A guy once went into a café in Texas for lunch. As he sat down at the counter to order, the waiter said, “Here, drink this coffee. I make the strongest coffee in these parts.” “But I do not want any coffee,” replied the customer. “No,” the waiter demanded, pulling a gun out and pointed it at the man, “You must drink it!” The man complied with the strange command given by one equally strange. Then, the waiter continued, “Now, hold the gun on me and make me take a drink!” I wonder if we often feel the same way about evangelism, because for so many, the idea of sharing our faith conjures up something awkward, unnatural and unpleasant. We loudly sing, “This little Christian light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” but in the context of our everyday life, the stanzas involving “hiding under a bushel” and “satanic-poofing” seem all too familiar. We love God, read His word, pray and praise Him, but we lack tenderness necessary for evangelism. Who are these tender ones? These are the ones who carry an anguish of soul for the fate of the ungodly. These are the ones who break out of the comfort zone of complacency and seek to save the lost zealously, because the love of Christ “constrains” them (2 Cor. 5:14). These are the ones who take off their jackets of condescension and go into the harvest fields, rolling up their sleeves to bare their holy arms—laborers in the vineyard of the Lord!
Many Christians downgrade evangelism to the job of the preacher or elder, but such is not to be the case. The true story of conversion occurs of one who grew up in Jack’s Creek, Tennessee (just seven miles from Henderson, Tennessee), which is basically in the shadow of Freed-Hardeman University. Yet, he did not learn the truth from any university professor, any of the fifty gospel preachers who live in the area or any of the hundreds of FHU college students. He learned the gospel from a traveling truck driver, who started a casual conversation about religion when he was unloading his truck. Belonging to a denominational church, this man began studying his Bible as a result of their conversation. Trying to find information to prove this truck driver wrong, he converted to Jesus Christ, contacted the local preacher at Jack’s Creek, and later enrolled at FHU to become a preacher. The point is that evangelism is all about winning souls to Jesus from the most ordinary of Christians—even traveling truck drivers!
The truth of the matter is that when the church stops seeking the lost, it becomes lost! Genuine Christians do not want to go to heaven alone! They put their ears to the Bible and hear Jesus bid us to go and pull poor sinners out of the fire of sin. They put their ears down to the burdened, agonized hearts of humanity and hear their pitiful wail for help. They stand by the gates of hell and hear the condemned entreat us to go to their father’s house and bid their families not to go there. In other words, genuine Christians are those who have looked in the face of Jesus and have promised to obey Him by publishing his offer of mercy to the world! What will it take for us to follow the example of the first-century church (Acts 8:4) to inspire to become better soul winners for Jesus?
First, evangelism involves a mind that is willing to study the scriptures. The evangelist is humble enough to know that he does not know everything; neither does he need to know everything. The evangelist is humble enough to admit when he does not know the answer to a question, but is witty enough to turn it around to an opportunity. Yet, the evangelist knows what one must do to become a Christian, and knows what others must do to repent of their sins and appropriate the offer of the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He knows that many are lost without Jesus (Matt. 7:13-14). He knows that God wants all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-6; 2 Pet. 3:9). He knows that Jesus is the only way to salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). He knows the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). He knows how souls may obtain salvation (Mark 16:15-16). Years ago, while one survey pointed out that 68% of all Christians in the USA thought evangelism was a priority in the church, at the exact same time, 75% of all Christians could not even define the Great Commission. Thus, it begins with a mind that is studious!
Second, evangelism involves a heart that is willing to care for souls. I am sure that you have heard the axiom, “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” An evangelist knows and understands the value of souls (Mark 8:34-38), including the single, individual soul. The fact of the matter is that God cares (John 3:16), Jesus cares (Luke 19:41) and the angels care (Luke 15:10). Therefore, we must care also! This is why many practice “Friendship Evangelism.” The apostle Paul practiced a form of such (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23). Evangelism should be a positive experience when we have a firm grasp on our own identity to the point that we are comfortable being around everyone, no matter what their station in life may be. We become more attentive to the needs of others. We begin to listen, really listen. That is when we discover that evangelism is not a program, study method or special event; it is power in the divine message that discovers the positive dynamic of relationships. Our friendships will allow us to understand the pains or problems they may be facing. Our friendships will allow us to see their inherent value as a person and as a potential citizen in the kingdom of God. Our friendships will open the door of opportunity for them to hear inspiring words. Our friendships will open the door of opportunity to share spiritual insights with greater reception. No, we are not compromising our beliefs. No, we are not being disloyal to our convictions. Yes, we are being sensitive and understanding, respectful and hoping that the light of the gospel will truly shine out of our loving heart, because we truly have a heart that cares for souls. Moreover, Christians ought to realize that evangelism involves so much more than just teaching the Bible—that is often the easy part. Because of our love for souls, it may include baking a cake, sending a card, inviting and many other such things. The difficult part is the cultivation of the heart. In this manner, we are able to do so much more to show that we care, such as the development of a heart filled with hospitality (cf. Rom. 12:13)! It may begin with a simple invitation—according to two surveys of 18,000 people, 79% respond that church growth occurs, not because of polished preachers, multi-ministries or baroque buildings, but because a friend or relative invited them. One man asked his friend, “Henry, come play golf with me this Sunday,” to which his friend replied, “That is the Lord’s Day, and I go to church. I cannot play golf with you.” After a moment of embarrassing silence, the golfer quietly said, “Henry, I have often wondered about your church, and I have admired your fidelity. However, this is the seventh time I have invited you to play golf with me, but you have never invited me to go to worship with you.” How tragic! It is the simplicity of an invitation from who truly cares!
- Be enthusiastic—“fervent in spirit” (Rom. 12:11). Brag on Jesus! Brag on the congregation! Tell someone with a smile on our face and a sparkle in our eye how wonderful it is to be a Christian!
- Be natural—do not force the invitation; do not force religion. Relax and be natural: “Hey, if you have not found a church home, we would love to have you come and check us out!”
- Be specific—do not just say, “Come and worship with us sometime,” but give details. Strive for the commitment.
- Be persistent—never give up. Invite, invite, invite!
Yet, the principles of “Friendship Evangelism” also contain their perils. It requires significant amount of time. We open ourselves up to being hurt. Our friendship may become an end in itself. Our friends may become overly dependent on us. We tend to assume too much responsibility on results (cf. 1 Cor. 3:6-7). This is how benevolence is tied to evangelism.
Third, evangelism involves a will that is courageous. Personal soul winners will not fear failure. They recognize that they are continuing to march under the favor of God! They will go out and fight to win others to Jesus! They will thrust themselves into the heat of battle in the world where people are lost in sin to try to rescue them, as a fireman braves the heat of the fire to rescue those trapped and dying. They will remember that even people rejected our Savior (John 6:66). What angler allows failure of losing “the big one” to stop him from fishing? No, he lays aside his temporary failure and persists with even more resolve the next time! Soul winners will not fear conflict. They will grit their teeth when knocking on doors, knowing the potential repercussions every time. Soul winners will not fear the costs or the time involved. Becoming a fisher of man takes great amounts of both (Matt. 4:19)! Soul winners will not fear the negative influences around them. Even Jesus said that the laborers are few (Luke 10:2)!
Fourth, evangelism involves a spirit that is prayerful (Rom. 10:1; Matt. 9:36-38; Luke 10:1-2; Col. 4:2-3). Sadly, studies years ago state that the average Christian only prays sixty seconds a day, and the average minister only prays ninety seconds a day! Notice what we learn in First Timothy 2:1-4:
- What are we to do? “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks…”
- For whom are we to pray? “…be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority…”
- Why are we to pray? “…that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior…”
- What are the wishes of Christ for which we are to pray? “…Who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth…”
Evangelists need a prayerful spirit because there is a need for laborers in a ripe harvest. Jesus draws a spiritual lesson in John 4:35, showing that the Samaritans were ripe for harvesting, even then. Many places of our world are ripe for harvest! Evangelists need a prayerful spirit because we cannot effectively evangelize without the help of God. Prayer indicates the realization that we are partners together with God (1 Cor. 3:6-7; 2 Cor. 6:1). Evangelists need a prayerful spirit because we need to preach the gospel more boldly (cf. Acts 4:31). One of the things that comes through prayer is boldness in teaching the gospel; prayer brought them courage, and prayer may give us courage, just as we have already noted! Sir Isaac Newton said, “I can take my telescope and look millions and millions of miles into space, but I can lay it aside and go into my room, shut the door, get down on my knees in earnest prayer and see more of heaven and get closer to God than I can assisted by all the telescopes and material agencies on earth.”
In conclusion, consider the great pattern of evangelism that Philip offers from the book of Acts:
- He was faithful (6:1-7). We cannot expect to lead others to Jesus unless we faithfully follow Him ourselves.
- He knew Jesus (6:3; 8:5, 12, 35). We must know Jesus in order to introduce Him to others effectively.
- He was obedient (8:4-5, 26-27, 29-30). Effective evangelists are always obedient (cf. Matt. 28:18-20)!
- He was not prejudiced (8:5, 27). The gospel is for all!
- He taught one (8:12, 27, 40). We are always working to teach one soul at a time!
- He realized that evangelism was an urgent matter (8:27, 29-30). He did not dismiss it lightly.
- He had knowledge of the scriptures (8:34-35).
- He asked questions (8:30).
- He answered questions (8:34, 36, 38).
- He moved on afterwards (8:40; 21:8).
Our duty to our loving God and to one another is to inspire each other to become more and more evangelistic. We must get these biblical principles into practice! What can we do to make this more relevant? 1) Mark the key verses of your Bible, linking relevant verses together, and producing a personal chain-reference Bible conducive to studying the matter of salvation. 2) Make a list on your refrigerator, which you may update regularly. Divide it into two categories—one for Christians who need encouragement and one for sinners you are hoping to convert. Tell your family (children) about the list, and spend time every night praying for them and how you might help them. 3) Pick one specific person from your list, decide which specific action will be best in your evangelistic approach (inviting them to dinner, playing golf together and such like) and then pick one specific date on your calendar to make this approach. Mark your calendar and do it! 4) Pray for the providence of God in your life and in their lives as with the help of God, we work together to convert them to Jesus Christ (James 5:19-20)!