In 2005, John Dickson released Promoting the Gospel: A Practical Guide to the Biblical Art of Sharing your Faith (Blue Bottle Books). John recalls that as a young teenager, recently saved, he was a passionate promoter of the Christian message. He remembers at that time he "had absolutely no idea Christians could be coy about their faith" (7). That soon changed when he attended a church course on 'personal evangelism.' He became self conscious as to whether he was getting the gospel presentation 'right' and his "joy and ability at passing on the Faith evaporated" (8). John rediscovered his original joy in sharing his faith by simply approaching gospel opportunities as a "friendly conversation about my favourite topic" (10) without feeling the necessity to unload a full gospel presentation in every situation. He comments that "most Christians are not 'evangelists' (in the biblical sense of the word) and should not be made to feel the pressure to act as if they were" (11).
Indeed, 'word ministry' is just one of numerous activities identified in Scripture that promote Christ and draw others toward Him. Evangelism (proclaiming the gospel) is a 'subset' of a broader category of promoting the gospel. Other subsets include prayer, godly behaviour, acts of compassion and mercy, financial assistance, answering people's questions and public praise. A key aim of Promoting the Gospel is to show the all-encompassing nature of the Bible's call to be involved in God's mission. All Christians are called to, and gifted by the Holy Spirit, to promote the gospel.
Holy Trinity Doncaster (HTD) in Melbourne has a long history of outreach ministries and evangelistic training. The Lord has wonderfully blessed the ministry of this parish over many decades. At a staff retreat in late 2005, the HTD ministry team undertook studies based on Promoting the Gospel and came away with a firm conviction of the biblical and liberating message of the book. After prayerful consideration, we undertook a sermon series in 2006 on Promoting the Gospel based around the following seven themes:
- The Command (Ps 96)
- The Hidden Mission – Prayer (Matt 9:35-10:5)
- Through Compassion (Matt 5:14-16)
- With Godly Character (Tit 2:1-10)
- With Money (1 Cor 9:1-14)
- With Diverse Gifts (Col 4:2-6)
- For God's glory (1 Pt 2:4-10).
The series was preached at the two morning congregations. The book plus the Study Guide by Simon Smart were made available for purchase by all congregations, including the 7.00pm congregation. All Bible Study groups were encouraged to undertake the series in parallel with the sermon series.
In January 2007, I moved to an adjacent parish, St Philip's Deep Creek Anglican Church (DCAC) as priest-in-charge. Given the essential nature of the thesis of Promoting the Gospel, I have just completed a similar seven week sermon series with updated illustrations and specific application to the Deep Creek context. All three congregations have been covered, with some illustration and application variations for the predominantly young adult 6.00pm congregation. Small groups were encouraged to undertake studies around the theme and books/study guides made available for purchase.
My reflections on the value of this preaching series, now having been used with modifications in two parishes, are as follows:
- The thesis of Promoting the Gospel that all Christians are called, and gifted, to promote the Gospel is a vital message that needs to be regularly brought before God's people.
- Many Christians of different ages and spiritual maturity share the anxiety experienced by teenage John Dickson about whether they have grasped the gospel message in the right 'order' and whether they are presenting it properly.
- We need to clearly teach that all believers have a responsibility to answer for the Faith (Col 4:6; 1 Pt 3:15).
- As a minister in God's church, I must be more focussed on identifying, encouraging, training and supporting those who are gifted as evangelists.
- The terminology 'promoting the gospel' must be reinforced regularly and in different church ministry contexts. Importantly we need to encourage fellow believers to grasp the breadth of gospel ministry and their great privilege and responsibility to be part of God's saving mission.
- The series can help in establishing / restoring the biblical emphasis on words and works. Dickson rightly comments that "it is precisely because good deeds are an essential fruit of the gospel that they so powerfully promote the gospel" (93). As evangelicals, with such a strong and appropriate emphasis on gospel proclamation, we must ensure that we live out the love, compassion, mercy and justice of God in our particular community contexts. Under the conviction and empowerment of the Holy Spirit we must minimise the gap between what we say and what we do.
- The sermons on prayer and giving, in both parishes, were especially appreciated in the context of promoting the gospel. More importantly the Holy Spirit spoke powerfully through His Word, evidenced by the response of God's people. Attendance and keenness for corporate prayer increased; there was evident joy and even greater generosity in promoting the gospel through giving. One example is illustrative. We were seeking funds to subsidise the costs of unchurched youth attending a youth camp. A number of 'senior' believers responded with great generosity, stating following message: 'We can't physically help at the camp but we pray that this cheque for $x will assist in promotion of the gospel to youth in our community.'
- Response of God's people to the series builds progressively. Consequently small groups do not immediately 'jump on board' and hence are often undertaking the particular topic out of sequence with the sermon. However this lag bring some benefit - many small group are still studying the theme weeks or even months after the conclusion of the sermon series, keeping the topic 'alive' within the parish at a grassroots level. One practical consequence is the sale of books/study guides starts very slowly but then blossoms!
- Each theme can, and should be, developed in the mission context of our local community and globally; likewise the individual believer; the local church and the global church.
- The thesis of Promoting the Gospel should be actively discussed in groups ranging from the youngest to those 'less young.' I had an exhilarating time sharing this message, including a spectrum of illustrations, with the Deep Creek Ladies Guild. No believer is too old or insufficiently gifted to play a vital role in God's mission (1 Cor 12).
In conclusion, let me warmly commend your church to consider a sermon series on promoting the gospel. I have been personally challenged by the Lord, by each theme, in both series. The truth that all Christians are called to, and gifted by the Holy Spirit, to promote the gospel needs to be broadcast throughout the Church and be emphasised in a variety of ministry contexts. To the praise of God's glorious grace.
Rev Rod McArdle is married to Sheryl. He was Assistant Curate at Holy Trinity Doncaster and was appointed Priest-in-Charge of St Philip's Deep Creek early in 2007.