Monday, I posted a guest piece by a young couple on their growing discipline of evangelism. It is an encouraging piece, and one you should read. I know them personally, and it is a joy to see how evangelism slowly became a fixture in their week, and now it is changing much of their lifestyle. I love it. Fact is, all of our lives should be marked with such zeal for sharing the gospel.
I am not going to spend much time in this article explaining why every believer is called to share the gospel regularly. Instead, I am going to assume that most of you agree and discuss some practical steps. As a pastor, and as someone who works in a missions department at a seminary, I have a lot of people confide in me that they feel they are failing in this area. You may be one of those people. Honestly, at times I feel I am.
Truth is, I am afraid most believers (here in the US that is) are failing at this. The New Testament is crystal clear on the importance of personal gospel proclamation. It is all over the place in the Bible. Evangelism, or verbally sharing the gospel with people, is an every-member-ministry. That means I need to be doing it as a pastor, and you need to be doing it as a member, and so does everyone in between… so long as they confess Christ themselves.
Personal Evangelism is a Spiritual Discipline
I use the term spiritual discipline intentionally. We often frame the conversation about evangelism as a spiritual gifts discussion. While I do not deny that the New Testament speaks of evangelism as a spiritual gift, the conversation becomes unhelpful if we then take that to mean that only those with some specific gift are called to verbally share the gospel. Instead, we must realize the New Testament clearly commands all believers to share the news of salvation in Christ. Instead of excusing ourselves by claiming we do not have this gift, we should place it alongside the other aspects of our Christian life such as prayer and regular Bible reading as a discipline that grows us in godliness and develops obedient lifestyles of worship. Refusing to regularly share the gospel is as detrimental to your spiritual formation as refusing to pray or refusing to read your Bible.
When people come to me confessing a failure in this regard, there are three practical things I usually suggest to aid in developing the discipline of personal evangelism.
Pray for the desire instead of waiting on the desire to start praying.
Many who have not developed a discipline of evangelism view it as an intimidating process. In fact, the tendency is to try and motivate oneself through any manner of means. Some people guilt themselves into evangelism. Others attempt to employ some form of emotional hype. Whatever the case, evangelism that is self-motivated will be legalistic at best or will have a failure to launch at worst.
Instead, we must pray to the Lord of the harvest. That passage is saying we pray that he raise up laborers, and that is exactly what I am suggesting you do. Pray that God will cultivate in you a desire for evangelism. Begin now. Make it a regular point of prayer in your life. Plead with God that he will make you sensitive to lostness. Go back and read Monday’s post, and you will notice the impact that regular prayer had on cultivating their desire for evangelism. Do not wait on your heart to break because of lostness to pray about it. Instead, begin praying about it so that God will soften your heart to the world’s great need for the gospel.
Start with your own circles.
This sounds obvious, but it is very often overlooked. Honestly, I think a number of people have a hard time sharing with people they already know for two main reasons. First, I think many are somehow embarrassed to bring it up or afraid friends will disagree. They do not want additional conflict in relationships, and so they pass over gospel conversations with people who are already friends, family, or acquaintances. Second, many of these relationships have gone for a long time with no mention of the gospel, and it would now be real hard to insert it into conversation. If you have been friends with a coworker for years and are now suddenly trying to tell them about the most important thing in your life, that gets awkward pretty quick.
Nevertheless, a lifestyle of evangelism should begin with those closest to you. In fact, we regularly tell people at our church that they already have a built-in network for sharing the gospel. Your first action step should be doing an inventory on all of your existing circles of influence. Most all of us have families, neighborhoods, and jobs. All of these places come with groups of people, social circles, to which we already belong. Have you ever made a list of the lost people in your office? How about your neighborhood?
Make a list of all of your social circles, then make a list on unbelievers in each of those categories. Now, you have a prayer list and a share list. If you have trouble knowing where to start in conversations with people you already know, you can start by asking these four questions.
Make some new friends.
While we all need to discover who God has already placed in our lives for evangelism, a lifestyle of evangelism cannot stop there. In fact, the spiritual discipline of evangelism is going to require us to make some new friends. In that previous article, the couple first analyzed their circles and discovered there were not many lost people. This caused them to realize a need for meeting some new people so that they could be obedient in this discipline. That is why they committed to spending a couple hours per week out trying to meet new people. The results were predictable. If you spend enough time trying to find lost people who are interested in talking about the gospel, then you eventually will.
So, get out and make some new friends. Relationship evangelism is, in fact, the kind we love to talk about nowadays. However, make sure to do it well. I alluded to some of the awkwardness that comes when we wait to share the gospel until after relationships have been established above, but you can read some cautions in “relationship evangelism” here as well.