I've been a Christian for over 40 years, and that's a lot of sermons and Sunday school classes on evangelism. I've had an evangelism course in college, one in seminary, two video evangelism courses, and I have a black belt in EE. All those methods had something helpful in them, because I love the gospel and I want as many people as possible to know Jesus. To be satisfied in his promises of rescue, redemption, and the humbling, holy idea that he's the center of the universe, not me--it frees me and every person who realizes it from the rat race of selfishness and people pleasing and idolatry. I want more and more people to know this not just mentally but deep, deep in their souls.
How do we do this? Well, when we look at the NT, it tells a different story from what I see in my inbox and read in evangelism books.
Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the Senate talking about evangelism in the New Testament, said this:
Evangelism never seemed to be an “issue” in the New Testament. That is to say, one does not find the apostles urging, exhorting, scolding, planning, and organizing for evangelistic programs. In the apostolic Church, evangelism was somehow “assumed” and it functioned without special techniques or special programs. Evangelism happened! Issuing effortless from the community of believers as light from the sun, it was automatic, spontaneous, continuous, contagious.
Yet what I have experienced in the church in the last 40 years is lots of urging and scolding and planning and organizing and guilt and not many results. Why? Laziness? Immaturity? Yes, that's part of it. Part of it is that the methods were not biblical and the message was often man-centered, where God is offered as a way to make your best life now, a way to make life even better. Walking in humble repentance by the grace of God and giving your life away for his glory doesn't find a place on most tracts or evangelistic sermons.
But this is not going to be that kind of message, the kind where we dwell on the bad methods and message that has passed for evangelism for the last 200 years. Why?
When John came to Jesus, you could hear the righteous indignation in his voice. "Lord, there are people who are casting our demons in your name, but we stopped them!" What does Jesus say? Leave them alone. He who is not against me is for me.
The Apostle Paul rejoiced when he saw the gospel going forth from people with flawed motives, flawed practices, and flawed results. How could he do that?
Philipians 1 makes it clear:
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
So today I want to rejoice in all the good work that Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, Jerry Falwell, all the teams that have gone door to door, all the ones who told me hundreds of times that I had to ask Jesus into my heart to be saved (which is not in the Bible), all the ones who tell me to honk if I love Jesus, all the ones that pass out tracts that reduce the gospel to a new law, a new set of behaviors that get added to the laws in the Old Testament, I rejoice. Because whether they intended to or not, whether they were intentionally doing evangelism wrong or not, I rejoice and so should you. Because God used men and women with impure motives and poor execution as a part of saving me, and you. Because God uses men like the leaders in our church, who sometimes have impure motives and who don't teach and shepherd according to the high calling of God, to care for you and your family.
But I have good news. Jesus' yoke is easy and his burden is light. The evangelistic work of loving each other, loving those around you, and planting churches that preach the truth regularly, serve the sacraments regularly, and do church discipline in a loving, repentance-encouraging way, that's not nearly as hard as carrying around the burden that you are a bad person unless you tell every person you meet that Jesus loves them, died for them, and wants to live in their heart.
Never, not once, do you see Paul encouraging people to develop relationships with unbelievers so you can get close enough to witness to them. Not once is lifestyle evangelism taught in Scripture. It's clearly not forbidden, and if you do it, there are principles that the Bible gives to help, such as:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. – 1 Peter 3:15-16
I think this is the personal side of evangelism--living lives so distinct, being such a good husband and father, obeying the laws of the land, working quietly with our hands, planting gardens, building houses, giving our children in marriage, that people ask questions. They ask why. And we need to be ready to tell them, but with gentleness and respect, not with the enormous emotional and marketing program that we've called evangelism in the last 200 years. But with the truth, and then tell them where you learned the truth; God's Word, as preached and read and believed at your church.
So if we've been confused about evangelism, both in method and message, what should we be doing instead?
That's the wrong question. That's the question you and I tend to gravitate towards. We want to fix problems with more techniques, with better programs. And that's not how this gets fixed. Is that how the early church grew, by finding a better program? I follow the lead of Roland Allen, Anglican missionary to China early in the last century, who put it this way:
Roland Allen, Anglican missionary to China (1895-1903), parish pastor in England, said this: “When we turn from the restless entreaties and exhortations which fill the pages of our modern missionary magazines to the pages of the New Testament, we are astonished at the change in the atmosphere. St. Paul does not repeatedly exhort his churches to send money for the propagation of the faith; he is far more concerned to explain to them what the faith is, and how they ought to practice and keep it. The same is true of St. Peter and St. John, and of all the apostolic writers; they do not seem to feel any necessity to repeat the Great Commission, and to urge that it is the duty of their converts to make disciples of all nations. What we read in the New Testament is not anxious appeal to Christians to spread the Gospel, but a note here and there which suggests how the Gospel was being spread abroad…for centuries the Christian Church continued to expand by its own inherent grace (underscoring is Halverson’s), and threw up an unceasing supply of missionaries without any direct exhortation” (Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962, p. 6).
The sense of spontaneity and of effortlessness is inescapable in these accounts of growth in the early Church. In Acts, remember the language: As the “word of God increased,” as believers in fellowship “were edified” and “walked in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost,” as they were “established in the faith,” converts were “added daily.” Because of its spiritual health, the apostolic Church experienced exciting and effective evangelistic results with a mechanical regularity. It is a safe assumption that evangelism is inevitable in a spiritually robust congregation. Failure to be evangelistic or “mission minded” in the New Testament sense betrays a poor spiritual condition. The way to evangelistic vigor is not some special emphasis or program, but rather humble repentance and shepherding elders and motherly nurture of the hurting. The very necessity for organizing special evangelistic efforts, however well intended, betrays the deep need of the Church for renewal and revival. One might as well exhort a woman with a barren womb to have children as to exhort a sterile, tired church to evangelize or respond to missions needs. (Partially from Darvan Radditz, Pitfalls of Modern Evangelistic Movements, 1974).
Evangelism was not optional in the New Testament; Jesus did not say “…you may be my witnesses me after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you.” Nor, on the other hand, was evangelism coercive. Jesus did not say “…you must be my witnesses…” Rather, evangelism was inescapable! Jesus said, “But you WILL receive power, after that the Holy Spirit has come upon you: and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
But wait pastor. That doesn't make sense. How will the world hear? How will the church grow if we are just being obedient and joyful moms and dads and kids?
There is only one exhortation, one command in the NT to be an evangelist, and that was given by Paul, to Timothy, as a part of his elder responsibilities. So that's why I promise you, bring the people that your happy, holy lives attract, bring lost family members, bring lost people you meet in a bar, and I promise you, I will tell them the Gospel!
Then you have them over for lunch and talk to them. Then you listen to their story.
But be patient. Real evangelism takes time. It's not a quick Powerpoint presentation. It took Jesus 3 years to prepare his people, his disciples, to hear about his atoning death for them on the cross and the first time they heard about it, Peter rejected it (Mark 8:33).
The sick selfishness instead of God-centered joy that you've been wallowing in for months or years can end today. Christians, turning your life joyfully over to Jesus Christ and leaving the past behind where it can die--this can happen now. Today.
Dayspring Church can do the ordinary things that it has been doing--fellowship, gospel-powered generosity, being godly moms and dads, having kids who are not the church of tomorrow, but the church of today, being God-centered and making much of him--we can be the best evangelists in Spring Hill if we'll commit ourselves to intentionally living out our values and communicating them when people ask and then inviting them to church not because I forced you, but because you want to.
You do that, and we'll be experiencing personal revival and biblical church growth. Lord, I pray that we witness the fruit of a healthy, holy church. Lord I pray that the elect in this world will see at us and say "look, how they love one another!" "Look how much they love Jesus!" We live lives like that, inside and outside the church, and evangelism won't be our problem. Finding money for a building a balcony will be our biggest problem.
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