I am Passionate and Frustrated

I am passionate and frustrated. About what?  I am passionate about evangelism and I am frustrated at the seeming apathy towards it from our Churches.

I have a title. It may be the longest title I have ever heard of.  I am not trying to be pretentious, but here it is:

Chairman of the Home Mission Committee of the Canadian Reformed Church at Chilliwack.

What a mouthful! 13 Words. 21 syllables. I choke on it when I say it…

I am passionate about evangelism. Our mandate (or part of it) as committee is to stimulate the congregation in their calling to evangelize.  I think it is nice that we have this mandate.  I have passion for evangelism and love to share with others what I have been given, and I love to help others learn to share their faith as well.  But if you are a Christian you should not need any further stimulation than this:

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

If that simple fact does not “stimulate” you to share what he has done for you, then no amount of my sitting in a meeting discussing things over coffee and “boterkoek” is going to help stimulate you to spread the gospel!   Now don’t get me wrong, the committee has done some fine work in outreach, and some of us even partake of sharing the gospel message… but have we really stimulated any of you to share your faith? Ok, I know some of you who are taking part in some outreach that is set up by the committee, but something is missing here.  Something very fundamental to the spread of the gospel.  What is that?

Elder involvement is missing.

I know that the Church order does not say that elders need to evangelize. I admit that. But it did. For almost 2000 years this was something that was expected of an elder. Then in 1984 the Canadian Reformed Churches decided that the elders should focus only on their own congregations.  It was this decision that birthed the Home Mission Committee’s around our federation.

In my opinion, our Federation of Churches have been far too inward looking for far too long.  While it is a good thing to guard against heresy and protect against the attacks of the Devil, and in our unity talks we need to ensure the truth is central, but lack of evangelizing for fear of bringing in outsiders is not biblical and is antithetical to the biblical mandate we have as the church to spread of the gospel message.  This sectarian fear of outsiders was proven in the decision by Synod in 1984. Here is a quote from Dr. A J de Visser from the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary:

It is interesting to note that the Synod of Cloverdale (1984) adopted a revised version of the Church Order in which the mandate of the elders was narrowed down to focus solely on work within the congregation. The phrase in the original version that elders should “exhort others with respect to the Christian faith” was deleted from the mandate of elders. In my opinion this illustrates that the Canadian Reformed Churches had become more inward looking than the churches of the Reformation and the Secession.

I said that evangelizing is part of an elders biblical mandate.  I should clarify what I mean by this. Hospitality.  This qualification is required to being an elder. So, let me ask. What do you think that “hospitality” means? We Canreffers are famous for our hospitality…to each other.  We go to each other’s homes for soup and buns and we have dinner together and share what we have with each other and we partake of the communion of the saints and it is all very “gezellig”… but it is also very inward looking. Is this what the Bible means when it mentions hospitality?  Yes and No.   Of course it is hospitality when we open our homes to fellow believers, but the New Testament explicitly links hospitality with the proclamation of the Gospel:

Mt 10.5-42; Mk 6.7-13; Lk 9.2-6, 10.1-17 – these passages are the accounts of Jesus sending out the disciples and others to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. Throughout these accounts, there is an emphasis on entering homes and eating and drinking with hosts who receive them.

Acts 10.24-48 –Peter at the house of Cornelius. Cornelius invites Peter to his home. Once there, Peter proclaims the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit visits the house and the Gentiles present are saved and subsequently baptized. Peter stays with them for several days. Peter and Cornelius are mutual strangers in the context of hospitality. Peter is a Jewish Christian, and Cornelius is a Roman centurion.  Yet, hospitality is the bridge that overcomes all of their cultural differences and becomes the means by which God’s salvation begins extending to the Gentiles in force.

Acts 16.11-15 – this is the story of Paul and Lydia. When Lydia and her family are converted and baptized, she invites Paul to stay with them. Note that Paul’s acceptance of Lydia’s offer of hospitality confirms his belief in her salvation.

Acts 16.29-34 –Paul and Silas are in prison, the earth shakes, and the prison doors open, yet no one attempts to escape. The startled jailer is eventually presented with the Gospel message and he responds. His family isbaptized as believers, and he hosts them in his house with a fine meal after washing their wounds.

There are numerous other stories in the book of Acts, but for the sake of brevity, I will stop there. It is clear that hospitality was a tool in the transmission of the Gospel in the early church. I belive that this is what is meant by hospitality being a criteria for elders. I believe that nothing has changed in this regard, and if it has, it is only because we have missed something, or lost something along the way. Does it not surprise that 98% of our growth is from within the church?  I am one of very few in our churches who came from the outside.

I do not think that this blog post is going to change anything; I am not kidding myself.  But my prayer here is that Our Lord would awaken in us as a federation the joy of the Gospel message, and a desire to share this news to all who might listen.  I would like to see the phrase, “exhort others to the Christian faith” returned to its rightful place in our church order as part of the role of an elder.

So should I send a letter to consistory to appeal to synod to reinstate the phrase?  I wonder what the elders in my church would think of that…

Here is one final quote from Dr. de Visser:

It will be healthy for every minister to have some evangelistic contacts outside the congregation. Not only will it prevent him from developing a myopic view of life, it will also give his sermons and prayers an evangelistic flavour which will have a formative effect on the congregation as a whole. The same applies to elders. By definition, they are men who command respect. It would be great if our elders had the reputation that they are not afraid to use the contacts which they have in the broader society to “exhort others to the Christian faith.”

By saying this, I am not suggesting that the responsibility for evangelism should be thrown back entirely into the lap of the office-bearers. Evangelism is a congregational ministry, as we have seen. Both office-bearers and ordinary members should be involved in it.

Read a follow up article I have writter entitled Still Passionate but a little less frustrated.

Read Dr. de Visser’s entire article Here!  And please note that I am one of the “Passionate and Frustrated ones” 🙂

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  1. Did I feel a breath of fresh air? 🙂 Good to know that my (and I’m sure a few more) feelings and thoughts are not as exclusive I (we) often think.

    • Thanks for the comment Henry. I have not been known to pull myu punches, and it gets me in hot water sometimes, but we are to Glorify God in everything we do and that is all I am trying to do here… While I have no doubt that the Churches also intended to glorify God with their decision in 1984, it obviously has backfired. People are sheep, they need shepherds to lead them. When the shepherds are not leading, the sheep are not going go on their own. There are some exceptions to the rule, but sheep are called sheep for a reason.

  2. Cheryl Fennema says:

    Thank you for this article Ryan! We simply need to be excited about what our faithful God has done for us wretched people and be excited about it! Jesus died and rose again for us! Our Saviour Lives! How come Canreffers are so shy to share such a rich gift?

    • Thanks for the comment Cheryl. That is precisely my point! The gospel is so rich, we should want to share it with the lost! We do not know who the elect are, so we need to share the gospel! We are Gods ordained way of spreading his message! We need to rediscover that love for our nieghbour who is yet unbelieving…what greater love can we show than to show the lost than to care about their eternal souls by sharing the love of Christ and him crucified?

  3. Ryan, I, too, greatly appreciated Dr. De Visser’s articles. We had him come up to speak about this at a men’s advance (real men don’t retreat) for men from Can. Ref., URC, RPCNA, OPC, and FCS. When we, in Ottawa, hit the streets to do street evangelism among the homeless downtown, our elders lead the charge, and many young and old of the congregation join the effort.

    Also, we need to create an environment in our churches where present members want to invite friends, neighbours, and colleagues to the worship services. If a visitor does not feel welcomed within the first couple of minutes, he’ll likely not come back. This is something we need to keep working at.

    • Rev. Van Popta, thanks for your comment, I had forgotten these were originally 3 separate articles in the Clarion. I love the terminology you are using “hit the streets” and “elders lead the charge” …I envy that passion! That is what I want to see all believers doing! And I do beleive that the elders have to lead the charge, because like I said in another comment, people are sheep and need to be lead, no matter how sincere a believer that sheep is, sometimes we need to be lead!

      I have often wondered what would happen if a homeless man walked into my congregation…it is not likely to happen since our building is about 10km down a country road out of town…but when the holy spirit moves and works faith in an unrepentant heart…won’t he or she come to church? How will we receive that person? We have to be warm and caring…and hospitable to all who come into our midst 🙂

    • I actually laughed out loud when I read “men’s advance (real men don’t retreat) ” 🙂

  4. Having communed with brothers and sisters in Ottawa, I’d have to say that there is a difference from what I was used to, a very refreshing difference. I loved all the individuals I met. I know it was more than the cold, crisp air that made everyone so vibrant. 🙂

  5. Hilmer Jagersma says:

    Another enjoyable read!! As someone who “sit’s at the feet” of Dr. Devisser, I can tell you that he has a great deal of wisdom to share on this matter. While the idea of an evangelism committee is a good thing, simply having such a thing does not mean that a church has fulfilled it’s obligation to evangelism. Evangelism must be a church wide activity!!
    One more thing…I believe we often view evangelism with too much focus on “words”. Like you mention in the article, things like hospitality can speak volumes about our faith to our neighbours and those in the community abroad. While we as a church federation have not made this a focus in the past, there are tremendous opportunities for us to develop drug/rehab facilities, food banks, homeless shelters, and prison ministry. I recognize that this would be new territory, but we as a church are blessed with tremendously gifted people (in various capacities) and the resources to pursue these types of things.
    Just some thoughts…

    • Well said Hilmer. You and I are very similar in our perspectives on most things and this one is no exception… the majority of my evangelism is simply having coffee with someone and chatting. I rarely “preach” at people – unless you read this blog 😉 Typically over coffee or lunch the topic of the bible or Jesus or church comes up. I admit that I would like to sit at the feet of Dr. de Visser one day as well.

  6. doulanic says:

    Interesting and thought provoking and challenging. What frustrates me is how slow the wheels or change turn in our churches. We’re so afraid to make mistakes with “the wrong program” or what have you, that nothing changes or gets done. We want to “test” every program first, and if it doesn’t pass the strictest 5 point Calvinistic doctrine, we toss it aside and look for something else. I would like to know how other churches do evangelism. Do other churches give free reign to their “committees”. EVERYTHING here has to be run by Council first …and while I understand the reason for this safe guard,it makes everything so much slower.
    Your thoughts?

    • Hi Nicole,
      Honestly I have been trying to get our committee to use the Two Ways to Live evangelism training for lay people. Cloverdale Church uses it, and so does Rev. Jim Witteveen in Prince George. It is simple to learn, and very effective, and other local congregations are using it but our committee wants me to teach it to them first so they can decide whether to present it to council…frustration! Try to get together with that many people every week! But I do understand why we do it that way. I have been using this system on the street and at work, and with friends for a few months now, and a number of these people have requested bibles, and some are coming to me with questions and we are talking through it. It is wonderful to see people opening up tot he gospel message, it is amazing to see God at work. So my point is don’t worry about teaching others to do it, or getting council approval for a system or program…just do it yourself. Do the Gospel! Proclaim the message and invite others to join you. You don;t need council approval to share your faith, in fact I think it is encouraged! When you start sharing the gospel, and the joy of the Lord is evident in you, people will follow suit, maybe not at first, but they will.

      • cecile says:

        “Two Ways to Live Evangelism training for lay people”….is this in a book/magazine format? Just curious if our church library carries this….

      • Amen to that, Ryan. As Dr. De Visser says in his articles, evangelism committees are not very useful; in fact, they may have a negative effect on the church’s outreach. (You know what a camel is, right? A horse designed by a committee. 🙂 ) What do committees do? They meet in an effort to fulfil their mandates. You may need a committee to organize some practical details, but it’s the task of the church, led and encouraged by the minister and elders, to reach out. Each of us should be reaching out and endeavouring to bring friends, neighbours, colleagues, etc., to the worship service to get them under the official proclamation of the Word and into the midst of God’s worshipping community. If you bring a friend to church, it’s good to give the minister a head’s-up. I cannot emphasize too strongly how our churches need to be welcoming communities where visitors will very quickly feel that we are happy to have them with us. We don’t need to dumb anything down. We can keep our songs, sermons, liturgy, etc., but we need to warm and welcoming. I would urge all to read the De Visser articles. They are important.

      • doulanic says:

        I was thinking more in lines of running a “course” that un-churched people could come to at our church, perhaps with a meal. An outreach of sorts.
        Of course evangelism starts with individuals and with those individuals actually forming relationships etc. I’m curious – never thought about how Evangelism Committees can actually be harmful. I’ll have to think about that!! (considering I served on one, once!)

      • kevin says:

        i’ve done the two ways to live course, its a great explanation of the gospel.

  7. Fully agreed with my colleague George. We don’t need more programs, but more love and compassion for the lost around us. That love will express itself relationally in words and deeds. That said, I think something like Two Ways to Live can be a helpful tool to train our people in this direction. The Providence CanRC in Hamilton will be running this course between our Sunday services starting in January.

    • I have to say that I am glad this discussion is happening, I echo Henry’s sentiments that it is good to hear my own opinions coming from someone else in our federation! And look at that, another CanRC congregation using 2 Ways to Live! I like that you are doing it between services…will there be lunch as well? That is hospitable 🙂

  8. Nicole, there are a couple courses you could use for the “un-churched”. One is the Gift of Heaven and the other is the Emmaus course. Both can be found on the Reformed Evangelism taskforce website under the tab “downloads.”

  9. harmamae says:

    Hello! Followed the link here from facebook 🙂 This post puts into words a lot of the frustrations I keep hearing over and over from many church people I hang out with too, but what I really like about it is it offers some practical suggestions. I find we often just complain about it and then don’t do anything! Though hospitality can be hard if you’re young and don’t have a place of your own yet. Anyway, this topic is a good issue to talk about!

  10. Stephen 't Hart says:

    I don’t think that the problem is “committees” per se but the way in which evangelism has often been sidelined to committees and treated as an appendix to the church at best. I think Ryan hit the nail on the head with his comment that “Elder involvement is missing.” After 5 years without, even though we have seen a growing number of visitors in church, our church has concluded that a committee can help us progress further. However the committee will have at least two office bearers in it at any time, one of them being the minister. (Baldivis Free Reformed Church of Australia)

  11. kevin says:

    i think the attitude in our churches is changing, just look at the synod repor on the college.

  12. Alberta Boy says:

    That by our Godly walk of life we may win our neighbours for Christ.

    There are some who are a little sceptical of modern evangelism. It is generally a play on emotion rather than knowledge. Douwe Van dyk in his book ‘My path to liberation’ articulates his views on evangelism. I recommend that you read it. He suggest that for the church to focus on evangelism is not necessarily warranted. He makes the point that if we all strive to make the church the place that it is supposed to be, people will come. He is suggesting that the church should be strengthening its members and by their walk of life others will come to faith.

    I have heard Dr. A J de Visser speak on the topic of evangelism and he did directly address the views of Douwe. The difference between de Visser and Van dyk is focus. One argues for outward focus and the other for inward focus. I think I could argue that our inward focus may be one of our churches greatest strengths.

    • Thanks for your comment Alberta Boy. I am not advocating for “modern evangelism” if by modern evangelism you mean a water-down gospel of feelings and emotions. I have never uttered the phrase, “ask jesus into your heart.” I never compromise the gospel message when I proclaim it to the lost. I have not read Van dyk’s book. You state:

      “He makes the point that if we all strive to make the church the place that it is supposed to be, people will come. He is suggesting that the church should be strengthening its members and by their walk of life others will come to faith.”

      Could you please expand on this and explain how making the people of God stronger in their faith will bring in other people? I do agree that we need to be strengthened in our faith, do not get me wrong, but for nearly 60 years our churches have a had a pitiful track record of seeing people come to the faith while we were being “inward focused.” It is not us who converts people to the faith, no matter how strong we are in the faith or how godly our lifestyle. God uses imperfect humans to spread his message of salvation, and if we are not proclaiming that message then how will people hear it? God uses us as tools in His plan of Salvation. Whatever we may believe about election, the fact remains that evangelism is necessary, because no man can be saved without the gospel. They must be told of Christ before they can trust Him. Salvation depends on faith, and faith on knowing the gospel. God’s way of saving sinners is to bring them to faith through bringing them into contact with the gospel. In God’s ordering of things, therefore, evangelism is a necessity if anyone is to be saved at all.

      • I find it regrettable that Van Dijk’s view is still around and that anyone would still find it credible. It’s lamentable because it pits winning people with “our godly walk of life” vs. “as a prophet confessing the name of Christ.” Confession is a verbal act — Rom. 10:9-10. Thankfully, most of us now recognize that the old view was imbalanced at best. I have written at length elsewhere about how it is God’s will (from his Word) for his church to be a missionary church abroad and in our own communities. Moreover, this is also the view embedded in our Reformed confessional heritage.

      • Alberta Boy says:

        I would like to draw your attention to the work that our churches have done in places like Brazil, and Papua New Guinea. Then there there generations of faithful church members who were born in the faith. Please do not take that kind of church growth for granted. This kind of church growth may not be personally exhilarating or fresh but it should not be confused with apathy.

        Van Dyk makes a distinction between mission work and general evangelism. I am not sure what i think on the topic, I just thought that Van dyk’s ideas were interesting. Rev. Bredenhof, I do not feel that his ideas should be written off completely. Rom. 10:15, “And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?”. Mission work requires a level of accountability. Thus missionaries are sent and required to report. I think that is Van Dyk’s point.

  13. Isn’t it ironic that people with passion are moved into positions of leadership only to be frustrated by those who put them there. Sometimes I think it’s a way to avoid doing it ourselves – give it to the person with passion, let them do it.

    • Interesting point Rick. I did fight my way on to this committee because of my passion for it…and now that I am here I have felt frustrated…SO perhaps you have a point. But I am dubious that the elders put me here simply to “let me do it”. I must admit since going public with this a few days ago that my frustrations have been cut in half by the amount of support I have received. I know that God is working and the Joy of the gospel is being proclaimed. Thanks for your comment.

  14. Bouwman Jason says:

    Really enjoyed this post and comments so far. I agree with much of what has been said by others but I want to encourage everyone to turn their frustration into something positive! The things that annoy, aggravate and frustrate you are usually the things for which you have unique gifts. When you are frustrated that your leaders aren’t leading in a certain area, it’s possible you are being called to lead.

    We all do well to manage our expectations of what it takes to lead. The fact that it doesn’t happen automatically should not be cause for frustration but rather a call for courage, creativity, persistence, tenacity, encouragement, love,…. you know…. leadership.

    I think leaders or change agents are far more effective when they frame their ideas positively. Frustration = anger, disappointment, hopelessness etc… It’s hard to get people to rally behind that. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for it. Instead, take your frustration to God in prayer. Pray for the leaders in your life. Ask God to give them vision and wisdom. But be prepared that God may also be guiding you to a place where you are uniquely gifted to lead others.

    • Thanks Jason. I agree with what you have written. To clarify, I am not “that” frustrated. I simply titled this article based on 1 of the 2 groups of people mentioned at the beginning of Dr. de Visser’s articles. I am doing what I can in my limited capacity, but for a full scale change in the attitude towards evangelism/sharing the gospel, the people with real clout need to be involved…that means the elders of each congregation. 🙂

    • Kim hutten says:

      I find your words encouraging Jason. Behind every person with authority or a title of leadership are a multitude of people who either Do or Do Not agree. For those of us who do not have a title of leadership but feel passionately about our faith and walk with God, it is important to encourage and demonstrate leadership, to encourage those in a leadership position. When we feel weak, humble, frustrated we grow and search scriptures to find answers. It is also important to remember that there is a time for everything, and that God works in people differently. We cannot expect that everyone reaches the same realizations at the same time as us. Therefore, much patience and love is required to persist in tasks that require change or reform. May God bless our prayers and humble us all to work together towards them ultimate goal of satisfying the Will of Our God.

  15. Thank you for this great post. I too am frustrated, actually disturbed is how we have been looking at it.

    And Isnt’t it a good thing to be disturbed? what do we think a constantly reforming church should be?

    We have actively been pursuing these questions ourselves, not on the principle that ‘we have it all right’ in fact….that’s the point, we do not have it all right! By this very mindset alone, we as reformers have a beautiful opportunity to engage in this dialogue and positive tension do we not?

    At the heart of what is disturbing us is what I believe you are touching on in this post. Does the heart of God and our savior not reach outward? Should we not mirror and model this….and do we? Do we get as intentional about this as we do ensuring our worship includes reverence, awe and order?

    Look at the parables of the lost or what Jesus said on the cross AND WHO HE PRAYED FOR!

    • Thanks for the comment Bryan. I agree that the church should be constantly reforming and more outward looking than it has been. In my own congregation we have seen a big change in the past 3 years…it was like pulling teeth to get congregational members to come out to volunteer at a local outreach mission…now we occasionally have people showing up unannounced and we have to send them away to make room in the kitchen. And this changed because a small number of us committed to praying, engaging the congregation and challenging them to be the light we are called to be. Change is happening and it starts in on our knees in prayer…and like I tell people in my own congregation, we don’t need council approval to go out and share our faith. Just go and do it, if you know what gift of grace has been given to you…share it! Are we who are frustrated and disturbed about our federation’s inward focus actually going out and sharing the gospel? Do we have Joy in the promises of God? If we as individuals are not going out there and doing it ourselves, we have no right to demand that others change. I am going out. I would like more people to join me, and I would love to see the elders in all congregations leading the charge. .That is why I wrote this article.

  16. Sonya says:

    I have enjoyed reading the above blog post and all the comments!

    Is someone able to let me know a bit more about “Two ways to live” and the best possible way to implement this for a church? How many weeks is it and how long is each session?
    And what about the other one that was mentioned. I can’t find it in the comments right now but it was something about “6 points…”

    Also…I am serving on an Evangelism Committee and we are finding it hard to get the congregation involved in efforts. We currently do a soccer camp in the summer for ages 8-14, we sing at an old age home once a month, we collect money for a charity that helps pregnant woman, and just added serving a meal for those that use Food Bank. This will occur once or twice a month. We also have just made a church pamphlet and hope to hand those out at church garage sales, bbq’s, car wash, soccer camp, girls club and other such events. What are other churches doing?

    Sorry for all the questions but there’s passion here just not always aware of methods. 🙂

      • Sonya says:

        Thanks! I have that information but I can’t seem to find out the length of each session. I am also curious too how other churches who have used this program incorporated it. We are afraid that with all the other church committments (catechism, young peoples, Bible Studies, post confession classes, a parenting seminar going on in our area, and who knows what else!) that we wouldn’t get peeople out for a 7 week course.

        • I have not done the course with anyone yet, but doing it myself I would assume it would be about 45 minutes to an hour per lesson. I am sure it can condensed as well. Our Young Peoples are going to use it this summer, I hope to see it implemented in the fall for the rest of the congregation. I heard of some congregations doing it between services on Sunday, but that is a long day for any kids involved.

  17. Henry says:

    Each session is supposed to be about an hour, however the dynamics of the people drives each session. When I first took the course, each session was in excess of an hour. I am now teaching a course, and again each session is in excess of an hour. Why? think it’s because everyone is interested, excited, and desirous of sharing everything they can about speaking to others, or their fear of doing so.
    I am hoping that at some point in the future we will be able to go into town and in some way use the information we have. I am excited about how this course works, and how it grows on you if you listen to people around you.
    I could go on for awhile about this, but work calls. If you have more questions or would like specifics, please ask.