St. Paul urged Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” We are called to be witnesses for the Gospel. Peter states that we are a royal priesthood and holy nation to declare the praise of Him who brought us out of darkness and into the marvelous light (2 Peter 2:9). The greatest challenge that faces our congregations is not the shortage of pastors nor the inability to pay the bills. The greatest challenge for our congregations is a lack of personal witnessing or personal evangelism. In Romans 10, St. Paul reveals that conversion takes place as the Holy Spirit works through the spoken witness from a believer to a non-believer. It seems that those conversations aren’t happening very often.
Three Common Ideas About Evangelism
It might be that the conversations don’t happen because we have a false image in our mind of the work of an evangelist. Many people equate witnessing to the work of a salesman. Within this image, the evangelism task is to persuade someone to make a decision for Jesus. Armed with Bible passages and basic tools of logic, the witness tries to make the decision for Jesus seem reasonable and desirable. Of course, Scripture says that we are born spiritually dead and unable to make a decision for Christ. In addition, salvation is ours through faith, not through understanding. When I see my role as salesman to the lost, I see my responsibility to help people make better choices. Not only does the image lead me down a path of false doctrine, but it is intimidating to think that my words make a difference in a person’s eternal salvation.
Another commonly held false image of evangelism might be that of the relationship between a mother and child. In this image, the role of the witness is to remind you of God’s expectations of the moral behavior of the lost. Time and time again, evangelism movements were sidetracked into moral causes which, though important, were not central to the Gospel. For example, the great European revival in the late 1800’s was hijacked by the issue of slavery. The great revival of the early 1900’s was hijacked by the fight against liquor and prohibition. Finally, the spiritual revival of the late fifties and early sixties was consumed by the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war. While the causes were noble, they morphed the role of the evangelist from sharing the faith to defending morality. When I see my role as mother to the lost, I see my responsibility to help people behave better and the Gospel is reduced to better living.
Finally, there is the false image of the evangelist or witness taking on the role of a physician. In this imagery, the work of the evangelist or witness is to help people have a better life through social reform. While closely related to the mother image, the physician image is different in that it doesn’t blame the lost for their brokenness. Rather, it strives to deliver them from the consequences of their brokenness. When I see my role as an evangelist to be that of a friend, I see my responsibility to help people feel better; to solve their problems. As with the previous image, the Gospel generally takes a back seat to social reform.
A Fourth Option
The above images of the evangelism process are false, and they are intimidating. We are uncomfortable trying to sell someone on Christ, much less trying to solve the social problems of this world. I would like to encourage you to consider a fourth image. It is the image of one person sharing a gift with the other person. The giver’s joy is in sharing the gift. The recipient may receive the gift with joy, with confusion, or with polite ambivalence. While the response to the gift is important, it is not the central focus of the giver. The giver finds joy in giving the gift—the gift of the Gospel. The variety of ways the gift was shared in the New Testament is helpful. For example, Philip shared the gift with his brother when he simply said, “Come and see” in John 1:46. Jesus often shared the gift through questions or parables that sparked conversations. Peter shared the gift with the lame man in Acts 3:6 when he said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have I give to you.” Paul’s sharing of the gift was tailored to the hearer’s cultural expectations (1 Corinthians 9).
The point is we have all been challenged to be witnesses, to share the gift of salvation. I want to challenge you to actively seek opportunities to share the gift. The people of this world desperately need to hear about the gift of salvation that is theirs in Christ Jesus. To learn more about conversational evangelism, check out these podcasts: Conversational Evangelism Part 1 & 2. You can find them at michigandistrict.org/podcast.
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