We are living in the midst of an epidemic. I am not speaking of a physical epidemic that can be researched and treated by doctors or scientists. I am speaking of a spiritual epidemic being ignored by churches throughout our nation. The epidemic I am speaking of can’t be treated by new books or buzzwords. It can’t be contained through catch phrases or cute acronyms. This epidemic to which I am referring can only be turned around by pastors, church staff and lay people once again becoming broken and burdened for the lost in our nation and world. The spiritual epidemic of which I am writing is evangelistic indifference.
We live in a nation growing at overwhelming rates. In 1981, the U.S. population was approximately 229 million, and today, we are at 322 million. This is just shy of 100 million more people in our nation in just 35 years. We must stop to understand that with an enormous inflation of people, there is also an inflation of lost in America. The fact that our nation is growing at such rapid rates and yet our churches are dying and baptisms are dropping should send chills down the spine of every follower of Jesus. The truths of these statistics simply should not be OK. We must regain our fervency for reaching the lost with the Gospel of Christ.
In Acts 17, we learn some valuable lessons from the Apostle Paul that can be the very truths to help us end this epidemic. Paul is in Antioch awaiting the arrival of Timothy and Silas. He finds himself in the midst of a lost culture and becomes driven to action in reaching the lost. Let me point out three truths about Paul’s passion in evangelism to help us and our churches:
1.) It was personal to Paul
As Paul was awaiting his ministry partners in Antioch, his spirit was provoked. His spirit was not provoked because people were constantly pursuing him or trying to hurt him. It was not because he was growing weary of persecution or suffering for the name of Christ. It was simply that Paul found himself in the middle of a city and culture giving glory to a god who did not deserve it. It became personal to Paul that the God of creation was being bypassed by the god of man’s imagination.
As we look around our culture today, we find ourselves in a similar place to that of Paul. Our culture is busy laying its praise on the altar of false gods and self-centered pursuits. Our culture is becoming more and more hostile every day to the things of God. People are flocking to our nation to pursue the American dream while our churches and her people sit silently hoping these same people will somehow stumble into our doors. If we are going to see this epidemic turned around, we can no longer be indifferent about lostness. It must become personal to us, as it did to Paul. We often forget the reality of hell because we refuse to be close to those who are on their way there. Our hearts must be broken and burdened for the lost like never before. We cannot sit by and hope they come to our churches while we sit in our churches singing our songs. We must act, and we must act now! As long as we are more provoked about politics, economics or sports more than we are about people who live in a nation filled with those who are lost and going to hell, we will not see this epidemic turned around.
2.) Paul was intentional about engaging the culture
As we see Paul’s heart begin to unfold and his spirit being provoked within him, we also see that because it became personal to Paul, he wanted to do something about it. In verse 17, Paul goes into the synagogue with the Jews and devout men. In other words, Paul went to church. However, there is a major paradigm shift that takes place in this verse. Paul doesn’t just go to church and expect others to join him there. The verse also teaches that he went into the marketplace every day to seek those with whom he could share Christ. In churches today, we need less expectation that the lost will join us in our church and more intentionality for us to go into the marketplace. We need to apply our time, resources, strategies and efforts to equipping and mobilizing marketplace missionaries who work to make a living but live to make a difference. If we look at the time that people in the pews spend in their week, it could be broken down like this:
– 168 hours in a week
– 7 hours of church activity (this is a generous estimate)
– 56 hours of sleep
This leaves us 105 hours per week in which we are not in church or asleep. This means that we are at work (marketplace) or at the store (marketplace) or at our kids’ activities (marketplace) or any other activity that takes up our time. If this is true for the majority of the people in our churches, why is it that we build strategies majoring on that to which people devote the smallest amount of their time? In other words, we have made the Sunday morning experience our primary method of evangelism when it’s the shortest amount of time used in our people’s week. This is the hole in our evangelism—that we subconsciously train our people to spend the minimal time on what matters the most. What if we built our strategies on marketplace evangelism? What if we equipped our people to share the Gospel in the context in which they spend most of their time, the marketplace?
3.) Paul’s objective was the Gospel of Christ, and his message was compelling
Paul was burdened by this city in which he found himself. He was broken over their lostness and the fact that they were giving God’s glory to some other object. It was simply not OK to him! So Paul began to preach. He went before the Areopagus; and as verse 18 tells us, he preached Jesus and the resurrection. Paul’s objective was that Christ be preached. He wasn’t into trying to go overboard to be relevant to the Areopagus. He simply preached Jesus and His resurrection. This is a common pattern in the life of Paul. His sole objective was always that the Gospel be proclaimed. Because of this, the people desired to hear more. In verse 20, we see these men hungry to know and understand more about Jesus and His resurrection. This is simply because Paul’s desire was to be a Gospel proclaimer.
These are great lessons for us to learn. In doing so, we should take it personally that there are so many lost people around us. We need to intentionally engage the culture around us by equipping and mobilizing our people to go into the marketplace where they spend the majority of their time. Our main objective is the Gospel being faithfully proclaimed. It is tempting to identify ourselves and churches as “Gospel-centered.” However, if the Gospel is not being shared individually and corporately, how is it “Gospel-centered”? Perhaps it just becomes a buzzword and a hole in our evangelism. May we work together to put an end to the epidemic of evangelistic indifference!