Combining caring ministry with proclamation of the Gospel is the key to effective ministry says Robert Pierson, according to reviewer Ann Michel.
In Needs-Based Evangelism, Robert Pierson, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, makes a simple but essential point: We must combine caring ministry with proclamation of the Gospel. Pierson blames the decline of so many mainline Protestant churches on their tendency to dichotomize good works and evangelistic witness.
“The old idea that we can divide the Christian faith into two tasks — evangelism and social concerns — is ridiculous theologically and not helpful,” writes Pierson. “Too often, Christians help others, but don’t explain why.” Many missions have devolved into impersonal social service programs, often done at arms length, rather than vital, relational caring. A classic example is churches that minister to children through preschool or daycare, but in highly secular ways. Failure to share the Gospel in such settings makes the church seem inauthentic, maintains Pierson. Needs-based evangelism calls for “clear, gentle witnessing” in tandem with ministries of compassion.
Pierson favors ministries that serve persons experiencing life transition — support groups for the newly widowed or divorced, substance abuse recovery programs, career transition workshops, classes for new parents. Not only do persons in these vulnerable situations need help — they are interested in and open to change and therefore receptive to the Gospel. “The church’s task is to lead people to Christ. The method is to help them know God’s love by helping them wherever it hurts,” says Pierson. He maintains that only the local congregation can perform this task effectively, not cooperative or ecumenical ministries.
As a growth strategy, Pierson’s approach is simple, pragmatic, and biblically sound. But he does not expand his vision far enough beyond support-group-style ministries. Congregations preoccupied with the busyness of church life, or caught up in stagnant ways of thinking, may be reluctant to embrace needs-based evangelism, says Pierson. Indeed, the book’s primary purpose seems to be to deliver a wake-up call to such somnolent churches. However, readers are left hoping for more specifics on how to develop caring ministries that openly speak the Christian message.