It’s tough. That’s the best way I can think of to start this topic. It’s tough and there is no right way to do it. Yet the people in the church keep insisting to us that we should do it. Is it really important? And if it is, how do we do it well?
Let’s start with the general topic of evangelism. What is so important about it? After all, it is uncomfortable and can feel intolerant of other people’s beliefs. It pushes us out of our comfort zone to do something where we could easily be rejected and ridiculed. On top of that, the issue of the separation of church and state in the U.S. has us walking on our toes around the subject, even though it doesn’t apply to those of us who aren’t employed by the state.
Evangelism can take many forms. Some of them are better than others. Most of us would agree that, even if he has good intentions, the fire-and-brim-stone-rooftop preacher won’t have a positive effect on the majority of the people around him. Also, the “cold call” conversation approach, in which someone introduces herself and begins her first conversation with a stranger by asking if she knows Jesus, is stiff and difficult for most people to pull off sincerely.
How, then, should we evangelize? The issue is pushed so much in churches today, where preachers urge us to “share the good news of Jesus” at least once in each sermon. And they are right to do so. They are the models God has given us to follow. But the rest of us are not preaching from a stage. So how do we share the gospel with other people?
We must look at Jesus and the early church to get our answer. Jesus lived a life full of evangelism, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God from the start of his role as a rabbi, as noted in Mark 1:14-15. This verse is often cited for evidence to share the gospel. However, we must really look at Jesus to see the larger picture. We must note how he acted, how he lived. Jesus spent all his time in public ministry with the same twelve men, and it was to them primarily that he evangelized. He taught his disciples how to live a life in the kingdom of God. And toward the crowds of people who followed him outside of the twelve, he lived a life full of forgiveness and mercy and teaching and caring and patience. He lived a life full of love. This, then, should be the context in which we share the gospel. Jesus invested all he had to teach and model in a small group of people, then entrusted them with the task to do the same.
We see in the book of Acts that Jesus’ example to the twelve disciples (from then on called apostles). They took Jesus’ teaching and preached it to those who met in the temple daily. They also did Jesus’ works, such as healing the lame man, as recorded in Acts 3. Whenever they did any of this, they proclaimed that Jesus was their source good works, and it was to him that the people who marveled at the good works should repent and believe.
The one thing we often ignore or don’t realize is that Jesus and the apostles were evangelizing within a context. Jesus established relationships with the twelve by inviting them to follow him (Luke 6:13-16). The apostles, after they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, preached first to crowds of Jewish people, whose entire culture is based on obedience to and love for the Lord God, and later to the Gentiles who inquired why they lived how they did. Both Jesus and the apostles preached to people who would listen! Jesus told the apostles when he sent them out “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” that “wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them” (Luke 9:1-5). And this was in the midst of Jews, whose culture valued hospitality almost as much as life itself! Jesus did not tell the disciples to preach to people who were unwilling to listen. He told them to establish relationships with people to form a foundation for their evangelism: “whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.”
This, then, is how we are taught to share the gospel. We are taught to share it in context. Whenever Paul shared the good news of Jesus with the various cultures in which he stayed, he did so in a context in which the people would understand and targeted the people who were interested in what he had to say. The early church was formed based on growing relationships, not selling the gospel to uninterested buyers.
With this in mind, we should invite the people around us to an Easter service in the same manner in which the apostles invited the people around them to repent. We need to do so out of love and a desire to introduce them to Jesus by way of our own lives. We must first model for them the life and love of Jesus before we can expect them to join us in getting involved in his family.
A couple nights ago I invited two of my coworkers to an Easter service. It was uncomfortable. I am still afraid of rejection even though I write so passionately about this stuff. I told the first man that I was checking out a local church (I recently moved to a new city) and that I thought it would be nice to go to the Easter service with a group of friends. He told me he would think about it, then we proceeded to tell me about the fun day he had planned with his two young daughters. I asked him some questions about the day, then when the conversation ended, I walked over to the next man and said I didn’t want to leave him uninvited. He said he will be out of town at his parents’ house this entire weekend. We talked about his plans for the weekend for a couple of minutes, then I said goodnight to him and left the office (they were the only two people left in the office).
I have not known these two men long, but I spend about eight hours each day, five days each week, with them, so I have established an infantile friendship with each of them. That is why I invited them to the service: because I truly wished for them to join me. I did not do it out of guilt, trying to be a good Christian, as guilt has no place in the kingdom of God, nor can I earn any greater status in God’s eyes. I am not saying my method was ideal; I am saying my intentions were true and pure, and such intentions should always be our motivation to invite anyone to begin walking with Jesus.
This Easter, I urge you to free yourself from any guilt you may feel from a lack of evangelism. Yes, this is a wonderful time to invite people to come to a church service, as they are more likely to join you this Sunday than any other day of the year. And no, I am in no way trying to undermine the urgency of each person’s need for faith in Jesus. There is no other name by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). I am saying that we shouldn’t let guilt master us, especially not this time of year. There are, after all, fifty-one other Sundays each year. Indeed, there are 364 other days each year in which you can invite your peers to get to know Jesus better.
Let us be free from the shackles of sin and death and walk in the confidence that we have when we trust our risen, living Savior completely!