Introduction to Evangelism
What kind of a church do you think we are? … Are we a good church? … Are we a healthy church?
Your answer to that question, in one aspect, is going to depend a bit on how well you know this church. If this is your first time ever visiting, then your answer might be based on how nice the building looks, or how much you like the music, or how organized the service is.
But if you’ve been at this church for a length of time, then your answer is going to be shaped by much more. You’ve had time to see the children’s program or the youth program. You’ve probably seen how FLGs work. And in addition to that program, you’ve gotten to know the people.
Biblically speaking, “church” is not a reference to the building or to our meeting, or even to our programs or some state-recognized non-profit organization. The church is the people. It’s the members actually—those who have publicly declared and have been publicly affirmed in their connection to Jesus Christ. That’s the local church.
If someone asked you: “Can you show me a photo of your church?” The best thing you could show them would not be the Google image at this building’s address. It would be a photo with all the members in it. That’s the biblical church. It’s the members.
So, let’s go back to the original question: Are we a healthy church? Is First Bilingual Baptist a good church? … What criteria should we use to answer that?
God describes the local church as a body. It’s a union of the members or parts. And just like with the human body, questions about health have various answers. You could answer it generally or specifically.
You might say: “Well, I’m pretty healthy, but one of my knees isn’t so good.” That means that in general, things are working good, even though some specific parts are not. On the flip side, someone could also say: “Well, nothing really hurts, but I was just told last week that I have leukemia.” In that case, there’s no specific part you can point to that hurts, but you know that in general, things are not looking good. Things aren’t headed in the right direction.
The same is true for a church. We can discuss the health of a church at a generic level (like its culture and its programs) and a specific level (thinking of each member individually). Those are the kinds of discussions we have sometimes as elders. We’re looking at individual people, but we’re also looking at the big picture. What is the culture of the church like? Is it healthy?
One very helpful and practical tool to answer that question is our Membership Covenant. We’ve got copies of that today, and I’d like you to take a look at it.
A lot of you have seen this before, but I’m not sure how often we look at it again. If you remember, the front side deals with the core message of the gospel, that’s the declaration of what all the members of our church claim to believe.
The second page, the back side, is the expression of that faith—the expression of the gospel. If we truly embrace the truths of Jesus Christ, then these areas are what that will look like practically in our lives, individually as Christians and corporately as a church.
What that second page lists are seven areas of the Christian life. And we leaders and we members, who voted and affirmed it, believe that these seven areas are faithful to what the Bible teaches about the Christian life.
If you are truly a Christian, you will not only affirm the teachings on the front page, you will be marked by, devoted to, and growing in those areas listed on the back page: Corporate Worship, Personal Holiness, Stewardship, Evangelism, Prayer, Mutual Care, and Unity.
That, I believe, is an excellent tool to assess the health of a Christian and the health of a church. And in a general sense, as we elders meet and discuss these kinds of things, there are many areas in which we believe we’re growing healthily.
Corporate worship, that means valuing the church gatherings. Most of you have shown that to be true. You value being here for Sunday worship and for the Lord’s Supper. In general, we have a culture that makes that a priority.
Mutual Care is another strong point. We know about and sometimes even help organize ways to reach out to people in some kind of distress, whether that be physical or spiritual. Generally, as a church, we help our own. We look out for one another.
Another strong point, again generally speaking, is unity. That doesn’t mean we that we never have disagreements, but that we know how to deal with them. We show one another preference and honor, and we’re not pulling this church apart at the seams. We’re not trying to fight back against division.
And like Paul told the Thessalonians: “Excel still more!” Keep up the good work and keep seeking to improve.
But one area that we as elders recognize is not as strong as it could be is the area of evangelism. We didn’t say that because we looked out at all of you and thought you were doing a poor job. A huge part of that conclusion is really looking at ourselves. We’re the leaders. We’re the shepherds. We’re the ones you’re called to serve as examples, according to Hebrews 13. And if we’re not satisfied with the level of evangelism in our own life, then that’s something that we should address.
So, for 6 weeks, we’re going to be pausing from Proverbs and pausing from John, and focusing for a bit on that very category—evangelism.
If you’ve still got that Membership Covenant out, go ahead and take a look at what it says for the commitment to evangelism. This is the fourth bullet point, on the back side of the page. It says: “I will seek to teach biblical truth to my family and those in my community, as God gives me opportunity. My desire is to see them come to trust Jesus Christ and be saved.”
How would you rate yourself on that criteria? “My goal is to teach biblical truth to my family to those in my community. I depend on God to give me opportunity. My desire is to see them come to salvation in Jesus Christ.” How accurate is that as a description of you? If you were taking a personality test, would you say: Strongly disagree, Somewhat disagree, neither disagree or agree, somewhat agree, or strongly agree.
I remember a professor in seminary who pointed out that there are three things you can always use to make people feel guilty: prayer, Bible reading, and evangelism. Prayer, Bible reading, and evangelism. We can all use growth in those area.
But the goal throughout this series isn’t to guilt ourselves into evangelism. It is to equip us. To help us grow in this area, both externally in our actions and our words, but more foundationally, to change the way we think and feel about evangelism. To sharpen ourselves. To align our hearts with God’s.
Frankly, I think that if more of us in the church evangelize more—simply out of duty, or out of obligation, or out of external pressure, rather than from the outflow of our heart—we’d still be missing God’s design for our lives. God cares about behavior. He cares about obedience. But He also cares about the heart. God wants our hearts to change as well.
So, don’t leave the service today, or don’t walk away from this series simply thinking: “I need to evangelize more.” I would much rather you leave asking yourself questions that address your heart like: “Why don’t I evangelize more? What keeps me from evangelizing? What aspect of my faith am I not applying properly? Why don’t I feel compelled to evangelize? Why don’t I feel my love for Christ overflow into speaking for His name?”
What I’ll probably be doing in the next five weeks is choosing one or two texts each week that help us think along those lines. But what I’d like to do today is give us sort of an introduction to the topic of evangelism. Because I don’t want to keep using terms without clarifying what they mean and how we should understand them. What exactly is evangelism? That’s an important place to start.
Imagine, if you will, that our church had a men’s meeting, and the focus of the meeting was on encouraging us to love our wives. That’s what Ephesians 5 says is part of our role as husbands. And in talking about the importance of loving our wives and the priority we need to give it, what if a man come forward crying in deep repentance and shame? I mean, just crying uncontrollably.
And when we asked him why he was crying, he said: “Well, I’m just overwhelmed with my own shame and guilt because all we’re hearing about today is the importance of loving our wives. I’ve sacrificed so much for my wife, and we read the Bible together and we go for walks and talk about life and we pray together every night. But our family doesn’t have a lot of money, so in the past 6 months, I haven’t bought her a new dress, I haven’t bought her a new pair of shoes, I haven’t bought her any jewelry. I haven’t bought her any flowers. And we haven’t gone on any expensive, fancy dates or vacations. I’m such a horrible husband. I’m such a failure as a husband.”
What would you say to that man? Hopefully, you wouldn’t snap back with: “Oh, yes, you’re a horrible husband.” You would want to encourage him and say: “Listen, it sounds like you’re doing a great job. All that other stuff you said you haven’t been able to do in a while, that’s not mandatory. That’s not mandated by God for you to do. That’s extra. I’m not so sure you quite understand what the biblical definition or expression of love is.”
Do you understand that response? He was equating “love” with other things. And so he was burdened by some kind of a false guilt.
The same kind of thing can happen with evangelism. If you don’t have a biblical understanding of evangelism you can walk away deflated with a kind of false guilt. Or, on the other hand, you might walk away thinking you’re doing a great job, but really, you’re failing. So it’s important to start with a definition of evangelism. What is evangelism?
In terms of a biblical definition, you should know that the verb “evangelize” isn’t used in the Bible—at least not in the major versions. The closest word we get in the English Bible to our English word “evangelism” is the reference to an “evangelist.” And if you look up the Greek word behind that, you get εὐαγγελιστής. And then connected to that is the noun εὐαγγέλιον and the verb εὐαγγελίζω. Those words basically refer either to good news or to the proclamation of good news. And the English word we use for today that is “gospel.”
The word “gospel” comes from an Old English translation of the Latin word evangelium which comes from the Greek words we mentioned. “Gospel” is basically the connection of two Old English words—“gōd” which means “good,” and “spell” which refers to a tale or a story. It just means “good news.”
So in terms of a simple definition, evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel. It is the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.
In the Roman religion, where they worshipped the Emperor, they would speak of a type of evangelion, a gospel. And the “good news” in that case basically referred to some great event in the life of the king that was being announced and either predicted or fulfilled some hope in the world for peace and happiness. That was the “gospel” of the Roman imperial cult. That was their good news.
Well, once Jesus come on the scene, that word began to take on a whole new meaning for Christians. They began to apply that to the message of Jesus. The “gospel” is the “good news” of Jesus, and so evangelism is the proclamation of that news.
But we really need to expand or clarify that definition just a little bit more. And it may be helpful for us to hear how others have attempted to define evangelism.
In 1974, there was The First International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland. They produced what is known as the Lausanne Covenant. Members of this conference included Billy Graham (from the U.S. and John Stott (from England). Although there was some division about issues, the Lausanne Covenant said this (and you can find a copy of this online if you want):
“To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that, as the reigning Lord, he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gifts of the Spirit to all who repent and believe…
“…evangelism itself is the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God. In issuing the gospel invitation we have no liberty to conceal the cost of discipleship. Jesus still calls all who would follow him to deny themselves, take up their cross, and identify themselves with his new community. The results of evangelism include obedience to Christ, incorporation into his Church and responsible service in the world.”
That’s a very lengthy but maybe helpful definition. But if you’re like me, that’s a lot to take in all at once. So let me give you some shorter definitions.
Mark Dever, in his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church says this: “Evangelism is presenting the good news freely and trusting God to convert people.” Presenting the good news freely and trusting God to convert people.
Another helpful definition comes from a book called Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus. It’s written by Mack Stiles. I like his definition the best because it’s short and because he intentionally packs it with significance. Evangelism, according to Stiles, “is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.” Teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.
In his evangelism book, Stiles unpacks the component of that definition, and I think it’s a helpful and biblical study. We’ll get to that in a few minutes, but before that I want us to understand some things that evangelism is NOT. What ISN’T evangelism?
Again Mark Dever is helpful, both in the Nine Marks book and in a shorter book that I recommend entitled The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. Based on what he’s written there and adding some additional points, let me give you a quick list of what evangelism is not:
First of all, Mark Dever instructs us, evangelism is not imposition. It’s not imposition. What that means is that evangelism is not a group of people forcing their preferences or opinions on others. Government can impose taxes. Parents can impose restrictions on their children. But Christians cannot impose the gospel.
For starters, we’re not dealing with an opinion. It’s not as if we’re discussing things that are up for debate. The gospel, we have to say, is a fact; not an opinion. And our job is to proclaim it. It’s not our job to make someone believe. We can’t cause the new birth. We can’t cause regeneration. We can’t produce faith. That’s what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3, and it’s what Paul reminded the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3. God causes the growth.
Secondly, evangelism is not a personal testimony. Giving a personal testimony isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not the same thing as evangelism. I can tell you my life story and never proclaim the gospel, or I can give you the gospel and share very little about my life. That’s not to say that a testimony is bad, it just shouldn’t be confused with evangelism. It might go hand-in-hand, but it doesn’t have to. So evangelism is not imposition, and it’s not a personal testimony.
Number three, and again we’re still using Mark Dever’s list, evangelism is not social action or political involvement. That’s not the same thing. Again, that’s not to say those things are wrong or bad. They just aren’t the same thing. We can make laws that help restrain sin in our culture, but, like the Apostle Paul tells us, no law can bring salvation. So don’t think you are evangelizing just because you’re taking social action or voting a specific way on an issue.
Number 4, evangelism is not apologetics. This is important. the term “apologetics” is used when we’re talking about defending the faith and answering any objections people have. Again, that’s a good thing. It’s helpful sometimes. But it’s not the same as evangelism. You can make a historical case for the Resurrection, or give scientific evidence for a six-day creation, but that isn’t the same as proclaiming the gospel.
Number 5, evangelism is not doing good deeds. It’s not doing good deeds, and it’s not cheering someone up. You can love someone in Jesus’ name. You can even talk about faith and hope and cheer them up, but even if you’re a Christian, that isn’t the same thing as evangelism. And again, I want to keep saying, none of these things are bad. Most of them are absolutely necessary for us, and they will strengthen our evangelism. But they’re not the same thing.
Two more, and then we’ll move on. Number six: evangelism is not, strictly speaking, an official event or ministry. Now, listen carefully to this. That’s not to say that ministries or events can’t be evangelistic. But what I’m saying is that evangelism shouldn’t be equated with that ministry. Some churches have many, many “evangelistic” ministries or events, but the gospel isn’t even presented. That’s not evangelism.
On the other hand, you can a church that is extremely evangelistic but has little or no formal evangelistic ministries. Because that’s not the only way it happens. You can have lunch with a coworker, just the two of you, and if you tell them the gospel, that’s evangelism. It doesn’t have to be this fancy, giant event. The church should be involved, and the church plays a role (I hope we’ll talk about that somewhere in this series), but it doesn’t mean you need a group there in person to do it. In fact, whenever you moms repeat the gospel to your kids at home, that’s evangelism. So if your only idea of evangelism is some formal event or service or ministry, you need to expand it.
Lastly, number 7, and maybe this is the most helpful. Evangelism is not the same as the results of evangelism. Evangelism is not the same as the results. We live in a culture, and our pragmatic nature loves to know we’re being effective. We’re making an impact. And so, the temptation is to think that we haven’t evangelized if we didn’t get the response we were looking for.
Typically, we equate great evangelists with the number of responses they get. But that’s not exactly right. In general, we believe God will bless faithful ministry with fruit, but that isn’t always the case. In fact, it was the exact opposite with a prophet like Jeremiah. He preached for 40 years, weeping for the nation of Israel, calling them to repentance, and saw no evident fruit.
Actually, we can even put Jesus in the same category. It’s easy to remember the massive crowds that were following Jesus, but once His earthly ministry was ending, after He was killed and resurrected, there were only 120 in Jerusalem. In fact, back in Luke 13, when Jesus is travelling through the cities preaching and teaching, someone asked Him: “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” Just a few? And we wouldn’t dare say Jesus wasn’t a faithful evangelist. It’s just that evangelism isn’t the same as the results.
If you tell your children the gospel, even if they don’t come to faith, you’re evangelizing. If you tell the gospel to co-workers, that’s evangelism, no matter how they respond. Don’t feel like a failure just because someone doesn’t respond. Just be faithful to proclaim the gospel.
And this brings us back to the definition of evangelism I gave you from Mack Stiles. It’s time for us to unpack that. Here it is again. Evangelism is “is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.” Teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade. Four key words: teaching, gospel, aim, persuade. And let me just show you how Stiles unpacks that.
First of all, there’s the word “teaching.” That is speaking about communicating information. You cannot evangelize if you don’t use words. You must communicate information. That’s what it means to teach—to give information.
Jesus Himself took on the title Rabbi, which means “Teacher.” That was the core of His ministry. He proclaimed. And so did the Apostles. Yes, they healed. Yes they ministered to people in a practical sense. But the core of their ministry was teaching.
An even if you’re not giving a sermon on Sunday morning, or leading a Bible study class, you can still teach the gospel. And if you can’t teach the gospel, that’s a troubling thing, if you think you’re a Christian. Because you can’t share what you don’t know how to communicate. And if you don’t know how to communicate it, maybe you haven’t really received it. Well, what’s the core idea? What’s the truth and the message of the gospel? That’s the second point. Evangelism is teaching the gospel.
What is the gospel? What must we teach others in order to be faithful? Well, a good place to start could be the front page of that membership covenant. Take a look at that. These are the core beliefs.
First on that list is the understanding of the Bible. and while you don’t have to go into detail about the Bible, the basic truth is that this is an authoritative message. This is not something we came up with. This is God’s message.
And, in order to summarize the gospel truth, many pastors have used these four words: God, Man, Christ, Response. God, Man, Christ, Response.
Who is God? That’s what numbers 2-4 answer. God is the Holy Creator. And He is our Judge.
What about Man? What is our condition? Why is there a problem? That’s points number 5-6. Even though we were made in God’s image, we have sinfully rebelled against God. We live in a state of rebellion wanting to be our own masters. We can’t fix it. And so we deserve eternal judgment.
So, how does that get fixed? That’s the message of Christ. That’s points 7-9. Christ is the God-man, sent to earth as the perfect sacrifice for sin. He died on a cross to take the place of sinners. His death satisfied God’s justice on behalf of His people. And His resurrection was the authenticating stamp of what He had done.
Now, that all sounds good, and it is, but there is one final component of the gospel that we often forget. And that is the call for a response. No one is saved simply by hearing facts about Jesus Christ.
You can read through the book of Acts, and see the message that was preached. It wasn’t just a teaching of a doctrine it was a call to a response. And the proper response is faith and repentance. You have to acknowledge your sin, turn from it, turn from your unbelief, and surrender to Jesus Christ. Bow before Him in faith. You pledge your life to Him.
That’s what’s behind point number 10 on the membership covenant. If you reject this message, if you don’t respond in humble, sincere faith, you will be judged. That’s where the gospel needs to go. It calls for a response.
Whether this is your first time in church, or your 1000th time, if you haven’t bowed the knee and surrendered to Christ, if you won’t give your life to serve Him, you’re not a Christian. And I’m sorry if we’ve never made that clear enough. You’re not saved just because you say you believe some facts about Jesus. Salvation comes by a sincere faith in Jesus the Lord. You’ve recognized and submitted to Him as the Master.
That’s what we want, for the glory of God, and for your own good. That’s our desire. And if you want to evangelize faithfully, that should be your desire too. That’s the end of Stiles’ definition. Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.
This is the most critical decision anyone will ever make. And our hearts should flow with compassion and love when we tell someone the gospel. We’re not trying to win a debate. We’re not trying just to get them to come to church. Our aim is to see them be saved from eternal wrath.
So we aim to persuade them. To persuade them to follow Jesus. And that’s as far as we can go. I can’t make them do it. I can’t force them to do it. But I can do my best to try and persuade them. No to manipulate, not to coerce. But that doesn’t mean we won’t plead if we have to.
We should speak with urgency and fervency, but that’s as far as we can go. The Holy Spirit has to do the rest. Only He can convert someone’s heart.
So, with all that in mind, I pray we all have a receptive heart, for whatever the Lord wants to do in our lives in the next 5 weeks, and through our lives every single day.
Let’s pray He sharpens our understanding, softens our heart for the lost, and grants us boldness to speak for Jesus Christ.