The call for effective evangelistic fervor within the local church is a more apparent need now than ever. Looking at history raises questions about the future of the local church. Sitting in Mission San Agustin de Isleta, one of the two oldest surviving mission churches in the United States, evokes awe, wonder, and curiosity. Most historians believe the date of the building was around 1610. There is awe in efforts to preserve the chapel, and those efforts have persisted to this day. There is wonder in the history of the chapel. Ultimately, the chapel is categorized as a historic landmark rich with a long-lived story. Finally, the chapel raises the curiosity of the minds that enter. Some questions that draw to mind are: to what end does the preservation of this chapel lead? What is the next chapter in the story of the chapel? Has the chapel lost its original purpose? If not careful, the local church can find itself faced with that last question. The church can be in the same precarious place, serving only as a historical marker of a once vibrant community living out its purpose. Mission San Augustin de Isleta can warn the modern church to be cautious against evangelistic apathy. The author of Hebrews warns, “For this reason, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Heb 2:1). There are three specific cautions to note from its example.
Challenges in Maintaining Evangelistic Fervor
Beware of Isolation
What once served as a Franciscan initiative to reach the Pueblo peoples with the Catholic faith now lives in isolation, whose primary purpose is tourism. Has the American Church not followed the same path? Are we not in danger of the same thing? If we take an honest look, we can identify the same natural progression in the local church. Churches typically launch with an external focus on reaching the community. Over time, however, a paradigm shift occurs. The local church enters what I call the “sustainment” mode. Within the leadership and the congregation, routines set in, the status quo is established, and complacency rears its ugly head. Ultimately, the church becomes isolationist over missional.
Beware of Secular Influence
The secularization of the Mission San Agustin de Isleta left a lasting effect that slowly degraded their missional impact. In like fashion, the local church must be careful not to allow the influence of society to degrade its mission. Secularization is losing sight of the missional purpose of the church for the sake of cultural issues. This obfuscation leads to a gradual, or even swift, numbing of the congregants toward any evangelistic mobilization. The lull of maintaining relevance within society poses perilous dangers. The church’s focus can drift from the exaltation of a Holy God to the placating of self. Chasing secular whims leaves worship destitute of its biblically intended and mandated purpose—the exaltation of God. If our focus drifts from holy reverence to cultural relevance, then all we are left with is compromise. If we desire to see the lost saved, go to the lost; if we desire to worship God in church, then exalt Him and Him alone. The local church should strive to influence the culture around them. It should not be lulled toward complacency in its evangelistic fervor toward the lost. The church must not allow secular influences to compromise its chief purpose—to glorify God.
Beware of Immediacy
Franciscan monks founded the Mission San Agustin de Isleta to spread Christianity among the local Native Americans. However, conflicts between church and civil officials undermined the mission. There was disagreement over the labor and loyalty of the native peoples and attempts to eradicate native religious practices. The Mission San Agustin de Isleta suffered through it all due to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The desire for immediacy in converting the Pueblo people resulted in religious dogmatics fracturing their effectiveness. The Mission San Agustin de Isleta imposed guidelines on issues unrelated to salvation to effect change. The local church must also be cautious in our zeal to see the lost won for Christ.
Warding off Isolationism in the Church
Maintain an Upward Focus
First, prayer should be at the forefront of any evangelistic focus. The Psalmist asserts, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps 127:1a). Prayer alone lays the foundation of proclaiming the gospel. Prayer moves when people cannot—upon the hearts of mankind by the power of the Holy Spirit. Additionally, prayer has a way of reorienting the prayer with the will of the Father. To pray is to intentionally look beyond yourself toward the only One who can effect lasting change.
Maintain an Outward Focus
Next, the local church should fight against isolationism. A church is isolationist when it emphasizes programs over relationships, budgets over impact, and consistency over compassion. When dealing with church programming, the church must strive to evaluate the value of influence. Rather than assessing attendance as the trademark for success, the church should strive to look for less quantitative measurements. Instead, look toward the community around you for opportunities to shower them with God’s love and mercy, thereby demonstrating the clarity of the gospel through you.
Maintain a Repentant Heart
The glass in the windows within Mission San Agustin de Isleta is old and cloudy. Looking through the glass, you can make out people but lose the crisp clarity of detail. This dirty glass partly obstructs the light as well. Maybe glass like the kind at the Mission San Agustin de Isleta was what Paul looked through when writing the church at Corinth. He stated, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). Pulling on the tangible to reflect the spiritual reality kept the point clear—our vision diminishes. Staying close to Christ is to stave off secular influence and see the biblical mandate for believers. Keep the gospel and the call to repentance close to our hearts and minds. The local church must continually seek God’s face to accomplish this focus. Without intentionality, we are prone to drift away by the currents of this world. Therefore, maintaining the centrality of the gospel is the driving force that brings into focus the lostness of the world and the hope of Christ. Preach Christ and Him crucified! Let the joy of salvation fill the hearts of the saints. At the same time, let the goodness of God be displayed on the cross and lead those far from Him to repentance and faith.
Maintain an Eternal Perspective
Just as Mission San Agustin de Isleta was built with a purpose, so was the local church—to make disciples. However, an adage is circulating among church leaders, “What you bring them with, you must maintain to keep them.” I contend that the implication is worse than that. Regarding a pragmatic, events-driven approach to church, I would argue that you bring them in with what you must continuously top to keep them. However, if we can return to the roots of the church’s existence, we can give that which eternally satisfies—Jesus Christ. The local church must capture our first love to point effectively to Christ. Cultural relevance must never replace missiological and evangelistic impact.
Maintain Evangelistic Intentionality
My grandpa used to say, “If you aim for nothing, you are sure to hit it every time.” How true this statement is when discussing the local church’s evangelistic effectiveness. Can a church be effective if it lacks a clear and tangible goal? The short answer is no, and they cannot. Setting goals bolsters the intentionality of action. In its simplest form, intentionality with evangelism is the faithful declaration of the message of salvation through Christ, culminating in a request to respond. All evangelistic initiatives can be broken into parts, but each must contain this form to be genuinely evangelistic. For example, the local church attempting to reach out to the community but failing to present the gospel and a call to response has employed an ineffective evangelistic strategy. Their efforts may be building community relationships, meeting physical and emotional needs, or bolstering their church influence. Nevertheless, they have failed to be evangelistic without a gospel proclamation. Therefore, the local church must intentionally proclaim the gospel, calling unbelievers to repentance and faith in Christ. Evangelism will not happen accidentally and must be an intentionally thought-out approach to our daily lives.
In light of the gospel, believers should embrace the call toward evangelism. Jesus’s final command in the Gospel of Matthew is clear, “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” (Matt 28:19). The call was not to strong-arm or coerce but to make disciples. Discipleship begins with the declaration of truth—Jesus saves. Faith, then, comes from hearing the message of the redemptive work of Christ. Ultimately, a divine mystery transpires when a soul is saved. Although there is a mystery, we know that the believer’s role is obedience in a faithful proclamation. How can we do it? We can do it through Christological focus, compassion for the lost, living a life of repentance, maintaining an eternal perspective, and being intentional in our obedience to the Great Commission.