With more than 4 million people having heard the gospel message at one of his festivals or crusades since 1999, Luis Palau seems well suited to speak on the topic of evangelism. Born and raised in Argentina, he has taken his mix of music, messages and family-friendly fun all over the world.
Now, Palau has written a book on evangelism with co-author Timothy Robnett in Telling the Story. The book is a primer on understanding both the ministry of evangelism and the role of evangelist. It is geared for those trying to obtain a biblical grasp on the topic for the 21st century. Ultimately, Palau says it needs to start by defining both the interior and exterior calling and moving forward from the local church.
Recently, Palau made some time to answer questions on his motivations for writing the book and how the church can return to its evangelistic roots.
Ministry Today: Your new book, Telling the Story, attempts to redefine evangelism for a new generation. What do you think is the primary misunderstanding about evangelism today?
PALAU: Our definition of evangelism has always been a biblical one. It centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ—He is the good news. It's a message of hope about a relationship that connects people with a saving God who has done for them what they can't do for themselves. A true evangelist preaches Jesus Christ.
It's common today to focus on good deeds—to believe that helping the poor or healing the sick is the gospel, when those deeds are really a result of the gospel. Prayer, though vitally important, is also not evangelism. Paul described the message of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15: Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day. That is the evangelist's singular message.
Ministry Today: You spend significant time defining the interior life of the evangelist, as opposed to other books that specifically focus on the exterior workings. Is there not enough emphasis on that interior life?
PALAU: Absolutely! It's a major reason this book was written. The integrity and holiness of the evangelist is vital to the proclamation of the message. Recent history demonstrates that a believer—even one in a position of leadership and trust—can fall to temptation.
A successful evangelistic ministry begins with our personal lives as evangelists. We must have a transparent conscience with no unresolved conflicts or skeletons in the closet. Truthfulness has to be at the heart of our words and our writings. We must train ourselves to always give all the glory to God.
Ministry Today: How do you see evangelistic methods changing in the next decade or so of ministry?
PALAU: The methods should always be adapted to the culture and the times. We don't know what the future holds, but we believe that biblical evangelists in those times will discover ways of making the good news clear.
Just a few years ago, the concept of our festivals—rock bands, skateboarders, flying motorcycles—would have been too wild for most of us to grasp. Still, when I share the gospel now at these events, it's just me and a microphone and my Bible. The key is always going to be the messengers and the message—not the methods.
Ministry Today: In your book you seek to redefine roles for the evangelist to fit within the 21st-century church or ministry organization. Do you think the church still holds to outdated models?
PALAU: Models and roles will change. Churches at any given point in history are at various stages of growth as well as using various methods of ministry. Evangelists are Christ's gift—typically they are the ones who bring new roles, titles and methods of evangelism to the church.
When we bring a festival to a city, our first step is to reach out to the church community. Two of our festival-driven projects, friendship- evangelism training and counselor training, are designed to bring new information and, hopefully, new enthusiasm for evangelism to congregations of many denominations.
Ministry Today: What are the biggest dangers ahead for the church regarding the work of evangelism?
PALAU: I see three major dangers always facing the church when proclaiming the good news. The first danger is the idea that evangelism is left only to called evangelists. Every member of the body of Christ is called to be an active witness of the good news.
The second danger is that the church will fail to acknowledge the importance of evangelists and evangelism. When that happens, a ministry is created that focuses on methods and programs rather than equipping the congregation to pursue the Great Commission one evangelist at a time.
The third danger is that evangelism will be tied only to certain methodologies that may become outdated. When the methods become outdated, there's the danger that evangelism itself may be perceived in that way.
Ministry Today: So, are churches imbalanced in their approach to evangelism?
PALAU: The issue is not balance but fruitfulness and faithfulness. Some of the most evangelistic churches we encounter around the country are those that might seem imbalanced at first glance, but if the emphasis is on outreach, those churches almost always are flourishing.
Ministry Today: How does the church stay balanced?
PALAU: God has given evangelists to the church to prepare them for the work of evangelism. Congregations and their leaders must empower those people in positions of leadership. The call to join in winning the lost to Christ must come from the pulpit and from the church's lay leaders.
BY DESIGN OR DEFAULT?:
CREATING A CHURCH CULTURE THAT WORKS
Author: Kevin Gerald
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
File Under: Culture
Executive Summary: Written by megachurch pastor Kevin Gerald, By Design or Default? shows church leaders and other readers how to proactively create a church culture reflective of a congregation's unique characteristics. As its title suggests, the book's central theme is that "every church has a culture…by design or default."
Gerald identifies seven practices of creating a church culture. Then, he likens them to pillars that, when placed on a solid foundation, "support the work of ministry by helping to create a culture that complements, instead of contradicts, what the church leaders want to do."
For those wondering exactly what he means by "church culture," Gerald defines it as "your packaging and presentation of the gospel." He also makes several other insightful observations about the nature of church culture, such as the fact that culture determines who is drawn to a church, that current culture grows by default, and that a culture by design is always evolving.
For leaders who may be struggling with creating culture, Gerald offers helpful advice: "Our programs and practices should be centered on our culture, rather than culture centering on programs." His use of relevant examples from his own church's experience lends credence to his writing and provides proven tips for others to emulate.
Lest readers feel pressured to adopt his particular method of "doing" church, Gerald suggests personally adapting the principles he espouses: "My goal has not been to tell you what your church culture should be in terms of style, as much as what it should be in terms of spirit and substance."
The bottom line is that anyone in the business of guiding and growing churches can benefit from the words of wisdom presented throughout this text.
Quote: "A leader will only succeed at achieving his vision for a church body when he strategically designs the culture to be consistent and supportive of the message he wants to teach."
Ideal reader: Pastors, ministry leaders and others seeking to create a church culture that works.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (4); Theological Depth (3); Readability (5).
Reviewer: Sean Fowlds
A NEW KIND OF CHURCH:
UNDERSTANDING MODELS OF MINISTRY FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
Author: Aubrey Malphurs
Publisher: Baker Books
File Under: Church Growth
Executive Summary: Author, professor and church consultant Aubrey Malphurs suggests that the American church is in serious decline and losing large numbers of members, including spiritually vibrant persons dissatisfied with their congregations.
This dynamic, along with other rapid changes, necessitates exploring whether there is a standard model for "doing" church. Arguments abound as to what this model would resemble, so a focus on what Scripture says—or doesn't say—about the church is imperative.
Malphurs examines the changing times of the American church, especially for those born prior to World War II. He looks at a variety of topics, such as younger generations thinking differently, faith no longer being tied to church, and the loss of Sunday morning as a sacred time. He also admonishes churches for being too slow to change, for failing to take advantage of cultural opportunities such as the post-Sept. 11 spiritual hunger, for their lack of evangelism and for failing to actively recruit gifted leaders.
Noting churches' efforts to keep members by precipitously embracing popular models, Malphurs delineates extensive processes pastors can use to make wiser decisions about these new paradigms. He carefully examines biblical passages that reference the church and explains how leaders can embrace a "theology of change" that hinges on function, form and freedom. Malphurs supplements this change model with a "theology of culture" that helps congregations stay relevant while navigating an increasingly diverse playing field for 21st-century ministry.
The book concludes with Malphurs' definition of the local church and a look at the biblical concept of servanthood, followed by an in-depth examination of the pros and cons of contemporary church models. The final resource is a strategic blueprint for developing a new church model, based on the three phases of preparation, process and practice.
An interesting feature is Malphurs' thorough inclusion of voices of dissent regarding new-model churches. He evenhandedly presents their concerns, such as watered-down proclamation of Scripture and a failure to use Sunday services for edifying believers, and thoughtfully addresses them.
Quote: "The answer to the dilemma of how to develop new church models is to develop biblically based models that are endemic or indigenous to one's own community and leadership. This is true for both church planting and the renewal of established churches."
Ideal reader: Senior pastors, church planters and lay leaders seeking fresh new models and paradigms for ministry to a postmodern mind-set.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (5); Theological Depth (5); Readability (5).
Reviewer: John Michael De Marco
FIRE EVANGELISM: REACHING THE LOST THROUGH LOVE AND POWER
Author: Ché Ahn
Publisher: Chosen Books
File Under: Evangelism
Executive Summary: Teachings on God's call to evangelize the world often lead to guilt. Some offer little application. While biblical texts about making disciples sound clear and convincing, lack of personal success leads to frustration.
In his book Fire Evangelism, author Ché Ahn guides readers through Scripture and his personal experience of God using His children to reach others. Ahn begins where he should: defending his case for the true purpose in a Christian's life. Rather than works, duties or accomplishments, the true purpose is loving God and loving others. Through that relational experience, God's truth can flow in His children as they welcome others into the family. Learning from Mary and sitting at Christ's feet is the entrance into a world of Martha's living with acts of service.
An author of numerous books and senior pastor of Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, California, Ahn wrote Fire Evangelism to reveal his heart. He guides readers through crucial doctrine, revealing how each element allows love and power to come from God through all who receive.
The result? Adding more into the family. Acceptance, confrontation, gentleness, the law, prayer, worship, spiritual empowerment, acts of kindness, apostolic roles, perseverance, prophetic declarations, church planting and individual uniqueness all fit in Ahn's guide of true evangelism.
Readers can come away from Fire Evangelism with a grasp of evangelism while also sensing a new feeling of belonging. God's plans are huge, but Ahn invites and informs all who are willing to join in the fulfillment of God's agenda. Through the pages and appendices—which cover topics such as church planting, creative ideas and being personally filled—Ahn achieves his goal of opening eyes and hearts to reach the world for Christ.
Quote: "The Holy Spirit has always been God's intended means of bringing a visible demonstration of His Kingdom to this earth. The gospel was never meant to be dependent upon the words of man alone—no matter how eloquent or well intended."
Ideal reader: All followers of Christ who seek to fulfill the Great Commission and become a part of a new movement to evangelize locally and globally.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (4); Theological Depth (4); Readability (5).
Reviewer: Chris Maxwell
PICTURING THE GOSPEL: TAPPING THE POWER OF THE BIBLE'S IMAGERY
Author: Neil Livingstone
Publisher: InterVarsity Press
File Under: Evangelism
Executive Summary: Author Neil Livingstone suggests that the temptation for believers in our busy, market-driven society is to reduce the gospel to a simple formula, outline or even a single verse. In the process, it loses much of the richness and depth of the biblical metaphors.
The antidote is when believers desiring to grow in their faith and share it with others embrace the gospel as an art gallery. Depending on the context, they can choose and apply numerous images from the walls of the gallery to convey their experiences of a life with Christ, he says.
It is challenging for the reader to initially get his mind around Livingstone's thesis. Yet despite the effort required to plod through the opening chapter, many will immediately relate to his assertion that believers can get stuck in the rut of defining their beliefs with theological acumen but little passion.
The book flows smartly across three sections of the gospel "gallery," encompassing images of new life, mercy and restoration, and deliverance. Chapters within each section unpack particular doctrines such as adoption, kingdom, justification and forgiveness.
Livingstone thoughtfully offers anecdotes from his life, and the stories of many others, to show how these doctrines should work in concert. He implores believers to become students of the New Testament authors, learning their skill in painting vivid scenes that bring the Christ story alive in the present tense.
Livingstone's helpful appendices include a handy one-page chart that isolates the three sections and their nine chapters of gallery images, advice on how to begin utilizing the imagery of the gospels, and a guide for praying through the images. These tools at the book's end might even be a good place to start before diving into the full text.
Quote: "In our gospel gallery, the stories of Jesus are not the end product. That beauty transforms those who look at it and work with it; they then themselves become the work of art. You are to be the gallery."
Ideal reader: Evangelists, pastors and students desiring to more effectively communicate the message and meaning of the biblical text.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (4); Insight (5); Theological Depth (5); Readability (3).
Reviewer: John Michael De Marco