I talked recently with a friend of mine who lives in Africa. This part of Africa has few believers, and the number of churches is relatively small. So, for the Christians there, evangelism is a really big deal. They desperately want people to know Jesus. But when churches from this region send people to plant churches and become pastors, the people they send are faced with a dilemma. Do I spend my time and energy evangelizing, or do I spend it on the people of my church, encouraging them and discipling them?
Now, unfortunately, I’m no academic expert on this matter or other matters of missiology or church planting. I don’t have first-hand experience dealing with this issue. So, feel free, if you are an expert in these matters, to correct me or add on as needed. But I do know some verses that address this issue, and I think they may help in developing a strategy for people in this situation.
In Ephesians 4:11-12, the apostle Paul says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” So, Paul says the purpose of a teacher or shepherd—and the word “pastor” comes from Old French and Latin terms meaning “shepherd,” since a pastor is a shepherd of souls—is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up the body of Christ.”
A pastor trains his church to do ministry (and a big part of that ministry is evangelism). Say a pastor works tirelessly to evangelize in a region hostile to Christianity and he converts five people, and then the pastor dies. The five converts know Jesus, but they aren’t well-trained to run a church or disciple or evangelize. Thus, the likelihood of these converts creating a thriving church in their region during their lifetime is small, and the region or village’s Christian movement dies off quickly.
However, if the same pastor focuses on teaching and discipling his small church, every one of his church members—ideally—will be equipped to evangelize, disciple new believers, and run the church when the time comes. Therefore, the pastor multiplies his effect by training his church, albeit small.
For example, say the pastor has 15 people in his church. He spends lots of time and energy training all of them to evangelize and disciple. 10 of them actually put his teaching into practice and each one of these 10 people brings 1 person to Christ in a year. After one year, the church will grow to 25 people. The next year, 15 people put his teaching into practice and each bring 1 person to Christ. After just two years, the church has grown from 15 people to 40 people. And hopefully, if the church continues with good leadership, it will continue to grow.
I know every situation is different and most probably don’t work out this well. But Paul clearly states that this is the purpose of a pastor. A pastor’s job isn’t just to evangelize as much as possible (though that’s part of his job). He has to pour his heart into the church so each believer can minister effectively.
Think about Jesus. He preached to the crowds. He evangelized. But the majority of his ministry was spent with twelve men, his disciples. He was training them in ministry. And after Jesus ascended to heaven, these men continued his ministry and led the church. They were able to because Jesus spent so much time with them. And thus, at the end of his ministry, Jesus doesn’t say, “Go therefore and evangelize all nations.” He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
I wish you all the best. TRC is praying for you.
For additional reading on this subject, read Robert Coleman’s fantastic book The Master Plan of Evangelism.