In these days of “missional” everything, it is important to maintain clarity about evangelism. There are at least three reasons for this. First, our attention to social action can lead us to think we are being evangelistic when we are not. Serving the poor, as great as it is, does not equal evangelism. Second, our attention to cultural engagement can lead to evangelistic paralysis. Like the guy who won’t say anything to the girl he like, out of fear of rejection, often we don’t speak the gospel for fear of their rejection. We forget that, as ambassadors for Christ, we live on foreign soil and, therefore, we will always be different than those who are not ambassadors. Third, Christians (at least where I serve) have been on faux life support of cultural Christianity for so long that they have lost the importance of evangelism. Instead of assuming that Christians will be committed to evangelism, we need to continually stir them up to evangelize by way of reminder. The three points above are living realities for me. I lead a church that is socially active, involved in the culture, and located in the buckle of the Bible Belt. These are all great things with many opportunities. But it is crucial that if I want to lead my church well, then I should be intentional about promoting and leading in evangelism.
Below are five ways I try to do this, with the Lord’s help:
Preaching the Gospel Centered Life The backdrop of all evangelism includes the intentional and consistent preaching and teaching that God, who is eternally glorious, made us for Himself, and we are most human when we are rightly related to Him. Sin is a dehumanizing tragedy because it steals from God the glory we were meant to give Him, and redemption makes us whole again, starting in this life.
This Gospel gives us life so we can lay down our life for the sake of others.
This is evangelism--receiving new life that frees us to lay down our lives for the joy of others and the glory of God. We don’t candy coat our message. We Jesus coat it and dip it in Gospel. We include the joy and the cost, not shying away from calling people to radical discipleship. Discipleship is bound up with, not separate from, a robust view of the Gospel.
Connecting Evangelism with Gospel Gratitude Many think of evangelism as a joyless duty. Nothing could be further from the truth. We don’t have to do evangelism. We get to! This is not elite Christian speak. It is a reflection of reality. As we encourage God’s people toward evangelistic faithfulness, we call them to partake in the most profound exchange imaginable, the reconciliation between God and man. This makes evangelism a privilege rooted in the salvation that we ourselves don’t deserve.
If Jesus is not good news to us, then we will never think He is good news for others.
The first step toward leading people to become evangelists is to lead them to the waters of the Gospel. If Jesus is not good news to us, then we will never think He is good news for others. We won't abandon comfort zones if we don't first see the superior comfort of Christ. Gratitude to God is the eternal wellspring of willing, joyful, and effective evangelism.
Modeling Evangelism in My Own Life As a lead pastor, I want to make sure that I ask people to follow me in something I am actually doing, not something I read in a book somewhere. So I am active in personal evangelism, and call our leaders to evangelistic faithfulness in their own lives as well. For those who want to be mentored in church planting or vocational ministry, I make sure they know that they will not get significant time or equipping from me if they are not doing evangelism. This is not so I can be cool and hardcore. Instead, I want to train up passionate soul winners, not men who build churches by stealing people from other churches.
I wonder if many churches struggle with evangelism because their pastors do. Often young leaders transmit the message that being a pastor or church planter is about anything but the hard work of making disciples, training leaders, and building a life-giving church. We need to die to our hunger for productivity, fame, and the approval of others (a slow death) if we are going to lead in evangelism. We need to re-evangelize ourselves with the gospel of Christ, which reminds us that because we have received new life from Christ we can lay down our livesfor others.
Encouraging the Use of Words If we or anyone else is going to be delivered from death and transformed to life through the reconciling power of the cross, at some point, they need to hear that particular message in actual human language about Jesus. They need to know what He did, how they can know Him, and what He calls them to. We need to take the "risk" of opening our mouths.
There is no disconnect between living missionally and talking about Jesus. But it is very easy to look missional and never say a word about Jesus. Unfortunately, missional engagement often (incorrectly) means that you will get a pat on the back for having a house show in your living room or feeding the poor at a soup kitchen; but you will be seen as a shallow fundamentalist who doesn’t care about incarnational ministry if you do evangelism, that is, if you talk about Jesus.
Let’s encourage God’s people to speak, to move toward a boldness rooted in the unshakeable reality of the Gospel, where we rely on the Holy Spirit to tell us what to say and when to say it. Without His guidance we will either talk too much or never talk at all. We will awkwardly throw up on people because we think their eternal destiny is up to us and not the sovereign Holy Spirit, or we will never say anything at all because we are waiting for that perfect time when someone is least likely to resist, instead of trusting in the transformative power of the Gospel.
Once again, a willingness to speak comes from a heart that is smitten by the only person in the universe worth talking about, and possibly looking foolish for.
Celebrating the Fruit of Evangelism When someone becomes a Christian, we make a big deal about it. We announce it on Sundays, and in Parishes. We announce it on the web. We have a public baptism service. We talk about it constantly. Many Christians report never having seen someone become a Christian before coming to our church. It is extremely encouraging for them to see something supernatural like someone “gittin saved.”
In celebrating someone’s conversion, we are celebrating evangelism. People need to know, especially in the Bible Belt, where Christianity is a cultural relic, that the Holy Spirit is alive and well, making disciples and building God’s Kingdom, and that they themselves can be a part of it. This celebration has awakened many to tell others about Jesus for the first time in their lives. Literally, evangelism begets evangelists.
There is much more that could be done and said to promote evangelism in our church. I intentionally keep it simple in our church for teaching purposes. Preaching, Connecting, Modeling, Encouraging, and Celebrating.
What are some ways you are leading people toward evangelistic faithfulness?
--- Ross Appleton is lead pastor at Christ Community Church of Denton, TX, where he serves the church by leading in the areas of pastoral care, preaching and teaching, and overall vision. He is happily married to Heather, and has 4 wonderful children: Sophia, Henry, Leona, and Maxwell. He loves learning and discussing theology and philosophy, reading and watching science fiction with his kids, and drinking Folgers coffee at all hours of the day with his wife.