A Renewed Perspective on Evangelism

I used to think that to “evangelize” was to bring a person from being an unbeliever to being a committed Christian. Thankfully, it is not. To evangelize is to tell the Good News, which can be done in many different ways. It is to lead others in the direction of Christ. Many times this task does not seem so simple to those of us who are committed Christians. Fear, past experiences, lack of focus, and some other things, often derail this important part of one’s faithful walk with Christ.

Thirty years ago I made a commitment to be involved in an evangelistic missionary program for one year. My goal was to witness to and enroll people in classes about the Bible. A few years later I was involved in this program a second time when the stated goal of this program was to “move the Word.” Those two years of service were great times of personal growth in specific areas of my life, but as I look back I now realize there was a downside concerning what I took away from these experiences, both about myself and about evangelism.

The expectations set before us in this program were primarily based upon the number of people we enrolled in classes or fellowship groups. In neither year did those numbers materialized for me. While this program had very good intentions, the result in my personal life was in some ways damaging. I came away from those two years convinced that I simply was not good at “witnessing.” The way I rationalized this was by telling myself that I was not called as an evangelist but that I could serve God in other ways. This attitude allowed me to excuse myself from one of the great joys of the Christian life, which is leading people to Christ.

Recently, a particular book has rescued my perspective on being effective in evangelism and the ministry of reconciliation. The book is Just Walk Across the Room: Simple Steps Pointing People To Faith, by Bill Hybels who is, in my opinion, one of the most influential evangelists of our time. Hybels’ book provides a simple approach for anyone who desires to engage in evangelism, or more simply stated, in connecting people to God. If you have ever felt inadequate when it comes to witnessing, or felt uncomfortable in reaching out to others with the Gospel, this book will be an inspiring resource for you.

In reading it, I realized that I had allowed my perspective of evangelism to become institutionalized. My focus was on getting people to be part of my church, fellowship, or group. In addition, I had defined success as my causing an “unbeliever” to progress all the way to becoming a faithful, ministering believer.

I found the following passage in Hybels’ book very liberating:

“To be perfectly honest, I would love it if the work of evangelism were predictable. It would be marvelous if every single conversation I had with someone far from God led to a profession of faith… But you know as well as I do that real life paints a far different picture. I had to learn the hard way that on some occasions, the Spirit asked me to be an opener. I have a hoe, and I’m supposed to break up some really hard soil in someone’s heart so that the next person to come along might have some influence in planting a seed or two along those rows.”

His point is that many times evangelism is a team sport, and the role we play at any given time will change depending upon the situation and the need of the one with whom we are talking at the time. For example, we may have only ten minutes with a person. While we may not get him from unbelief to being a strong, standing believer in that time, we must not allow ourselves to think that we cannot make a difference and bring him closer to Christ, even in just a few minutes. Perhaps you are the first friendly Christian the person has ever met. That in itself would make a difference. As Hybels says in closing this section:

“The thrill of it all exists in the fact that as we walk into a spiritual exchange, you and I have no idea what role the Spirit has ordained for us to play.”

After reading Hybels’ book, my desire to explore the Scriptures for expanded understanding on this topic has been renewed. As a result, I have gone mining in the book of Acts for treasure related to this essential aspect of the Christian walk. What follows is a consideration of evangelism from three perspectives. The first is the book of Acts, the second is in some of the commandments Jesus gave to his Apostles, and the third is in light of the individual gifts of God’s grace He has given to His children.

Praise, Grace, and Addition

The book of Acts is the historical record of the rise and expansion of the first century Church. While it does provide us with the history of the early Church, it also imparts great insight for church growth in any century. Hidden within the chapters of this amazing record are eight great statements that summarize and conclude the sections that precede them. The first summary statement in Acts is found in 2:47.

Acts 2:47 (NASB) [1]
praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The Christians were praising God, along with all those who were being saved. Three features of this section are praise, grace, and addition, which form a foundation for the growth of the church.

Let us first consider praise, which is often thought of only as what is spoken, but there is more to it.

Psalm 145:10
All you have made will praise you, O LORD….

Psalm 148:3 and 4
(3) Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars.
(4) Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.

All that God has created provides praise to Him, that is, testifies to His goodness and would tell us to praise God.

Romans 15:11
And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.”

Praising God helps us remember why we are Christians, and why we want other people to share in the blessings of God now as well as the hope of Christ’s appearing and the everlasting life to follow.

Also present in Acts 2:47, the first summary statement in the book of Acts, is grace. But to fully understand its use there, we must read the verse and its context carefully.

Acts 2:46 and 47 (NASB)
(46) And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they [the believers] were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,
(47) praising God, and having favor [grace] with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

A study of the context shows that the believers were continuing in the Temple, gladly eating together in each other’s houses, praising God, and having favor with all the people. But who are “all the people”? They are the people of Jerusalem, the “ordinary citizens” of the city. The word “favor” is charis, meaning “grace.” The believers were so full of joy, so orderly, so helpful, and such a good example, that they enjoyed the grace of the common people of Jerusalem. Having received grace from God, these young Christians now reflected that grace to each other and to the people, who gave it back to them. The NIV shows the sense of this very well:

Acts 2:47
praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Notice that right after telling us that the believers had “grace,” favor, from all the people of Jerusalem, the Bible says: “…the Lord added to their number daily….” Those believers were such a good example in so many ways that each day people were joining their number.

For those early Christians, the winning of souls for Christ was not a lot of “individual efforts,” with individuals single handedly bringing an unbeliever to a committed relationship with Christ, although that could have happened occasionally. Rather, the believers were together, of one accord, and the growth of the Church was due to their collective effort. Perhaps all one Christian did was help to pick up off the ground someone who had fallen, saying, “God bless you, have a good day.” Another Christian might have casually spoken to that same person about the resurrection while at the marketplace. Another could have graciously invited the person to fellowship, but been turned down. Each of those believers may have been tempted to think of himself or herself as having “no fruit” to show for their efforts, but who knows what is happening in the soul of a man or woman touched by the love of God?

As a result of the believers’ focus on praising God, and the reciprocal grace between them and those around them, there was great addition to the church. When the outpouring of holy spirit occurred in Acts 2, people from all over the world heard those Galileans speak the wonderful works of God, praising Him in their own languages. Next came the great sermon of Peter, but he was not alone. Even though Peter is the one quoted as he preached, all twelve were working as a unit, which is witnessed to by the response of the people who were being taught.

Acts 2:37
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Note that the people responded to Peter and the other apostles. There were twelve apostles, most likely assisted by the other “about 120 in their company,” who were given the task of working with the people who responded to Peter’s message. This harkens back to Jesus feeding the 5000 (Luke 9:12-14), when this unit of apostles were being trained to work with large numbers of people. Jesus had prepared the Apostles for the addition they would see on the Day of Pentecost and the days that followed. That day, there were about 3000 Christians added to their number. Here we see the obvious results of “team” evangelism in operation.

The Commandment Sandwich

Each of us has been given gifts that equip us to serve in the Body of Christ, and there are some things to consider in utilizing our gifting. Luke, the beloved physician, who wrote Acts as well as the gospel bearing his name, prompts us here to consider the commands Jesus gave between the time of his resurrection and ascension.

Acts 1:1-3
(1) In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach
(2) until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.
(3) After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

By looking back at Jesus’ post-resurrection instructions in the last chapter of each of the Four Gospels, we find what I like to think of as a “commandment sandwich,” which still applies to believers today. The top piece of bread is “Do not be afraid” (Matt. 28:10). The filling (or meat and cheese) of this sandwich is preach and teach (Matt. 28:20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47), and the bottom piece of bread is “follow me” (John 21:19 and 22).

If we are ever going to bring people to Christ, we must love them enough to not be afraid of helping them as the occasion demands. That may well include teaching and preaching, and in so doing we obey Christ’s commands to follow him. How this commandment sandwich applies to evangelism becomes apparent when we look at the next subject, that of individual gifts of God’s grace as seen in the example of the Apostles.

Gifts of God’s Grace and How They Are Applied in Ministry

There is one more command that Jesus gave to his Apostles prior to his ascension that sets the stage for the growth of his Church (Acts 1:4-8). He told them to return to Jerusalem where they would receive power via the gift of holy spirit so they could be witnesses to all the world.

Through the years I have heard countless people question what their ministry might be. Some have wondered if they have one of the fivefold ministries Christ gave to the Church: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, or teacher. As we will see, each individual has a gifting from the Lord. These are gifts of God’s grace and they are ways of serving, so they are “ministries.” Not everyone’s service to the Lord will look the same.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6
(4) There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.
(5) There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
(6) There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men

In Paul’s case, one of his individual gifts of God’s grace was that of an apostle, and as such he laid foundations that others could then build on.

1 Corinthians 3:10 and 11
(10) By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.
(11) For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Apostles are like people who work with concrete, who pour foundations upon which buildings can rest. In his article “What Is an Apostle?,” Dan Gallagher wrote that:

“the apostle’s central purpose is to be a spiritual builder. His charge is to build community.”

Ephesians 2:19-22
(19) Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,
(20) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
(21) In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
(22) And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Jesus Christ is the architect who set the pattern by which his Church would be built. Although they all differ somewhat in form and function, every single stone in a temple is important. The interesting thing about the “temple” of the Body of Christ is that as it grows, the “living stones” in it help other “pieces of earth” (unbelievers) become stones and join the Temple, continuing its growth.

As Acts 2 opens with the Apostles and disciples all together in one place, this sense of community and working together with like passion is clearly apparent. Again, remembering the commandment sandwich, we see that these Apostles build a community of faith by preaching and teaching without fear as they follow the example of the Lord Jesus.

In his book, Just Walk Across the Room, Bill Hybels states:

True joy in the Christian adventure unfurls when you play the role that the Spirit asks you to play. Your job – and mine – is to say, “God, I am open for whatever role you might have me play.”

Hybels is speaking in regard to reaching people who are far from God. The same is true in building a community of faith. Each Christian has been given individual gifts of God’s grace (Rom. 12:6). Apostles, teachers, pastors, etc., publicly teach and preach. However, the metaphor of the commandment sandwich applies to every individual’s gift from God. The bread is still no fear on top, and follow Jesus on the bottom, but the meat and cheese filling is each one’s individual gifts of God’s grace. How does one identify his/her individual gifts? It is as we get busy serving where it is needed that the Lord reveals to us the gifts he has given us. This is where the bread of the sandwich is important. We serve by following Jesus with no fear. Romans shows us people ministering in many ways.

Romans 12:6-8
(6) We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.
(7) If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;
(8) if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Many times the only gifts that have received attention are those listed in Ephesians 4:1; apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teacher. These five are listed together due to their shared responsibility of preparing God’s people for works of service. Yet from God’s perspective, the individual gifts of His grace we might tend to overlook are also to receive honor (1 Cor. 12:22-25). We are each unique members of the One Body with needed contributions.

Ephesians 4:16
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

According to Acts 2:41, about 3000 souls were added to the Body of Christ on the Day of Pentecost. Thus, Acts 2:42-47 are the blueprint the Apostles utilized as “expert builders” to construct the community of faith. God has provided many individual gifts of His grace, and each is needed in Christ’s Body. Each of us is to, and can, fearlessly follow the example of Jesus (Phil. 2:7 and 8) and exercise our individual function.

As we take the time to survey Acts 2:42-47, we see that several of these individual gifts of God’s grace are implied. For example, there will be teachers who carry on what the Apostles have begun, and pastors who skillfully foster fellowship among various groups. Gifts of hospitality and service will be critical in the breaking of bread from house to house. Those with individual gifts of giving will see to it that there is no lack among the believers. As well, those with the gift of encouragement and the gift of exhortation will help others be glad and sincere toward one another.

1 Peter 4:10 and 11
(10) Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
(11) If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Carefully note the relationship between grace and praise in the preceding verses. God has shed his grace upon the Church via a multitude of individual gifts. As each follower of Jesus shares his or her gift with others, the result is praise to God. People will be drawn to God and Jesus Christ through a church that functions in this way.

Ephesians 2:10
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

The good works He has called you and me to do are those works that make up the “meat and cheese,” inside our individual commandment sandwich. As we each focus on what God has done and will do, we can praise Him from our hearts, and without fear reflect to others the grace He has given us. In turn, we will find people who will receive grace from us and give it back to us, and thus the door will be opened for others to be added to the community of faith. It’s hard to fail at “evangelism” if you understand that it is simply reaching out to others without fear and with the love and grace in your heart that you have for God and for them, thus bringing them closer to Christ. Evangelism is one of the gifts of God’s grace, and it is also a function of every believer as we effectively minister with our gifts and play the role God has for us to play.

Endnotes

[1] Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

1 comment

  1. Well put. Very informative and to the point.

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