late. He had drowned surrounded by lifeguards celebrating their successful season.
Oftentimes, we are glad that God has saved us from our sins; however, we are not deeply grateful. We are able to live among drowning souls and not offer them the help they desperately need. The more years I work as an evangelist, the more I am convinced that we do not need more evangelistic programs or training, we need more training for the heart. For example, when Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion on them (Matt. 9:36), and he opened his eyes to the harvest (Matt. 9:37-38), resulting in the ultimate expression of his purpose on earth: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). As God’s people, we must realize that programs will never accomplish the desires of God for the evangelistic outreach of the church. On the other hand, people who share the heart of Christ and participate in an organized effort can accomplish a tremendous amount towards reaching the lost. God desires that all men be saved more than anything (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Therefore, we need to change from an emphasis on programs to concentrating on people.
In order to lay a strong foundation for this change, we must begin to help members of the Lord’s church see people as lost. What good did it do to have all the lifeguards at a celebration when a man was dying in the pool in their midst? Because we have closed our eyes to people, the need to evangelize our neighbors or co-workers is not urgent. A “Save Sinners from Drowning Program” is not the answer to building a strong evangelism program because it does not address the condition of the Christian’s heart, and it may create a superficial care for others. Therefore, the answer does not lie in ministries; instead, it lies in our members. People cannot be pleasing to God if they do not have a knowledge of the truth. They cannot have a knowledge of the truth unless someone takes advantage of an opportunity to share the Word with them. This is the situation of the majority of the people who live around us and work with us; they are lost because no one has spoken the gospel to them. If we have been converted and we know the why and the how, we have the gospel message ready to share with those who are lost.
Once we have this clear vision that people are lost without Christ, we can move to showing love and value for these lost souls by beginning to search for them. George Orwell described a wasp that “was sucking jam on my plate and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him.” Many people are so severed from their souls that they just continue to suck on life’s sweetness until it is too late. Only by showing God’s love for a soul can we begin to reclaim it from its desperate situation. Unfortunately, many of the efforts of the church to show God’s love have only been made within the walls of our buildings. Jesus likens this sort of shining for him to a light that is put under a basket that cannot be bright (Matt. 5:15). This is where an organized effort can help if the people have been prepared and the members have been mentored by the example of Christ. The goal of a program has to be with the end of giving those have a desire to share Christ an opportunity to do so. We have created opportunities for those who understand the call of our Lord to visit people in their homes. Those we visit, oftentimes, are so appreciative of the time someone has taken out of his/her busy schedule to come to their home and spend some time with them that it makes a huge impression on them. We do this for all people who have visited our services. In addition, we always try to solicit contacts from our members so we can help with any spiritual concerns that they may have for their friends, co-workers, or family members. This gets their mind thinking about the lost which, in turn, creates a heart that cares for the souls of others. This effort is being successful in several areas. It is helping our vision to see the lost and to create a desire to do something about it. The time and effort given to people and our members is paying greater dividends than any program or ministry.
When it comes right down to it, if we want to build a strong evangelism effort in the church, we must work on helping others to see the lost and have a driving passion to seek them out and share the message of God with them. There is no doubt that this is the more difficult path. It takes more time, effort, and energy than any program. The results may not be as visible at first, but the results are lasting and eternal because they have been accomplished through God rather than a clever invention of man.
Ty Hale is the evangelism and outreach minister for the North MacArthur Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.