December 18, 2017

Shifting From “Come” to “Go”

Kevin Schaal

As I pored through hundreds of decision cards I could not help but weep. It’s an experience that is hard to describe and even harder to believe for laborers in North America, but in the Philippines things are different. Student Movement for Christ International (SMCI), a Fundamental student evangelistic organization in the Philippines, is now doing more than eight thousand new-believer Bible Studies a year. More than one hundred full-time workers, just out of college, living on nearly nothing, commit themselves to evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. I had the opportunity of spending two weeks with them in their 2011 evangelistic campaign.

The particular decision card I was holding was in the beautiful handwriting of what was likely a very bright college freshman girl. It said, “Today, I exchanged my sin for Jesus Christ’s righteousness. I know I am a child of God. Thank you for telling us.” I had preached seven times that day. We had virtually free reign to speak in public universities and high schools. It is easy to present the gospel in the Philippines. This strongly Roman Catholic country teaches the Bible in its public school system. When I quoted John 3:16 in a high school class, the entire class joined me in unison and could give all of the Ten Commandments. This is how it must have been in the US in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries during the great revivals of D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and others. SMCI director Mike Redick calls the majority of the Filipinos “Christian but not converted.” They respect the authority of the Word of God. I did not have to convince them that they were sinners. They knew it and hated it. They knew that Jesus is the Son of God and believed in the resurrection. Presenting the gospel, for the most part, meant just putting the missing “faith alone” piece in the puzzle.

This whole experience changed my view of our work in Arizona. Coming home, I finally realized that it was my city that was pagan, not the Philippines. Many of us have been trying to evangelize our homeland as though it is a Christian culture. It is not. There is no way that I can do at home what we were doing in the Philippines. Besides not having access to public school classrooms, the people to whom we minister are very different. A student in the most remote mountains of the Philippines has much more Bible knowledge and a much greater respect for Scripture than the kids in the apartment complex around the corner from our church. I came home knowing that our church had to move out of the past in order to evangelize effectively in our pagan, postmodern present. I have to be honest about where I live. I live in a Biblically illiterate, morally corrupt, addicted, postmodern society. More than fifty percent of the households do not consist of a married couple. We have mounds of obstacles to overcome in presenting the gospel and incredible baggage to deal with in the discipleship process. This is our mission field. It needs Christ desperately, and it is a privilege to serve God in it.

The same evangelistic formulas have become less and less effective. Many churches have become so ineffective they become discouraged and quit. We get fatalistic. “People just don’t get saved like they used to.” The more cynical even re-evaluate the past based upon our present experience and discount the evangelism of the past as an exaggeration or human manipulation. Maybe some of it was, but not likely most of it—certainly not all of it. I think I was headed down that path. The Philippines changed my perspective.

As we began to evaluate our mission field, we knew that certain Biblical principles are absolutely timeless. We cannot give up Biblical values for the sake of reaching our world. But on the other hand we cannot cling to old methods just because we are comfortable with them.

Some things about evangelism never change. The Holy Spirit working in tandem with the Word of God is central to the New Testament and consistent throughout history. Every salvation, whether in the Philippines or the US, is a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit through the Word.

As much as we hate to admit it, evangelism has always been hard work—and lots of it. That will never change. From the constant, arduous labors of the apostle Paul to the present day, true evangelists labor long. Throughout church history wherever God drew many to Himself, God’s people were working hard and sacrificially to see that accomplished. Yes, the Lord builds His church, but the laborers still labor. Laborers tend to lose heart when they see no fruit, but they tend to labor tirelessly and joyfully when they do.

While these remain unchanged, other aspects of evangelism must change. Our mindset must change from “come” to “go.” Evangelism can take place inside church buildings in a church-going culture, but the church environment is completely alien to most people in our culture. If we think that bringing people to church to get saved is the way we must do evangelism, we will fail. Yes, some people still get saved “walking an aisle,” but most do not. We must go to them. The last place an unbelieving pagan wants to be is church. I am not minimizing preaching. Preaching the gospel is essential, but we must preach it in more places. We must preach the gospel on buses, across living room tables, and in coffee shops. It’s the type of “preaching” that is very conversational and personal but based upon the authority of Scripture and designed to convince people of sin and their need of a Savior. We must think of our churches as stations where we equip workers to “go.” And our goal must be for every church member to participate in this wonderful Great Commission.

“Come” was the focus of the market church movement. The market church uses an entertainment model to draw people and grow church attendance. But the model is problematic for several reasons. First, it tends to reach churched people who want something different. So rather than evangelizing, it recruits believers from other ministries. Second, it does not call for discipleship and tends to produce anemic believers at best. Some of the most significant leaders in the movement have mourned this result. One from our area wrote,

After pouring more than twenty- five years of my life into this church, I knew we weren’t developing disciples who were taking up their crosses to follow Jesus. We’d produced consumers— like Pac-Man, gobbling up religious experiences, navigating a maze but going nowhere in particular.

Too many were observing the show but not meeting God. They meandered in and out of relationships but weren’t in real community. They sought their spiritual fix but didn’t give themselves fully to Christ.[1]

Third, it demands a style and level of entertainment that is not ethically or practically possible in a Fundamentalist church. Worship, especially our worship, is not a draw to the lost, no matter what the style. We now live in a culture of entertainment. There is nothing entertaining that we can offer that will entice. We enjoy our music, concerts and cantatas, but they don’t—not even when we contemporize our offerings to the point of compromise. They will sometimes politely visit, but Disney, MTV, and Netflix will always do it better. We can have wonderful, meaningful worship, but we will be discouraged if we think that it will fill our pews with the unevangelized.

Evangelism in a postmodern culture demands relationship. Postmoderns mistrust their entire world—and especially the “religious” world. First-time, confrontational salvation decisions in a pagan culture are the exception, not the rule. Paul dealt with both the religious and pagan mindsets throughout most of his ministry, and he clearly approached them differently. He reached religious Jews in the synagogue, but he did not try to force the Gentiles to come there to get saved. They would have felt as out of place in a Jewish synagogue as most people in our community feel in our church. Paul reasoned with people based upon the Scriptures in bringing them to salvation. I do not believe his reasoning was an intellectual exercise as much as it was relationship development, especially where he was most effective (1 Cor. 2:1–8; 2 Tim. 3:10–17). He preached in the market places, houses of learning, homes, and even prisons (as a prisoner no less).

We must develop relationships, but that does not mean it takes years to build them. Sometimes relationships can be built in weeks and months. The Word of God must be central in any relationship. Believers often have difficulty focusing a relationship with a lost person on the Word. Either we give the Word priority and forget the relationship, or develop the relationship but fear endangering it with religious and potentially offensive conversation. Somehow those relationships must confront people with the truths of God’s Word. Using evangelistic and discipleship- oriented Bible studies is a way to cultivate a relationship and keep it focused on the Word.

There are so many ways to “go” out into our mission field.

  • Evangelistic Bible studies with friends, neighbors, and coworkers is one way of doing it.
  • Addictions ministries reach out into the tender areas of weakness and apply the salve of the Word of God to broken lives.
  • Ministering to people in nursing homes, hospitals, and jails is part of “going.”
  • The FBFI is now placing people as military and police chaplains and finding fertile soil for the Word.

That is “going.” God’s people must network together to share ideas and opportunities for going and impacting the world around us with the gospel.

Our church needed to shift from “come” to “go.” Do you?


Dr. Kevin Schaal has served as the senior pastor of Northwest Valley Baptist Church in Glendale, Arizona, since it began in 1987.

(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 2013. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. Walt Kallestad, “Showtime No More,” Leadership Journal (29:4, Fall 2008), pp. 23–43. Also found at http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2008/fall/13.39.html. []


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