Just the thought of preaching an evangelistic sermon sends some pastors running or counseling and others to a PA (Pastors Anonymous) meeting. After 27 years in full time evangelism — when I think I have heard all the shallow comments about evangelists and their preaching — along comes another one. What’s so sad is the element of truth in many of these off-handed statements.
The image of the TV evangelist and his/her preaching style — combined with their lack of sound biblical content — has caused many pastors to shy away from incorporating evangelistic sermons in their sermonic quivers. Why? Because most preachers, including evangelists, do not fully understand what constitutes authentic evangelistic preaching.
First, evangelistic preaching by its very meaning must be Christ-centered.
The preacher is proclaiming the Good News of Jesus who walks through the entire Bible. From, “In the beginning,” to “Surely I am coming quickly,” His footprints are on every page and in every chapter.
Second, evangelistic preaching must be Cross-centered.
Regardless of our topic or text, our aim should be to point people to Jesus. He alone is their source of hope and encouragement. The only way to do this is to lift up the Cross. Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself,” (John 12:32). The Cross and its meaning for all mankind for all eternity should be inserted into every sermon. When you omit the Cross it is like offering a thirsty man an empty water bottle from which to drink. When you embrace the Cross you will embrace the hurting needs of humanity.
Third, evangelistic preaching must be Culturally-centered.
If you do not relate to your audience you end up preaching to yourself. Even some preachers are not sure what they have said when their sermon is concluded. After preaching over 3,000 sermons throughout the United States and in numerous international countries I have come to understand that the scriptures remain unchanged, but my content must relate to the culture I am addressing.
Sound biblical evangelistic exposition has several benefits: (1) It strengthens your audiences’ faith in the authority of the scriptures; (2) It affirms the testimonies of the great preachers of the past; (3) It makes the entire Bible live in the present by meeting the needs of your audience; (4) It sharpens the sword of apologetics by helping our listeners defend their faith; (5) It appeals to both the intellect and the emotion rather than one or the other; (6) It challenges the proclaimer to stay fresh in his study and in his skills of communication and creativity; (7) It keeps the focus on the destination of the sermon without taking detours; and (8) It calls for a decision on the part of everyone who has listened including the preacher. It is called the invitation.
The invitation is often the least thought out and least prepared part of the evangelistic sermon. It is not an appendix, but the final chapter. It is not a suggestion, but a mandate given by our Lord as illustrated in His first sermon in Mark 1:15. It must be given with complete dependence on the Holy Spirit. It must be given clearly. It must be given honestly. It must be given courteously. It must be given urgently. It must be given with integrity.
Persuasive pulpit evangelism is accomplished when we as pastors and evangelists clearly, simply, and spiritually, “Preach Jesus, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus,” (Col. 1:28). So, take an evangelistic sermon from your quiver place it on the bow of proclamation and let fly. The target you hit will be well worth the effort.
Jerry Drace is former President of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. He leads evangelistic crusades and “Hope for the Home” conferences across the U.S. and internationally. This is the first of a series of columns on evangelism provided by members of the Personal Evangelism Network (PEN), which includes leaders of many of the nation’s key evangelistic and mission ministries.
(from the January-February 2003 issue of Preaching)