the shape of leadership

Intention Versus Action in Evangelism

Three ways to turn intention into action

Ed Stetzer on October 10, 2017

There is an undeniable resurgence of a missionary mentality in many churches. But thinking is not the same as doing — and some recent statistics from the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, the Assemblies of God, and 10 other partner denominations show disparities between prayer and personal evangelism with pastors in small churches.

The first statistic is the act of prayer for nonbelievers. Nearly all (96 percent) of the most evangelistic pastors of small churches pray for unbelievers by name, where 90 percent of the least evangelistic pastors make that a weekly practice. The statistics are high, even for the least evangelistic pastors.

The second statistic is the action of evangelism toward nonbelievers. Both the pastors of the least evangelistic churches (87 percent) and the pastors of the most evangelistic churches (65 percent) pray more than they share, but the gap is far more evident among the least evangelistic.

Don’t miss the difference between how many of the least evangelistic pastors pray for the lost (90 percent) and how many share their faith with the lost (65 percent). The intention is there, but the action isn’t matching up. In other words, just about everyone is praying, but not everyone is sharing.

The Frightful Condition of Prayer Without Action

“He told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’” (Luke 10:2).

It’s undeniable that Jesus loved to pray. He models the importance of prayer throughout His life. He sees the plentiful harvest waiting for laborers in Luke 10 and first urges the disciples to pray.

But prayer without action is as effective as filling up a car’s gas tank only to park it in the garage and never drive it. There are sincere pastors who love Jesus and pray earnestly for the harvest and yet utterly fail at leading their congregations to loving and reaching their neighbors for Jesus. I’ve seen it up close and from afar, and if you’ve been in any denomination for long, you know this is the norm rather than the exception. Why?

Part of the answer is fear. Since the Garden of Eden, Satan has used fear as a motivator for evil action or evil inaction. He tempted Eve with the fear of missing out when he said: “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Perhaps fear silenced Adam as his wife faced the greatest battle of her life. Today, fear is still at work, paralyzing the church into inaction.

Fear makes it easier to pray in a closed church prayer meeting with friends than to knock on a neighbor’s door and invite them over for coffee.

Prayer without action is as effective as filling up a car’s gas tank only to park it in the garage and never drive it.

Fear convinces pastors to believe the lie that more activity in the church is better than reaching out to serve those outside the church on a consistent basis.

Fear says, “Evangelism is for the super pastor,” and, “I just don’t have the time.”

This fear drives pastors to walk the road of best intentions, and we all have heard about where that leads. C.S. Lewis describes it this way in The Screwtape Letters: “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

This is the state of a church pastor who prays with fervent intention yet doesn’t act. It’s a quiet, declining road as a leader surrenders his or her neighborhood and community over to hell and all its power.

The Difference Action Makes

“Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3).

A powerful correlation exists between Jesus’ prayers and His actions. After He prays, things happen. Jesus commands the 72 to go, sending them on a journey where they knock on doors, heal the sick, and proclaim the kingdom of God.

We must do the same. Intention must lead to action, and it starts with us.

Here are three ways to turn your intention to action in your daily life:

  1. Consistently host a community event at your house.
  2. Spend time intentionally going and meeting people where they live, work, study or play.
  3. Weave the truth of the gospel through as many conversations as you can, seeing yourself as a translator of Jesus into the lives of others.

Jesus backs up His prayers with action. It took planning, training, modeling and preparation, and then it culminated in decisive action. This is the result His disciples reported just a few verses later: “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name’” (Luke 10:17).

Pastor, the only way your church will overcome the gates of hell in your community is if you act on your evangelistic intentions. This is the difference between death and life, between effectiveness and apathy, between advancing the gospel and letting Satan seduce the people God has called you to reach.

You must lead the charge! You must model the change!

As you speak the gospel to the world outside your door, your church will follow. Don’t stop praying. Just make sure you also start going.

This article originally appeared in the October/November/December 2017 edition of Influence magazine.

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