Recently in several contexts I have had discussions with others about evangelism. In particular, the question that has been raised is, “Why do Presbyterian churches seem to have fewer records of adult conversions than Baptist churches?” The actual numbers would substantiate this claim, I believe, but certainly the general perception is that this is indeed the case. Why is this so?
In this debate, you commonly hear Baptists point out such things as the practice of infant baptism or the coldness produced by predestination dulls Presbyterian resolve in evangelism; likewise, Presbyterians would counter that the use of church growth techniques or the looseness in Arminian theology found in a great number of Baptist churches inflate the true numbers. Though each of these matters have some truth to them more or less, yet this is not the full story. For, on the one hand, not all Presbyterians fall into hyper-Calvinism and, on the other hand, many Baptists are Reformed and still seem to see more fruit in evangelism. So may there be another reason?
I would suggest that on a more practical level it has to do with the culture of certain branches of the church. In the kingdom of God, can we not acknowledge that different parts of the greater body of Christ bring their own strengths to the table? Generally speaking, is it not true that when you walk into a Baptist church you expect to hear more about evangelistic efforts than you would in a Presbyterian congregation? I get around Baptist friends and soon they are talking about evangelism one way or another it seems. I do have conversations about this topic with Presbyterians but in many cases these exchanges often lack the zeal and sense of actual experience the Baptists have. On a very practical level, could the simple truth be that those who sow more reap more? Does not God promise blessing as we obey Him with action?
My father was a man who loved and lived to fish recreationally. Two or three days a week, he would go out after work or on a Saturday and fish for several hours. When I was a young boy, he would attempt to take me along (my inability to sit still for hours at a time put an end to this fatherly effort after a while). At some small lake, he would have a rowboat stored into which we would place a few poles, a tackle box, and a cooler. After climbing in, soon Dad would row us up to a favorite fishing spot, drop anchor, put a worm on my hook, and tell me where to cast. He would then start fishing himself.
After casting my line, my disappointment would come quickly as my float would fail to start bobbing up and down. I would get antsy. I would start twitching my line, thinking that my movement of the bobber would bring a fish. Soon I would reel it in a bit, twitch it some more, then just bring my hook all the way back to the boat. As I thought casting was fun, I would throw my line back out and soon start repeating this process. After a while, when he had caught several fish and I was still hoping for the first one, my patient dad would say to me, “Son, you have to keep your line in the water if you want to catch fish.”
That’s just it. Perhaps those Baptists simply catch more because they keep their line in the water more. Or, to use Jesus’ oft-used imagery about being fishers of men, they keep their net in the water. Having recently gone through a season of evangelistic effort in our congregation, I noticed how enthusiastic our church was in casting wider our net. I also noticed – a little more telling – how many commented that they wished we did this more often.
We get amazed when we read that Jesus filled those nets of His disciples to the point their boats nearly sunk (John 21:1-11). Could it be that He was not only pointing out His divine sovereignty over their inability to catch anything after working hard all night, but also reminding us that He expects us to keep that net in the water?