In the 1960’s a pastor in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida by the name of James Kennedy was
struggling to keep his church from closing. Despite his best efforts he realized that if things did not change soon in a few months his wife would be the only one left attending his church.
Then one month he had the opportunity to visit a friend who helped teach him how to
engage people spiritually. He went home to Ft. Lauderdale and developed an outreach program called Evangelism Explosion.
Membership at his church took off and soon the program was spreading across the
country and around the world. In 1967 Kennedy’s church, Coral Ridge Presbyterian, was
recognized as the most rapidly expanding church in America.
Evangelists who are trained in the Evangelism Explosion program are taught to engage
people spiritually with two simple questions. Question One: “Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you can say you know for certain that if you were to die today you would go to heaven?”
If a person answers, “No, I don’t know where I would end up if I die tonight,” the trained
evangelist would be ready with a number of Bible passages that would give the person the assurance of going to heaven.
If the person answered, “Yes, I do know that if I were to die tonight I would go to
heaven,” then the second question would be asked: “Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God and he were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?”
If a person answers, “I know I will go to heaven because Jesus died on the cross and rose
from the dead to pay for all my sins and I am saved only by trusting in Jesus,” the trained
evangelist would praise the Lord for that person’s faith and move on to engage someone else.
If a person answers, “Yes, I know I will go to heaven because I am a good person and I
haven’t done anything really bad,” the trained evangelist would be ready with the numerous Bible passages that point out that none of us can ever do enough to pay for our own sins and earn a spot in heaven. Jesus is the only one who can give us confidence when we stand before God on Judgment Day.
Evangelism Explosion has been tweaked over the years but the basic program with the
two “diagnostic” questions remains the same. Over the years a number of other evangelism programs have been developed. As a pastor, one question I like to ask people to engage them spiritually is “So what’s your pastor’s name?”
As with the Evangelism Explosion questions, the conversation will take a number of different paths depending on how the person answers. If the person can rattle off their pastor’s name without hesitation it gives me confidence that the person is working regularly to maintain their spiritual health with a group of fellow believers in a Christian congregation.
If the person can’t think of their pastor’s name or simply admits they don’t have a pastor,
I’m ready with a follow-up question: “What’s your physician’s name?” If a person has a physician but not a pastor I might be so bold as to point out that if one has a physician to care for his body it might also be a good idea to have a pastor to care for his soul. Going it alone for your spiritual health makes about as much sense as going it alone for
your physical health; we all need help in both areas.
So what can a pastor do for you? A pastor will have various ways of assessing your
spiritual health just as physician has ways of assessing your physical health. And yes, as the Evangelism Explosion program points out, the ultimate healer of our souls is Jesus Christ:
“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with
regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” (Colossians 2:16-19, ESV)
There is no reason to hold anything back from your pastor. As someone put it, the pastor
will not be surprised at your sins nor will he judge you in them. Pastors are not plaster saints who have never had to deal with real life and their own troubles and temptations. And like a good physician, the pastor will maintain complete confidentiality.
The most common Biblical image of a pastor is a shepherd:
Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (I Peter 5:2-3, ESV)
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17, ESV)
With our physical bodies there are seldom quick fixes, so too with our souls. You don’t
expect a physician to heal you instantly, why would expect that of your pastor? You get the best physical care when you develop a long-term, consistent relationship with your physician. The same is true with the one who helps you maintain your spiritual health.
Most pastors I know are willing to drop everything to help someone who is hurting. But
if it’s not an emergency it’s a good idea to make an appointment – even take time off work – to visit with your pastor.
With its two diagnostic questions Evangelism Explosion does a great job of engaging
people spiritually by focusing their attention on something we all must face, the end of our lives. A fine Christian pastor helps keep people in good spiritual health until that day comes.