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The question of evangelism is quite a polarizing topic in the global community.

In Christian circles, there is a pressure, whether implied or implicit, that evangelism should be happening.  In the West, people often roll their eyes when Christians begin to evangelize.  In other parts of the world, you can be killed for Christian evangelism.

But the topic itself needs clarification – What is evangelism?

Some say that every Christian should be street preaching.  Some say that you should only show the love of Christ through action and never push your religion on anyone.

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What do the Scriptures Say about Evangelism?

The Scriptures give us surprisingly little in the way of instruction.  In fact, there is not a single passage of Scripture which commands Christians to evangelize others.  At least not in the way we usually think of it today.

What we have is an awesome passage like Colossians 4:5-6, which says:

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

and the passage in 1 Peter 3:15-16:

“…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

And so what we see here are not commands to tell everyone the gospel.

We see commands to be respectful, gracious, and wise, understanding that our behavior is as much a testament to Christ as our words.

We see commands to be ready to answer others.  If the metaphor of letting our conversation be “seasoned with salt” actually means sharing the truth of the Gospel, then even in that context, it says “so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  Again, it is a responsive action to share the gospel, not a proactive one.

But there are different ways evangelism can manifest itself in your spheres of influence.

1. Evangelism as a Member of the Community

evangelism communityYour actions in the community as an individual can greatly serve as an evangelistic tool.  1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 says:

“…Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

As you do your job well, and provide for yourself, Paul told us that we “win the respect of outsiders”.  And a win in that area is a testament to how good God is.

In 1 Timothy, Paul instructs1 that the rich should be rich in good deeds.

So when it comes to your individual relationships in the community, it seems that the best way to be ready to “give a reason for the hope that you have” is to work hard and do good deeds.  As people see your lifetime of good works for others, you can share how your thankfulness to Christ is at the center of everything.

2. Evangelism as a Family

evangelism familyIn Ephesians 5:22-6:42, Paul outlines a structure for the family.  It is through this structure that God’s order, love, wisdom, and grace can be shown brightly.

As husbands and wives show each other love and respect, it shows the world that God is a giver of unity and joy.

As children obey their parents, it shows that God restores us through humility and wisdom.

As parents raise their children well, it shows that God brings order and peace.

A household which does these things well and is hospitable to others shows the kindness and generosity of God.

A well-ordered family is not common these days, and now more than ever is our opportunity to show our redemption through our family.  And when people ask why the members of our households relate so differently than other families, we can tell them that it is because of Jesus’ example and his sacrifice.

3. Evangelism as a Church Community

The early church seemed to emanate the Gospel through every action.  Acts 2:42, 46-47 says:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

They enjoyed the favor of all the people as a result of their community life.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

evangelism churchThere are a few reasons why the early church was so good at winning the favor of the people.  These points were taken from Jeff Reed, in his Encyclical, “Kerygmatic Communities:  Evangelism and the Early Churches“.

First, they spread the gospel through their simple meetings which centered around the Lord’s Supper, which itself was a proclamation of the gospel.  See this article to read more about the simple meetings.

Second, the drastic change in the lives of their members was in itself evangelism.

Third, they helped establish family households, which, in turn, proclaimed the gospel (see the point above).

Fourth, the early church regularly told their testimony of how they came to faith.

Fifth, they directly participated in the planting of new churches regionally, which obviously included sharing the gospel.

Sixth, they participated in the global progress of the gospel by supporting Paul and other Apostles as they did the work of evangelism and church planting around the world.

4. Evangelism by the Evangelist

Some of you are probably thinking, “Come on, man.  There’s got to be some responsibility on Christians to simply proclaim the gospel.  Paul did it everywhere he went!”

I agree.

Paul did it everywhere he went, and in Ephesians 4:11-16, he names “Evangelist” as a legitimate spiritual gift (or at least gift-set, depending on how you look at it).

Moreover, Philip himself was calledThe Evangelist“.

Finally, in the passage I quoted from Acts earlier (Acts 2:42-47), the verses I took out for the sake of brevity, actually make reference to the Apostles directly sharing the gospel.  Not to mention Acts 4:32-35, which shows the same thing, as well as all the sermons quoted in the entire book of Acts, which were evangelistic in nature.

So for most Christians, they are only responsible to participate in evangelism as listed above in their communities, their families, and their churches.

However, there are specific people with the gift of evangelism who are supposed to do exactly that – go out and evangelize the hell out of people (Am I allowed to say it like that?).

As information for those select few, take a look at the story of Philip in Acts 83.  There are a few notes to make concerning this Apostle, who apparently functioned so well in the “Evangelist” role, that he was given that title later on.

evangelism globeFirst, Philip preached in public in a way which caused people to believe.  Today, we don’t have similar centers of public discourse where people meet just to discuss ideas, like Philip and Paul had.  So we have to be creative.   What is the 21st century equivalent?  The University?  A coffee shop?  A lecture hall?  This is one that I’m still thinking through.  I’d be glad for your input on this one!

Second, Philip spoke privately with people.  Systematically speaking, he learned what questions the individual had, and then he tied it back to the entire history of God revealed in Scripture.  He showed how, from the very beginning, God was foretelling the coming Messiah, and that Jesus was that Messiah.

There is evidence throughout the book of Acts that this was a common strategy of the Apostles in their sermons- to explain how the Old Testament was all about Jesus.  It wasn’t just Philip who did it.  In fact, Jesus himself did it on the road to Emaus (see Luke 24:13-33, esp. verse 27).

So how does an evangelist do this today?  First and foremost, he/she must know the whole story of Scripture and be able to relate any apologetic question to the full story of God (A great resource on this is titled The Story, published by BILD, Intl).  Secondly, he/she must actually participate in this work in private conversations on a regular basis.

5. Other Important Notes about Evangelism and the Evangelist

Beyond Philip himself, we know that in Ephesians 4:11-16 (listed above), the Evangelist is actually supposed to “equip [Jesus’] people for the work of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”.

So what can the evangelist do which helps equip the church?

First and most simply, he/she can preach the gospel to the church.  They can help in establishing the church in a full understanding of the gospel.

To follow Philip’s example of tying the Ethiopian’s questions to the full story of Christ beginning in the Old Testament, the evangelist should help people understand that whole story.  And they should equip the people to be able to answer other people’s questions in the same way.  Teach them how to do it.  Because it’s not easy.

They should help the individuals in their church learn how to share their testimony effectively.  They can teach people how to navigate conversations and go beyond building a relationship – seasoning their conversations with salt.

What an evangelist should not do is think of themselves as a lone ranger.  This is perhaps one of the most common problems with the church in the West – staunch individualism.  The evangelist is part of a church-planting team, as well as a church-leadership team.  See this older article for more information on why.

Evangelism should be happening through our individual relationship with the community, through our families, through our churches, and through specially gifted people who were made to share the good news.

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  1.  “Command [those who are rich] to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”  -1 Timothy 6:18
  2.  22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

    25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body.31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

    Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

    Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. 

  3. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.

    Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

    Acts 8:4-13

    26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

    30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

    31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

    32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

    “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
        and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
        so he did not open his mouth.
    33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
        Who can speak of his descendants?
        For his life was taken from the earth.”

    34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

    36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”  38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

    -Acts 8:26-40

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