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Evangelistic Worship?

It is a question central to the life of a church. “Why is it the community of believers assembles weekly?” There may, of course, be several reasons (including some really nice donuts). But, inevitably, one rationale and overarching purpose will exist. Is it the evangelism of the lost or the worship of the saved? I will suggest that the use of the assembly for evangelism weakens both worship and evangelism.

The New Testament church clearly did not assemble in order to evangelize visitors. Visitors might be present (1 Cor 14:24), of course, but something else must have been at the heart of their gatherings. Until recent times, the church understood evangelism as “going out” into the world to tell people about Jesus. Only in recent years has this biblical model been replaced by the belief that evangelism is inviting people to come hear our church (see postscript below). The result has made our worship shallow and our evangelism passive, at best.

As the greatest commandment is to love God Himself, not our neighbor, the greatest human event on earth is the worship of God Himself, not the evangelization of our neighbor. At its heart, the greatest motivation to evangelize is to bring more voice to join in the praise and adoration of God. Evangelism is biblically weakened when it is is sold to the church horizontally. “Share Christ because you ought to feel sorry for poor lost people who do not know Him.” As true as that may be (we should feel for them), it is inadequate as a central motive. The great call of the Great Commission, where going into the world, is grounded in the authority of the one to whom “all authority in heaven and earth” has been given (Matt 28:18-20). It is in obedience to a King that the ancient church went from “house to house” sharing the Good News of the Kingdom.

Love for neighbor, family, friend, and other people must be insignificant (Matt 10:37-39) when compared to our love for Christ. Compared to our adoration of Him, it can be said that we must “hate” our own family (Luke 14:26). The greatest result of evangelism is the increase of the kingdom and glory of God. To draw more praise to His Name by gathering more voices acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus is the principal impulse compelling the spreading of the Good News into the world.

When worship is consistently designed to reach the lost, the very heart of evangelism, going into the world, is weakened. Sharing the Good News of Christ is replaced with inviting the “unchuched” to come and be “churched” with us next Sunday. Evangelism becomes increasingly passive. “Let me take you to hear Pastor Bob and our amazing praise team so that you’ll want to become a part of our church.”
When worship is consistently designed to reach the lost, the very heart of the assembly (the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer) is weakened. Extended readings of scripture, extended prayers of confession and contrition, and sermons exploring the deeper mysteries of the faith end up being displaced, if not abandoned, in the name of designing the assembly to fit its primary target audience - the unsaved.

Evangelism is not telling the world to come to church - it is telling the church to go to the world.

Tom Lawson

Historical Note: If you wonder where the notion of evangelism being the central purpose of the worship assembly, you need go no further back in time than the 1840s. It is in these years that an “altar call” (later renamed the “invitation hymn”) was added as a regular component of Sunday worship. Charles Finney, who had long used his three stage “method” (preliminaries, sermon, harvest) in great camp meetings, decided to incorporate them into Sunday morning worship. The practice spread, in part, because the great majority of Protestants only practiced the “Service of the Word” in weekly worship, anyway. By the early twentieth century Finney’s model (also called the Revivalistic Model) was widely used by American Protestants, particularly those coming out of a nonliturgical worship tradition. Today it is so widely accepted and expected that many would consider leaving it out to be a breach of an essential component of biblical worship.


Kyle said...


Anonymous said...

So glad to see you sharing your thoughts online.

Ryan M. McCracken

G. Brandon Hoyt said...

I've got to admit,
Most sermons I preach have an evangelism flair to them, and it's been a hard habit for me to break, slowly, I've been able to preach to the Church in one way, and to the lost in another. In the end, I realized that worship should be between believers, I mean, communion isn't even a good snack!