Reflection by Justyn Terry, Academic Dean | 29th Aug 2017
One of the delights of joining the staff of Wycliffe Hall is seeing the priority of evangelism here. Students and tutors are going on missions, being encouraged to share their faith in personal conversations, and praying for unbelievers to come to know the Lord. It is an inspiring environment.
I recently returned from eleven years in the U.S.A. My work at a theological college there gave me the chance to visit evangelical churches across the United States. I was surprised to find that evangelism often did not seem to be a high priority. In particular, it was unusual for there to be evangelistic sermons. The gospel was proclaimed in the preaching, but the call to repent and believe was rare.
During that time, I sensed a call to preach more evangelistically myself, making that the default option when I received an invitation to preach. I would check with the vicar, and was normally encouraged to go ahead and do so. In the last five minutes of the sermon, the invitation would be explained, including a call to count the cost of discipleship. The opportunity was then given to make a commitment to follow Christ as Lord and Saviour, or to renew such a commitment where it had lapsed. I invited people to make their response in various ways: to come to the front for prayer, to fill in a response card, or to put their hand up in front of their chest when they came to the rail for Communion. Then I would pray with them that they would know the forgiveness of sin, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and have the strength to follow Christ all the days of their life.
I was amazed at how many people responded to this invitation, even at the early morning services. It included men, women and children. On one memorable occasion, a father, mother and teenage son knelt at the communion rail together with their hands raised. What a joy to pray for them! Sometimes long standing members of a congregation would seek me out after the service for prayer. It was a special delight to be speaking at a weekend-away for a church where I had preached evangelistically and to come across two young men who had responded to that invitation and for whom it had been a turning point in their lives. What a blessing those times were.
Such responses to the gospel are, of course, the start of a new life in Christ, and not an end in themselves. Follow up is vital. I would offer a leaflet to those who had made such a commitment, encouraging them to read the Bible and pray, to be regular in their church attendance, and to be baptised and confirmed. One of the advantages of preaching evangelistically in a church service is that follow-up can happen as part of the on-going life of the church.
Having evangelistic sermons as part of the regular preaching programme, perhaps when the biblical text invites such a response or at particular times of the year, shows churchgoers how important such a commitment to Christ is. It also encourages those who already know the Lord to invite their family, friends and colleagues to future evangelistic services so that they can hear and respond to the gospel. Many good things arise from regular evangelistic preaching.
So I am glad that Wycliffe Hall has a such a passion for evangelism and instills in its students the need to, “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). It has done so for many years. Wycliffe graduates now lead some of the most notable international evangelistic movements, like Alpha and Christianity Explored, and carry out a great deal of evangelistic work week by week in less prominent ways. The recent appointment of Greg Downes as Director of Ministerial Training at Wycliffe will serve to strengthen this emphasis further. I pray that the Lord will use Wycliffe graduates to stir up the church with a zeal for evangelism so that many will come to know, love, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
Justyn's leaflet which he mentions in his Reflection is available to download here