Does everybody need to be Billy Graham? Over the past weeks, as the world has celebrated his life and testimony, it has been easy to question why there aren’t more Billy Grahams in our world today; why aren’t we just a bit more like him? At the end of Matthew we read of Jesus telling us to “make disciples of all nations” (28:19), yet Australian, US and UK census results all show a growing number of people turning away from God.
As I chat with Christians there seems to be a common idea that the process of evangelism brings guilt. It is something we don’t do as often as we should, but we can’t work out why, and the discomfort continues.
Growing up in the church, I held the misconception that evangelism was leading someone through a sinner’s prayer—if I hadn’t done that, I’d failed. Some see it as a program of training you undertake. But as we read through the New Testament and see evangelism occurring, God paints a very different picture of evangelism. Evangelism isn’t just putting on an event and bringing a non-Christian friend; it is a call, an invitation, to a new way of seeing and a new way of living.
Evangelism is sharing Jesus’ offer of salvation from sin to people who need to hear it. It is the process of disciple-making. In the Bible, we read three occurrences of the word ‘evangelist’. We read of Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8), an evangelist as a particular calling (Eph 4:11) and Paul’s call for Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). In these three examples, we see that it is a given spiritual gift, yet it is also something people can work at and be trained in. It isn’t a strategy, but should be the outpouring or by-product of a relationship with Jesus.
At the end of Luke, we read of the apostles having to be reminded to pause and wait for the Spirit (24:49). They weren’t to go anywhere yet, even though they were bursting at the seams to share what they had seen and learned. Why don’t we all experience this same burning desire to share Jesus with others? Why does it become a matter of being pushed down a guilt-tripped path rather than a strong desire to share the life-giving news of the most precious relationship we have?
As we each work through our personal situation to diagnose the answer, we can look at a few things:
- Examine yourself: In 2 Corinthians 13:5, we are urged to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. How do we see sanctification happening in our lives? Are we being convicted of sin, repenting and changing? Do we see the fruit of the Spirit growing in our lives? How do we view the gospel? How do we view God?
- Consider personality: What are we like? Some of us are keen to be with people, talking to people, sharing with people. Others are more reserved, quieter and keen to be alone. While our personality doesn’t give us a license not to evangelize (remember, evangelism is the natural progression of recognizing how great salvation is and how much sinners need saving from the wrath of God), knowing our strengths helps us weigh up what steps we can take. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up over what we’re not doing; instead we should be looking at who we are and asking God to use us for his glory.
- Preach what we practice: Sometimes I think we are fearful of the actual saying. We hope instead that people will simply see us and see Jesus, but I doubt the average person would see someone doing something ‘good’ and assume it is because they are a Christian. Christianity is a message of life; it needs to be spoken. We can rest in the knowledge that God will equip us to do his work, however this equipping happens as we are transformed more into his likeness (Heb 13:21; Rom 12:2). If we are filled with fear when it comes to evangelism, we are viewing it the wrong way.
- Get into God’s word: I love 1 Peter 3:15. In this passage we are reminded to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you: yet do it with gentleness and respect”. To do this we need to sink our teeth into God’s word, questioning it and studying it so that we are prepared to share our relationship with Jesus with anyone who asks. While defending our faith slides into apologetics rather than evangelism, it is important that we understand what we believe and why we believe it. As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, our desire to share him with others will grow.
- Be genuine: People value authenticity. As we live out our lives it is important we are truly being transformed by the renewing of our minds. We need to be making decisions that show we are saved from sin. A hypocritical Christian is a pretty big stumbling block for anyone showing interest in Christianity. Pray about areas of your life that are not in line with Jesus’ will and ask the Spirit to transform you. I also think being honest about our sin and the reason we need a Saviour is actually a helpful thing for non-Christians to hear about. We aren’t a Christian because we are good, we are a Christian because we recognize we are actually the opposite.
- Honour the work of the Spirit: Finally, it is important to recognize that salvation is a work of the Spirit. We cannot save someone, only God can. I love John Piper’s metaphor of Christians being telescopes: with everything we are, let us point people to the Creator rather than the created. As we go about our day, may we be a channel for people to see Jesus, may we be equipped and ready to give an account, and may we eagerly desire the salvation of those God places in our paths.
In Acts 2:41-47, we see the early church enthusiastically enjoying God and one another, and being filled with “glad and generous hearts”. People crave this type of community, and enthusiasm is infectious. Let’s ditch the guilt on evangelism, replace our thinking of evangelism as something we do with something we are, and get on with simply sharing the love we have for Jesus and the joy we have in him.