Although reaching lost souls is the main job of the church, a compassionate evangelism that includes clothing and feeding the poor, and programs for homeless and abused women is needed on a grander scale in the Latino church today, says Rev. Tony Suárez, national vice president of Chapters for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Churches should do a better job at blending into their communities to help change individual lives as well as families in practical ways that reflect the Gospel, Suárez said.
As a speaker set to address a crowd of Hispanic evangelical pastors at the NHCLC Una Voz (One Voice) convention in San Diego next week, Suárez will discuss how Christians need to take on compassionate evangelism similar to how Jesus Christ did when He served on earth.
Below is an edited transcript of Suárez' interview with The Christian Post.
CP: One of NHCLC's main focuses is compassionate evangelism, can you explain what that entails?
Suarez: We know the Jesus of John 3:16, we know the gospel of salvation but do we know Jesus as the Jesus of Matthew 25 where the Lord said "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me?" That's where compassionate evangelism really comes in because it's about sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ for salvation but also to see the kingdom of God established on earth and see lives changed here as well.
CP: What's your message for pastors at the conference next week?
Suarez: I'm going to focus on the two-fold nature of Christ's ministry on earth and how he was operating in two kingdoms simultaneously. When we read about the works of Jesus in the Scriptures, we see what He means in terms of the kingdom of heaven and spirituality but what does it mean in practical terms?
In the New Testament ministry, you never see that Jesus sent anyone out by themselves. You never see Him say, "you go out and win Macedonia." We see that He's always sending people out in teams, in pairs and we also see the concept of how much more we can do.
When Jesus preached about the beatitudes, He didn't just preach to the people, He fed them. There's multiple times where we see that Jesus is operating in two kingdoms simultaneously meeting the spiritual and physical needs of the people.
As Pentecostals, we know about fuego, (Holy Spirit fire) but how do you make that practical? How does this help somebody get out of debt and change their life or become an entrepreneur or help them in their marriage?
CP: How do Hispanic churches, in particular, incorporate compassionate evangelism efforts within their congregations?
Suarez: The focus of the Hispanic church has been mainly on immigration reform now but it's evolving. Compassionate evangelism has not been widely practiced among Hispanic churches. We have been very focused on reaching and saving, which is the main job of the church, but clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, outreach programs for the homeless and for abused women – those are newer concepts within the Latino church at large. There are pockets here and there where churches do it but not on a grand scale.
CP: Why is that?
Suarez: Some of it may be due to lack of finances. Our people come from countries where the church is somewhat persecuted and stuck in this one-track mind, not by their fault but because of the government, communities and culture, and they don't get involved on any level with community issues or politics at all.
When first generation immigrants come to the United States, they come with that same mindset. That is why you see first and even second generation pastors hesitant to get involved with politics here because it's so foreign to what they did in their countries.
CP: Is evangelism about growing numbers as much as it is about reaching people in need?
Suarez: I think they're simultaneous concepts. If the Gospel is truly applied to someone's life, we're talking about more than just the sinner's prayer, it will save and change them. The compassionate evangelism directive is all about that, it's about not just saving but changing lives, seeing discipleship take place but also about the betterment of lives here in this country and wherever else we might serve.
CP: What is your advice for churches seeking to implement evangelism strategies?
Suarez: I hear a lot of churches and pastors pray for their city and they ask God to give them a heart for their city. So if you're going to have a heart for your city, you need to know what the needs are. Maybe you have to go to the chamber of commerce to find out some data on the region in which you're ministering and it's something that you have to take to prayer.
You could start a food pantry or a clothes closet for those less fortunate or a canned-food drive. I think it's good to start with something and celebrate that accomplishment and then continue to go forward. Again, this is part of operating in two kingdoms but as the kingdom of heaven on earth, what is your church doing? What is it that your church is known for in your community? Start by trying to find the answer to that.