By Jordan Easley and Ernest Easley
On March 2, 2018, the world came to a stand-still and watched the funeral of Reverend Billy Graham, who died at the age of 99. As we watched this beautiful service on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, we reflected on a life well lived and we celebrated a job well done.
But as I viewed the service, I couldn’t help but feel like it was more than just the end of one man’s life. For me, it felt more like the end of an era.
When I was a young man growing up in church, evangelists were considered heroes by many. These were men who packed out stadiums and traveled the globe sharing the hope that only comes through Jesus. They would write books and provide material and train laypeople to share their faith.
I can remember attending tent revivals that would last all week in my hometown and, over the course of seven days, we would see scores of people stand up to make professions of faith when the evangelist would extend the invitation. Those were the days where people got excited about salvation and we longed to see people respond to the invitation.
Fast-forward a few decades, and it seems like those days are long gone. Extending an invitation is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Talking about things like “sin” and “repentance” and “judgment” and “the wrath of God” doesn’t exactly go over well in our culture, so we are seeing churches extend anemic gospel presentations—if any—more than ever before.
We now live in a day where vocational evangelists are no longer packing out stadiums, in fact, they’re struggling to find a place to serve and use their God-given gifts at all. It seems as if we’ve all but abandoned equipping the saints to share their faith and, as a result, we’re seeing fewer and fewer people baptized every single year.
Is Evangelism on its Deathbed?
As we stop to check the pulse of evangelism in the modern church, it’s very clear that we’re experiencing a consistent decline. Our trajectory in nearly every evangelism category seems to be stuck in cruise control, heading in the wrong direction. Why is that?
Maybe it’s due to a shift in focusing too much on social issues? Or maybe we’ve become too focused on secondary things rather than the primary thing? Some may argue that it’s because the Western Church has become too complacent because of its prosperity and comfort.
While we’ve got to be careful generalizing the state of the Church, we’ve also got to realize there are some churches that take evangelism very seriously. However, the participation of many churches is not enough. We’ve got to come to the realization that God has called all Christ followers and all churches to be fully committed to evangelism.
Looking at the current state of evangelism is healthy so we can be brought to an awareness of reality, but shame on us if we recognize our sickness and then do nothing to address it. We have to ask, What will it take to turn this around?
In Ezekiel 37:4–6, God says to the prophet,
“Prophesy concerning these bones and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the LORD GOD says to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you will live. I will put tendons on you, make flesh grow on you, and cover you with skin. I will put breath in you so that you come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.”
This passage is part of the well-known vision of Ezekiel commonly referred to as “The Valley of Dry Bones.” This vision follows God’s prophetic announcement in chapter 36, that Israel would be reborn and restored to their land.
However, this vision of Ezekiel’s seemed to be disconnected from what was actually going on. Israel was dead as a nation, with no temple, land, or king. Furthermore, the nation was divided. Israel was a mess! But in this vision, God had Ezekiel tell the dry bones that God would breathe life into them again.
As Ezekiel did so, the bones came to life, flesh developed, breath entered the bodies, and then the bodies stood up to compose an innumerable army. The Israelites thought they were done, but God wanted Ezekiel to tell them that there was coming a day when they would be made new again.
In the same way, many of us, or perhaps even our churches, may resemble a valley of dry bones today. The life has gone out, our effectiveness has decreased, and our lack of obedience to fulfill the Great Commission has become evident. It’s pretty easy to identify with the valley of dry bones at times, but don’t forget the underlying principle of this vision.
The point Ezekiel made in this text was that God can breathe new life into people that are ready and willing to live for Him! In the same way, God can breath new life into churches that want to live. The current state of evangelism in our hearts and even in our churches may seem sick, or perhaps even dead, but we’ve got to remember, our God is a God who brings dead things back to life.
He’s a good God who wants us to be maximized here on earth.
JORDAN EASLEY (@jordaneasley) is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Cleveland, Tennessee. He’s the co-author of Resuscitating Evangelism with ERNEST EASLEY (@ErnestLEasley), teaching pastor of First Baptist Church of Cleveland, Tennessee. Excerpted from Resuscitating Evangelism and used with permission from B&H Publishing Group.