Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus- J. Mack Stiles

I had been looking forward to this book for a while and was glad when God gave me a reason to expedite my reading of it. I’m sorry to be so disappointed in this book. Mack is a great brother and the series generally has been very helpful but this one just misses the mark.

One of the things that sets this book apart in a good way is the emphasis on the church culture as part of the momentum toward or resistance to evangelism. Stiles very correctly points out the way God used community to draw in new followers. This was as true in the Old Testament as in the New Testament, and it is largely missing in books on the topic today. The well known quote from Francis Schaffer should be more embraced: “ But after we have done our best to communicate to a lost world, still we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.” The love of God that saves sinners is really only ever observable in community.

The enormous miss here is the basic lack of accountability for those most responsible for church culture in the first place, namely its leadership. When churches care more about the root of a Greek word or their kid’s next soccer practice than their neighbors eternal state, they got that way somehow. Usually it’s because loving unbelievers at personal cost is not modeled for them by their leaders and sadly Mack mostly misses this and blames everyday believers for looking for programs. Even in his example about Pastor Juan which set Pastor Juan up as a hero, where was the admonition for lack of faith and training by Pastor Juan? How is it that his responsibility for a culture that produces what Mack saw as a problem question is abdicated by the fact that he invited a stranger in to talk about evangelism for four hours?

If Stiles is right that culture drives evangelism, then the book would have been more effective if it had described at least one example where leaders repented of their inward focus and challenged the typical 9Marks book reader to do the same. I do not deny the very real difficulties of shifting a church culture from an inward focus to an evangelism focus, especially as we are living in an increasingly self centered and consumer society, but that only highlights the need to address leaders on this point head on. This, by the way, is one of the great advantages of church planting because there is no inward focus to overcome and only those committed to evangelism end up sticking around. My pastor when I was first married once said something I will never forget about church members – “The way you get them is the way you keep them.” In the west, churches attracting people because of great exegesis are just as inwardly focused as those attracting people with great drama because the reason people show up is to get what they want rather than to enlist in an army to do what their Commander wants.

I also was disappointed by some smaller things. I don’t know why he talked about “pastors and elders” when the 9Marks book on elders made it clear these are the same office. I don’t know why he repeatedly used two mutually exclusive meanings for “church”. Why would you call the organizational body the “church” after criticizing everyday believers for expecting the “church” to do something about a new immigrant population? I think his points would have been more effective if he said church leaders or church administrators if that’s what he meant in most of those cases.

If you are interested in a book to strengthen your personal evangelism then I would encourage you to consider Tell the Truth by Will Metzger or better yet the evangelism chapter in Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.

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