What Is True Evangelism?

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Faith comes by hearing.

Over the years, I have heard people say things like, “Serving is not evangelism. It is a great thing to do, but serving alone does not present the message of the gospel.” Or, “Inviting a person to church or to a Christian concert is not evangelism. It is pre-evangelism.” I have even heard people say, “Sharing your story is not enough. We must tell Jesus’ story.” To these comments and many others like them, I say, “I agree 100 percent!”

In the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul says, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Paul makes it clear that it is not enough just to love and care for people; we are called to communicate the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. Over the years, I have heard many variations on the statement, “Proclaim the gospel wherever you go. Use words when necessary.” I understand the spirit of this quote, which has been attributed to many different historical figures, but I feel it is misleading. A more biblical version would be, “Proclaim the gospel wherever you go. Words will always be necessary.” The apostle Peter puts it this way: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. 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” (1 Peter 3:15).

There are many approaches to evangelism, but all of them include the wonderful moment when we tell the story of God’s gift of salvation. When we serve someone and they ask us, “Why do you care so much?” we let them know how much God has cared for us. We articulate that God cared for us so much that he sent Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins. We tell them our service flows out of this understanding. When we invite someone to a church service or a faith-based event and they ask us, “Do you really believe all this stuff about Jesus?” we have an open door to share how we came to faith, what we believe, and how God has transformed our lives. We are given an opportunity to articulate the message of the gospel. No matter what our personal style, we all should be trained and ready to express the core message of the gospel, and we should know how to lead people to commit their lives to Jesus Christ.

The Power and Place of Prayer
Along with using our unique and God-given styles of evangelism and being ready to articulate the message of the gospel, we need to be people of prayer. No matter what we say or do, if God’s Holy Spirit is not at work, lives will never be changed. All through the Bible and in history, we see that prayer precedes revival and great works of God. In the Book of Acts, we read, “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:12-14).

The amazing evangelistic revival and work of the Holy Spirit that comes in Acts 2 is clearly connected to the prayers of God’s people. What a joy to see a biblical portrait of God’s people, men and women, together in passionate prayer, and then to discover that the Spirit descended in power, the gospel was proclaimed, and over three thousand people gave their hearts and lives to Jesus!

One of the most powerful things you can do to grow in your personal commitment to outreach is to pray for those who are not yet followers of Christ. Make a list of friends, family members, and acquaintances who are not Christians. Put this list where you will see it and pray for one or more of these people each day. Then be sure to ask God to help you be responsive to the opportunities he gives you to use your unique evangelism style to connect with them, love them, and speak to them about Jesus.

Prayer must bathe everything we do, especially when it comes to the ministry of outreach. Every follower of Jesus should be praying for their friends, family members, and acquaintances who don’t know Jesus. We also need to undergird all of our outreach efforts with prayer.

Along with praying for our churches’ outreach efforts, it is critical that followers of Jesus discover the power of praying for and with those spiritual seekers God has placed in our lives. Through the years, I have asked many nonbelievers, “Can I pray for you?” So far no one has said no. It is amazing how people who don’t have faith in God can still hunger for prayer.

Adapted from chapter 17 of Seismic Shifts by Kevin G. Harney (Zondervan, 2009). Used with permission.

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