If you see a movie you enjoy, you tell your friends about it. If you are a politically engaged Christian, you spread the news about your preferred candidate and their superior positions and policies. In other words, it’s natural for humans to tell other humans about things that are important to them, that make them excited, or that they love. And we all love to be the bearer of good news, don’t we?
Why is it then that Christians, who have the best news in the history of the universe — news about salvation from sin and eternal life in Jesus Christ — are often so shy about telling others?
Put differently, why is evangelism so difficult?
While I can’t speak to your own particular evangelism hangups, I can help you think better, and more biblically, about what exactly is the Gospel message (the evangel, or “good news”); how it should be shared; and what response we should expect when sharing it. These are the fundamental questions of what’s often referred to as evangelism in the Christian life.
Drawing from both the Bible and these readings, this article will consider four aspects of faithful evangelism: 1) A biblical understanding of conversion; 2) the task of personal evangelism; 3) the role of evangelism in the local church; and 4) the responsibility of the pastor in fostering a culture of evangelism.
Does getting converted simply mean we are made nice, or do we understand that conversion means we are made new, by God, in a miraculous act of spiritual regeneration? How an evangelist, pastor, or faithful church member answers the question “What does it mean to become a Christian” has immense implications for everything that follows next in evangelism.
To better understand what the Bible teaches about conversion, let’s briefly consider what we are prone to mistake for conversion. Conversion is not “Losing ten pounds, stopping drinking, quitting smoking, and coming to church.” Conversion is not the product of merely repeating a prayer when you are nine years old at Vacation Bible School. Conversion is not, fundamentally, an act of man.
What is conversion, then, from a Biblical perspective? Nothing less than being born again (John 3:3); rescued from the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13); being given a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26); going from being God’s enemy to God’s child (Ephesians 1:5); and passing from spiritual death in our sins to spiritual life in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10).
Conversion is a miraculous regeneration, wrought by God in the heart of man, through His will, by His power, and because of His grace. This is the aim of our evangelism — to see this kind of change in the hearts and lives of those with whom we share the Gospel.
We don’t offer self-help plans; we herald a message of spiritual salvation to those who are dead in their sins. As pastor Michael Lawrence puts it,
“A Christian isn’t someone who prays a prayer and tries hard to be good. Instead, a Christian is someone whose heart has been transformed by God’s grace, who is characterized by repentance and faith, who desires to be with God and know him more.”
When we ground this truth into our hearts and minds, it clarifies the evangelistic task. As pastors we want our members equipped to make this appeal — not that mankind needs to be morally better, be nicer, or be church-goers, but that men and women need to be saved, and that salvation, that conversion, comes only by repenting and believing in Christ.
Personal evangelism is the act of sharing the Gospel message with unbelievers. Theologian J.I. Packer defines it in these simple terms: “Evangelism is just preaching the gospel, the evangel.” Mac Stiles, a missionary, defines it as “Teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.”
That’s it. It’s not complicated. It may not be easy, but it’s simple. Evangelism is simply the faithful proclamation of the message of salvation. It’s the answer to the question from the Philippian jailer: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” in Acts 16:30. And all Christians are commanded, by their God, to be able, willing, and ready to answer this question when asked, as well as proactively prompt this question in the minds and hearts of those who aren’t considering their imminent need for salvation.
Personal evangelism, then, is a primary component of our obedience to Christ. Packer notes that “Every Christian, therefore, has a God-given obligation to make known the gospel of Christ.” This of course presupposes that we know the Gospel ourselves and can communicate it clearly!
We can think of this message as having four main elements: God, man, Christ, and response.
And whether it is with our barber, our waiter, our brother, or a lifelong friend, the best way to get these truths across to those who are dead in their sins isn’t going to be a church program or rally, but rather you leveraging your personal relationships, opening your mouth, and inviting them to consider Christ’s command to “repent and believe” as relevant for their own life. And while we know we can’t convert them by sharing this message, we do know that God can, even when we flub the delivery.
Evangelism is, in very real ways, the lifeblood of the local church. Or, to flip the script, the best way to do evangelism is through a healthy local church. Stiles argues that “if you are part of a healthy church that has a culture of evangelism, you are a part of the greatest way of evangelism ever known.” If evangelism is the Gospel made audible, the church is the Gospel made visible. Bringing people to Christ, as He always intended for it to be, is truly a show-and-tell experience. And the local church is crucial to both pieces of this magnificent display.
On the “tell” front, it’s imperative that the church function as a Gospel clearinghouse, ensuring that members have the correct currency to spend in the act of evangelism. This currency is the Gospel message, first and foremost, combined with as much theological training that can be added on top to better equip the saints to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Also, the church, as a whole (not just the pastor), should make it clear that evangelism is the responsibility of every member, not just the pastoral staff. On the “show” front, the local church should be a community into which a non-Christian comes to visit, and upon leaving, says: “Wow, I didn’t know people could love each other like that.”
This was the case for one man I knew, who was so struck by the counter-cultural nature of a church body, in its unity in diversity, that the only explanation which ultimately made sense was a supernatural one: the redeeming work of Christ. In summary, the church equips and commissions its members to “tell” the Gospel, and then it loves and lives together in such a way as to “show” the Gospel: that is the role evangelism plays in the life of a local church.
Regarding the previous point, the pastor leads the way and sets the tone in the life of the church on equipping, encouraging obedience, and embodying love “fronts” of evangelism.
Most importantly, however, the pastor should preach sermons that clearly set forth the good news of the Gospel every week, simultaneously speaking to both the saints and the non-Christians in attendance. Pastor and theologian Mark Dever reminds pastors that their “regular preaching of God’s word…should never fail to point to Christ.”
Those in the pews who are dead in their sins need to hear Christ preached, and those who have been saved by faith in Christ need to hear Him preached again. God’s people need God’s Word, and the only hope for those who are not yet God’s people is to hear, and respond, to God’s Word.
Christian apologist C.S. Lewis once argued that praise is the consummation of our delight in something or someone. He wrote:
“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.”
If this is true for lovers, books, mountains, and jokes, how much more true is it of the Gospel message of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? Let’s all then praise Jesus rightly by telling others about His life, death, and resurrection and offer of forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who repent and believe. No matter how awkward it may feel, God will be glorified in our efforts — and we can trust Him with the outcome.
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Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.
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