ROSEVILLE, MI – Some of our most obvious evangelistic opportunities are with the people who are already members of our churches. You already have a relationship with them. You already have the advantage of consistently telling them and exposing them to the gospel. You also have some God-ordained opportunities to personally point them to Christ.
Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20) that fierce wolves would come in among them and seek to do great damage to the flock. Christ warned several of the churches in Revelation 2-3 that they had unbelievers who were part of their membership. If these churches had unbelievers in them, we probably have some in ours too. But, how do we reach them?
I am assuming that you are faithfully preaching the gospel and pointing your people to Christ. The effect of faithful gospel preaching is like napalm. It has a way of wiping out the terrain of everything else. But, in order to conquer, you still need troops on the ground. So, while you are joyfully preaching Christ, pursue these steps as well.
Pray about the conversions of your church members.
Pray that God would reveal the posers from the possessors. When your elders are praying this and you are publicly praying this, it helps to create a climate in your church where it is no longer assumed that just because you are a member then you are without a doubt a genuine follower of Christ. Most of you, I would assume, publicly pray at the beginning and conclusion of your preaching. These are wonderful opportunities to pray about this critical matter.
Preach about the conversion of your church members.
If you are preaching expositionally, you cannot preach too many sermons before you run into the issue of false conversions. The reason why this issue comes up so much in the Bible is obvious. This is a relevant issue in our churches. In your preaching, illustrate the point with stories from your own church family. When someone gets baptized, we give them the opportunity to explain the gospel and how they came to faith in Christ. Last month, David told our church family how he had pretended for years to be a believer. His story is a great example that I use and a great encouragement to those who are wondering about the validity of their own conversion.
Be aware of this in counseling opportunities.
Devin (not his real name) and his wife met with me for some marriage counseling. Devin was not all that interested since, as it eventually was revealed, he thought that he had found someone else. One Sunday, I stopped him after the service and told him that if continued down that road, he needed to know that he could no longer confidently claim to be a follower of Christ. In fact, his determination to pursue this adulterous relationship may be an indication that he had never become a genuine follower of Christ.
Devin did not repent, but Greg (not his real name) did. Greg met a girl on a business trip and was ready to leave his wife and kids over her. I sat at his kitchen table one night and asked him what would it be: Christ or the girl, because he could not have both. Although Greg had professed faith and joined the church many years before, his life had demonstrated very little gospel fruit. Greg bowed the knee of his heart to Christ and by the grace of God, his was not only redeemed, but his marriage was rescued.
Be aware of this in hospital visits and other life and death situations.
Chuck (his real name) was in the hospital. The doctor had just told him that there was nothing left that could be done for his heart. He had already outlived the expectations, but the end was near. Chuck was a successful businessman, and had been involved in many Christian organizations. In previous churches he had served on boards and taught classes. Now, he was dying and he was terrified. Chuck carried around a secret that very few people knew. During WWII he flew bombing missions over Japan dropping thousands of pounds upon that country. He knew that he had killed hundreds if not thousands of lives. On his 24th mission, his plane was shot up pretty badly, but he was able to get it back to base. His co-pilot however, died. Chuck was eligible to go home after his 25th mission, but he was so angry about the death of his co-pilot that he signed up for another 25 missions and then another 25 missions so that he could kill more Japanese. And he did.
After 76 missions, he finally went back home. On his way back to Michigan, he was at a base in California where he met some Japanese prisoners of war. Some of them were very kind and told him that they did not want the war. They just wanted to go back to their home as well. They showed him pictures of wives and children. Chuck’s anger turned to fear. He assumed that he had killed some of their wives and children. He began to realize that he had not only killed civilians, but he had signed up to do it. Now, sixty years later, the reality of facing God revealed his deepest fear. He would die and be condemned to hell. Chuck finished his story, tucked his knees under his arms, turned away from me and stared at the wall. His frail body made even a hospital bed look big. Chuck had heard me preach the gospel for years. But that day it was obvious that while he thought it was true, it just wasn’t true for him. His case was different.
I sat silent and tried to imagine the weight of his guilt and then said, “Chuck, you are a big sinner, but Jesus is a bigger Savior than you are a sinner.” Chuck responded like he had been hit by lightning. He looked at me like he had heard this for the very first time. His eyes got big, his face was animated, and he said, “That’s it, isn’t it?! Jesus is a bigger Savior than I am a sinner.”
Chuck died two weeks later. The joy of his life in those last two weeks made it evident to everyone who visited him, his chains were broken. His heart was free.
Your members will let you into some of their most private thoughts. You may discover that they need Christ.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in Canton, Ohio in 1960, Bob is a lifelong Buckeyes fan, for which he deservedly endures immeasurable abuse. He is married to the love of his life, Cathi (a Detroit girl), and they have three children, Bobby (married to Taylor), Rebecca (married to Stephen McGee), and Arianna (in Army Officer's Training School). Bob has been serving as the Senior Pastor of Cornerstone since 1989. He has a Masters of Divinity degree from the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary (1997).