Once was an Evangelist

I think I used to be an evangelist… but even then I’m not so sure…

You see when you are a youth pastor, especially one with significant influence there is a very strong ‘power’ relationship with the young people in your care and their desire to emulate you can make them quite easy to influence towards the gospel. I know that in my time as a youth pastor I intentionally guided many young people into faith. They seemed to want to go there, but I am also aware that because of my position I was able to exert an influence that few others had. I never sought to use that influence in an inappropriate way, but in hindsight I am aware that it was there.

Even as a senior pastor I had influence with those in the church sphere when it came to issues of spirituality. People would listen to me, sometimes defer to me and again I was able to influence some towards faith. I was the bloke who ‘knew stuff’.

However in recent years I haven’t been able to do that. Minus the position and status accorded to me as a pastor, I don’t seem to have the same influence among my friends who are not Christians. To my friends I am… a friend… Hamo… just that.

They tend not to be ‘impressed’ with me nor want to be like me. Nor are they likely to defer to my superior knowledge of all things spiritual, because they have their own view on these issues, some of them strong and well constructed and my view is not considered at all ‘superior’.

I really thought I was an evangelist, but these days I am not so sure. Without the leverage of some kind of position I have found it hard to influence people towards Jesus and I haven’t been able to help anyone experience ‘new birth’ or whatever term you choose to use.

For a ‘missionary’ its been pretty disappointing and it often causes me to consider giving it away. I wrote a post a few weeks back that in the end I chose not to go public with – a lament of sorts about where I find myself. It was a little too raw for the public environment! (This is a mellow reflective version of it)

This issue has caused me a fair few questions, questions I am still mulling over.

As we live as missionaries here in Brighton are we just ‘not very good’ at what we are doing?… That’s not a self pity question. Perhaps we are just shitty missionaries. Perhaps we would fail missionary endeavours 101… Although to be honest, without blowing my own trumpet, I don’t think this is it.

Am I who I once thought I was?… Interestingly much of my ‘evangelism’ has been oriented around intellectual discussions and rational argument for faith. This was in vogue 20 years ago, but now people care less for the coherence of an argument and more for the experience of a faith. “If it works we will consider it.” Interestingly, I have also become more aware of the difficulty of arguing logically and coherently for the truth of the gospel! While there is much that makes sense there is also much that is simply taken by faith – even if we would prefer not to admit it. I have a much more humble take on my grasp of faith than I did as a 20 year old. In the last 20 years evangelism has also become much less confrontational / propositional and much more relational / experiential. This does not play to my strengths at all. Perhaps I was an evangelist in that more cognitive, combative world?

Then I wonder if this really is just a tough place to be missionaries. A middle class environment in boom town Perth isn’t easy, but honestly I don’t think anywhere is easy. I am told that the people who churches are ‘reaching’ are usually the down and out, the poor and needy. I think this is great, but I am concerned for how we connect with the middle class who make up the vast bulk of Australia. And I am concerned to see real disciples formed, not just church attenders.

I wonder if we should just pull up stumps here and move on… I wonder if there are easier places – better places – more open places?… We do sometimes consider overseas missionary work and I wouldn’t write it off (Tasmania is a nice place), but my own sense of desire to somehow connect the gospel with middle class westerners is very very strong. In fact it could almost be seen as masochistic I reckon. For a results oriented person to be a backyard missionary is just a bad mismatch…

I really don’t know what the future holds. Some days I would like ‘out’ of what I feel called to. Some days I wonder if I made a big mistake just setting out in this direction. I usually have a meltdown once or twice a year, but this is not a meltdown, its more a question of how I best invest my life.

As our Upstream team shrinks, and we seem to find it impossible to recruit missionaries (most people are ‘seeking good worship, a kids program and good teaching…’ ) I sometimes consider going back to leading a larger church where there are some people to inspire to action. But I’m not sure if I could slot back in again… I may have gone beyond the point of no return.

Then again maybe those goal posts would shift as well!

Anyway, I realise this may sound somewhat depressive. It is a tad. But that’s life sometimes isn’t it. I have a wonderful family, my life is pretty rosy in many ways, but I live with an ongoing sense of disappointment that I haven’t been able to accomplish what I had hoped and I am not sure if I ever will.

A few people have suggested that my struggles have not allowed me to enjoy the journey – partially true. There have been times when I have missed out on the enjoyment of our experience because I am results oriented. Then again I tend to be someone who climbs mountains to reach the summit. If its an endless scenic tour then I’d rather just buy the postcard.

19 thoughts on “Once was an Evangelist

  1. Hamo, your work is an ongoing revelation to me and to others in the community about living a ‘Christ-like’ life. If it wasn’t for that oh-so-small hurdle of believing in the existence of God you would have won me over two years ago.

    Don’t shift the goal posts and just because it feels like a scenic tour it doesn’t mean you aren’t travelling upwards.

  2. Hamo

    So many comments and thoughts that I could make/share. But, I guess you know all the arguments for what you are doing and why it’s so tough. So if it’s OK I’ll just pray for you and what you are doing?

    Grendel can do the same, and get you a decent coffee, which I unfortunately can’t.

  3. “deep calls to deep” – i hear the groans beyond your words, and echo “amen”.

    all I can say is “you are not alone on this journey”

    peace, matt

  4. Dear Hamo,

    Thanks for bearing your heart; I found it really helpful. You say:

    “Then I wonder if this really is just a tough place to be missionaries. A middle class environment in boom town Perth isn’t easy, but honestly I don’t think anywhere is easy.”

    Mate, FWIW I think Perth is a REALLY hard place for gospel work; harder than many many other places. In some ways going into an overseas non-Western culture may be easier, because people are more open to religious issues.

    In my own (limited) experience Perth is much more difficult than Sydney. Perth is secular, Sydney is pagan. Affluence and ease breed extreme hardness of heart.

    I reckon it’s only radical and long-term work that God will use to soften the hard soil. Evangelism in your context is not for the faint-hearted.

    Your testimony to the hardness of it all, is a wonderful encouragement to many of us.

    God bless you bro,


  5. I echo their sentiments, Hamo. Don’t under-estimate the power of longevity and consistent witness over time. Also, don’t discount that you’re being obedient, which is all God asks. I could give you dozens of examples, which you probably know, of people who never saw the fruit of their ministry, yet God used tremendously over time. I, too, know of affluent areas where it’s harder to share the Gospel because there’s no felt need. Finally, don’t discount your efforts in discipleship, too, not only for those around you, but also for those of us who read your blog. You’re not only called to evangelism, but to make disciples, too. You’re where God wants you – keep being faithful. I will join my brothers in praying for you.

  6. I really appreciate your raw outlook on this. I’ve been in my city of calling for 6 months now and have yet to see one convert, or one person formally join the vision God has placed on my heart for the area I live in. Often I feel like a failure too. But I’m lifted up by seeing others are in the same boat. Your openness is encouraging to me. As a church planter, I’ve enjoyed following your writings and seeing the real life of a missionary/church planter and it has helped keep me grounded as I go forward. This new chapter you’ve written, my heart bleeds for you, because I’m in the same place.

  7. Two things we do have to offer the people of Perth:

    1. The Words of Eternal Life (where else have they to go….)

    2. Real relationships, we can’t match them materially but we do have the opportunity to offer real deep and lasting relationship in the end this satisfies our unchurched friends much more…the best evangelism is always based around relationships.

    Keep going Hamo, The first fifty years of any ministry is the hardest…


  8. Hi Guys

    That was one of those posts you write late at night, then wake up and think ‘hmm… was that a good idea?…’

    Thanks for the thoughts and reflections – I know the relative lack of results has been a recurring theme in my own writing so I value those of you who journey with me on that personally frustrating and tiring road.

    I know many of you know what it feels like to be in a similar place.

    And Grendel… if only God existed 🙂 I think we’d make a great team up here! Not that a heap would change I imagine – given you are the most ‘Christian’ atheist I know! See you tomorrow as we lay those pavers.

  9. I just really appreciate your honesty, Hamo. Keep it up and know you have a wonderful support base. That, my friend, is a marvelous blessing. Besides, hasn’t grace given us permission to be honest? Believe it or not, I find your comments to be weirdly encouraging.

  10. hhmmmm… interesting, very interesting.

    My first thought was, welcome to the real world! I dont mean that in a bad way, but I have often found it so hard to ‘bring people to christ’ in just my normal everyday life. I haven’t been in any position at church where I have been influential on people coming to christ and have always struggled when people preach from the pulpit to constantly be bringing people to christ.

    It’s not that easy!! I worry that I’m not a christian because I don’t know of anyone that I have helped ‘bring to christ’. Am I a bad christian? Should I be out there evangelising more??

    We are in the place at the moment where we are deciding whether we join another church or whether we should just ‘do life’ with our neighbors. It’s hard and we often wish there was a middle ground.

    If you find one, let us know… but for now all I can say is that we will continue praying for you. There’s nothing much else we can do!…considering we are only 20 somethings and don’t know it all 😉

  11. There is nothing harder, nor more important than what you are trying to do…..

    Because of the style of ministry you are engaged in, there are no artificial growth measures to fall back on…..

    All I can say is that from my own experience, it takes about 7 years to see someone into whom you are ministering to, come to the part of their spiritual journey where they start to respond in a positive way to the gospel.

    Obviously we have an entirely different style of ministry, but mission is our focus…and this is what we have seen, and maybe in your style of ministry, this would be the same.

  12. Perhaps we should focus more on the kingdom of God, than the idea of converts. There are times when the kingdom is indeed extended by conversion. But you are also extending the kingdom with your backyard blitz, how many of your neighbors have two neighbor of the year awards in their households? After 3 or more years of top notch work, backed by miracles, and the fact that he was divine, Jesus wound up with a small group of guys that all left him when it got really tough, and in the end had a couple of sheila’s at his side when he really needed it. Extending the kingdom is hard work mate, and often the gains are unseen.

    Of course I personally think the middle class can only get reached by our steadfast refusal to live by their values, including monetary values. The current consumer driven church designed for people who demand entertainment and service may make converts, but it doesn’t call people to take up their cross.

    Hang in there brother, I can say from many years experience that it will most likely get worse. 🙂


  13. I felt this way for a long time and just kept gutting it out in ministry, trying to hold on to the idea that God admires my faithfulness, but it really just felt more like ineffectiveness. I eventually left vocational ministry and opened a business. I now have more contact with normal people than I ever did as a pastor. I have a better outlook on life. My faith seems more alive and I enjoy life a little more as a result. Good luck and thanks for this post. It’s probably the best thing Ive read in a while. Lots of drivel out there in the blogplanet. Its nice to come across something well thought out.

  14. Hi mate

    Really love this, and given our own situation it resonates deep with us. I have only just started out the process here and feel freaked out already by all the stuff you’ve been dealing with for several years.

    I’m convinced that God is the Lord of the harvest – that’s just about enough (oh and that he loves, accepts, saves me, all on the basis of his goodness not mine). Hang in there bro.

  15. Bek – I think you’re probably right.

    This is the world most people live in and maybe that’s just reality.

    Its interesting Rev – my old evangelical ‘conversionism’ setting is very strong (both for better and worse) so while I totally believe in the importance of seeing the kingdom come I also believe very much in seeing people choose to follow Jesus because they have seen him as the point of meaning in everything.

    Watchman I guess I a am a vocational missionary. I can run Forge, or dig trenches to pay bills, but in it all I am who I am. I have pondered giving it all away, but I’d only start over! It’d be like a dog saying he isn’t going to piss on a tree 🙂 He couldn’t help himself.

  16. Hammo, me too mate. But for the worst part is slowly going away, people find Jesus in the kingdom. Often after walking in it for a while. The problem is focus, conversion focus is to goal oriented, and number driven. How many people have you witnessed to today. Funny thing is I probably talk to people about Jesus more than most, it just no longer is driven by this conversion ideology that is really just my need to feel I am living up to my Fathers wishes.


  17. Thanks Hamo. A very refreshing and unsettling post. You already know some of my journey in this area over recent months. I was reading Acts 8 this morning and found Philip’s mission experience to be in stark contrast to my own:

    “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.

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