In the 1500s, Menno Simons (an early Anabaptist leader and the founder of the Mennonite denomination) wrote a tract entitled “Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing.” In this tract, Simons unashamedly addressed the hardships Anabaptist Christians underwent at the hands of political authorities and yet the fervent joy of still maintaining one’s faith and spiritual standing regardless of economic or social pressures. Like many others in his day, Simons boldly stood against religious heresy or the abuse of power by a few select individuals in prominent positions of power. Instead, he urged for a simpler understanding of the faith which all were invited into, and contended for a church “without spot and blemish.” The concluding line of his tract reads, “Beloved brethren, do not deviate from the doctrine and life of Christ.”
Evangelism was a key tenant in early Anabaptism. Sometimes this evangelism took the form of a soft and quiet mentorship, but at other times it took on a more charismatic nature, even public outcries against preaching. People were willing to die and become martyrs for their faith. Yet, today, so many Christians in the West (the very place where our Christianity is the least challenged from a physical viewpoint) are the most timid and the least assertive.
Today countries like the United States that were originally founded upon God’s providence and even imprinted “In God we trust” on their currency, want nothing to do with a heavenly reality.
In Canada, while there is a growing rate of spiritualism, many churches are in decline and several have been shut down in recent years. Many young adults find matters of faith “boring” and “irrelevant” and others simply regard Scripture as “fairy tales.” Stories that may instil some good moral lessons into young children, but that mature adults must steer clear of. What is saddest of all to me, is not that the unbelieving world rejects and scoffs at Christianity, but that thousands of Christians helplessly stand by and watch it happen without intervening.
What does the Bible have to say on this matter? Speaking just to the Christians reading this post (for that is who this post is aimed at) no one is excused for sharing the Gospel. The Bible tells us repeatedly that as Christians our duty is not only to follow Christ in the private aspects of our lives, but to introduce Him in the public sphere as well. Jesus boldly declared that if anyone is ashamed of Him in public – before his or her friends and family, Christ will be ashamed of him when he enters paradise. This is incredibly powerful when you actually stop and read it. Jesus, the very One who is love incarnate and declared that He did not come into the world to condemn, but rather to save – draws the line when it comes to ignoring or outright rejecting Him when there are lost souls to be saved.
Lately, I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to the topic of evangelism, exactly what it means, and what instructions the Bible gives us for going about and doing it.
I admit, I am not perfect, and at times, I also have fallen prey to “evangel-phobia.” But recently, I have realized just how dumb that really is.
Here’s what I mean. I work at McDonald’s. Everyday, a group of highschoolers with a voracious appetite come in at 11am and order their lunch. I have noticed that there is a group of girls where one is the pack leader. She orders a McDouble with extra ketchup, no pickles and no onions. She then requests small fries, an ice coffee, and finishes it off with a vanilla cone for dessert. After she places her order, the next three girls giggle as they order the exact same thing. I remember being a young teen once. At times I wasn’t confident enough to speak my mind because I thought “if I gave my opinion of that topic to others, they would think I’m uncool.” I used to be just like those girls who think that if they order nuggets or a Caesar Salad they somehow will fall out of step with the rest who order burgers. Today I know how ludicrous that really is. Today, now that I have grown and matured, I simply speak my mind. I order what I want from the menu. I am fully free to express my views – and hey, if people can’t accept that, they probably weren’t my true friends to begin with. Why? Because my true friends always love and cherish my opinions even when we disagree. My true friends may not always see things from my perspective, but we have enough of a relationship built that it honestly doesn’t matter.
This is a lot like our faith. In 1 Peter 3:15 we read “always be ready to give an account for what you believe, yet do so with gentleness and respect.” Pondering this verse recently has given me a whole new spin on the subject. First, notice what Peter says. He talks about being ready or prepared in order to give an account or an ANSWER. This means that there was a question asked. Of course, I am not saying only limit your evangelism to people who outright ASK, but I find this certain word to be a key. Someone asks, we give an answer. We should not be ashamed of the answer or even ashamed or flustered that a question was asked. We should just have something ready to say and it should come from the heart.
Think about the last question you were asked. It might have been a friend who asked you “what did you do today?” Or it might be a potential employer asking you in an interview “why do you want this job?” We could probably all think of several answers. Even a question like “so, where would you like to go on vacation next?” can elicit an enthusiastic remark. Many of us have been though interviews before. We generally don’t just “wing” our answers. If we truly want the position, we give careful thought and attention to what we might be asked, and we carefully think of our response so that when the question comes we can pounce on it and convince others that we are the most suitable candidate. When a man and woman fall in love and become engaged, the man poses the question “will you marry me?” If they truly believe they are right for each other, the woman has the answer ready “YES.” She has dreamed about this day for weeks, months, or years. She is almost never caught saying “hmm…I really need to think about that one, honey. Can I get back to you with my answer in another day or two?” If she did, it would totally ruin the moment and kill the mood.
If we are prepared to give answers for all these important scenarios, how much more should we be prepared to give an answer when it truly counts for the long run? We have often heard it said “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” but I would really like to push back on that statement. The truth is, not only can what you not know hurt you, it can have long-lasting consequences – including an eternity we will not be able to erase. The least we can do is give our friends the truth. We cannot force or coerce someone to believe as we do, but we can at least share our faith – we owe them that much.
Now, look at the second part of the verse. It talks about giving that answer (which we’ve prepared before hand) with GENTLENESS AND RESPECT. This says it all. This shows the attitude we must all have when dealing with unbelievers. We ought not to be rude or obnoxious. It mustn’t become a game or an on-going debate or the chance to prove someone wrong. It must not include put-downs, insults, or intolerance of another’s views or religion (and yes, atheism and agnosticism are, in my opinion, religious viewpoints). Instead, it is done with respect for the other and a recognition of all they hold dear. It is a realization that changing one’s allegiance is not an easy process and that not all are ready for it and not everyone can accept it. We are not to push people past their limit with scare tactics or manipulation, instead, we are simply to share the truth – our truth and God’s truth in the form of an honest answer.
Another Scripture that has influenced my understanding of evangelism is Ephesians 4:15 which admonishes us to “speak the truth in love.” To be honest, this verse has been taken out of its rightful Biblical context so many times. Today, many Christians relegate it to little more than being tolerant and kind to one another. For example, when tempted to “tell a friend off” we remind ourselves to do so lovingly. Not to blow up at the person, but simply to state our case in a sandwich approach with some extra lettuce.
Yet, if you read the entire context of Ephesians 4, you will see that this alone is missing the mark. Yes, Ephesians does talk about unity and getting along, but that was between those who were already believers. WHY? So that the Body of Christ might be built up and the force for evangelism much stronger. The point of speaking the truth in love was to renounce false teachers because we love the person who is listening to them and do not want to see them come to a spiritual ruin. It is a difficult demand, but one that must be attended to if we are truly to foster a mature spirituality.
So putting these two verses together, here is the main point of evangelism: we are to be prepared to give others an answer for what we believe, but we are to do so in love and respect graced with gentleness.
You may now be convinced that we are to evangelize, but you might wonder how to start. Starting is the hardest part because once you start the conversation, it is more likely to naturally keep flowing. Here are some important guidelines to be aware of:
#1: You must first believe in the Gospel yourself and be passionate about it. Anyone who has spent time in the business field (myself included) knows that a product sells the best when a salesperson is absolutely convinced of the value of that product. If a salesperson is less than half enthused, people won’t care. It’s the same with our faith. We have to be genuine. People will see through the motions if we are simply doing something to appease God or because we feel like we have to. Don’t give Sunday school answers, give real life scenarios and stories. Be vulnerable. As much as you are comfortable, share accounts and testimonies of how God has brought you out of your own deep darkness and renewed hope.
#2 You must know the Scriptures. First-hand accounts are a wonderful way to build bridges, but in order to truly be prepared, you must know the key verses and themes of the Scriptures. It is important to know what you believe and why you believe it. If you are not already spending time in the Word, it is imperative if you are going to reach others for the Kingdom’s cause.
#3: Prepare the ground. The beginning work of evangelism is prayer. Pray for the people God is asking you to reach. If you are not yet aware of them, pray that God opens your eyes to those who are in your midst who you might be called to reach.
#4: Don’t compete with other groups. The Apostle Paul understood this as did John the Baptist and Moses. All these people recognized that the more people who were promoting the Kingdom, the more souls would be saved. Our churches should not be in competition with one another. In fact, I love seeing churches collaborate and promote one another’s conferences and activities. I love pastors who ask other pastors for help in leading events. We all have the same goal in mind – don’t let your ego destroy that.
#5: Don’t miss the opportunity. Remember, the average person needs to hear the Gospel anywhere from 6 to 8 times before they will make a decision. You have no idea how many times the person you are reaching out to has heard the message. It may be their first time or their 20th time, but don’t despair or give up hope. Even if the person is not interested now, you never know what seeds will be planted that may spring up at a later time. In his book “Engaging With Atheists” author David Robertson also mentions something I have found helpful – for too long we have made up other’s minds for them. We have decided not to invite our friends to church events because we thought they would not enjoy it. We have decided not to share our faith with others because we thought they would find it dumb. We have decided not to put a tract in a Christmas card because we thought that people would find it a waste of time and a waste of a tree. In reality, these are all ideas that we have brought to the table, almost always without actually consulting our friends themselves. Next time you are tempted not to invite a friend to something, why not just ask them. If they say no – well at least they would have been the one to say it. Please don’t say no for them and deprive them the opportunity to something they may actually have said yes to.
I hope these points help you as you seek to grow in your pursuit of evangelism. There are many wonderful resources (books, DVDs, training programs, etc.) that you can get your hands on which might prepare you for future endeavours. Some of the best resources I have read are books on Christian apologetics especially as they relate to atheists. Some of these books include: God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists (By: Ray Comfort), The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw (By: Norman Geisler), The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (By: Andy Banister) and Engaging with Atheists: Understanding Their World and Sharing Good News (By: David Robertson). If you have a Christianity Explored or Alpha course in your area you might also enjoy attending one to help learn how to better share your faith with others. God bless you as you seek to draw others closer to Him.