Whenever I think of the word evangelism I often make allowances for myself, using the excuse that God did not give me the “gift of evangelism”. I know there are some in the body of Christ that are extraordinary at sharing the Gospel through cold contacts with random people they encounter. Because they are good at it, I assume it must be a “spiritual gift”. I rationalize that if it’s a spiritual gift, I relinquish myself from the act of evangelizing.
However, spiritual gifts are clearly outlined in the following verses:
Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:1-31, Ephesians 4:7, 11-13, and finally 1 Peter 4:10-11. Notice that the word evangelism is not mentioned in any of them.
When we compare these spiritual gift Scripture references to the ones typically known as the five Great Commission Scripture references, Mathew 28:18-20 (make disciples), Mark 15:16-18 (good news), Luke 24:44-49 (witness), John 20:21 (sent) and Acts 1:8 (witness), we will see that the act of telling other people about Christ is not a gift reserved for a special group of skilled Christians. It’s a directive given by Christ himself to anyone that considers themselves his disciples. If Christ gave his followers a command to go into the world and share what he commands them to say, namely who Christ is, what Christ accomplished on the cross and Christ’s resurrection, then surely, we need to see evangelism as a Christian duty for all believers, not just the ones who are good at it.
There is also a misconception that evangelism is only supposed to be done by church leadership or any that fall under the professional clergy umbrella. The church has become so institutionalized that laypeople in the church, like myself, often see the work and duty of evangelism as something that regular church folk are excused from participating in.
These same lay folk, will often begin to believe that they don’t really have to use words when “sharing their faith”. They simply have to love like Christ loved, not ever really mentioning Christ’s atoning work on the cross as a means for salvation or worse, never mentioning that they are believers in and followers of Christ. They embrace a wrong theology about evangelism that relies on good morals, a strong work ethic, or an activist’s lifestyle, assuming that these actions will show others that Christ is Lord in their lives. It doesn’t.
To excuse ourselves and others from having to use words to share the Gospel we will often hear among church folk declare these kinds of statements in some form or another
“people will be drawn to Christ because of the love you share with others”
“people will know something is different about you if you are counter-cultural or you simply just show love”.
Exemplifying a moral character or living a counter cultural life is not evangelism, no matter how we spin it. As good as it is to show love to others, the act of loving is not evangelism. General revelation shows that even unbelievers are capable of doing good deeds for others, living a moral life, and showing love to strangers. As beneficial as these things are to a make the world a better place to live, they are not acts of evangelism.
Most importantly, the goal of evangelism is not adding to our church rolls or membership. If we are simply trying to add more numbers to our church’s membership count, through activities or events, then we are probably feeding our pride or desiring to grow our reputation to be seen by others. This kind of faux Christian thinking cares more about proving to others how “good” of a Christian we are and not truly caring about the salvation of the lost. We will see this scenario play out often among new believers and immature Christians. These individuals need to grow in humility, not necessarily engage in church activities or ministries that feed their ego. What is often missing is a biblical understanding of how the Holy Spirit works in salvation.
Evangelism is an anthropic act of communicating the gospel of Christ, with words. When those who have tasted the goodness and freedom that salvation brings to their identity, when those who have savored the power of a life reconciled to the Father and when one has experienced the personal acquaintance of Christ by sharing in the fellowship of the resurrection, they long for others to have the same. Everyone born, this side of Adam, is under the curse of sin. No one can escape it and everyone feels it’s effects in one way or another, regardless of social status, economic position or educational attainment. Sin carries with it a blindness to sin or an inability to recognize sin for what it is.
Evangelism is giving others a solution to their sin. Christ demands that we offer that solution while at the same time leaving the salvific effect of sharing the gospel with others to God alone. Alvin Reid, in his book on evangelism titled, Evangelism Handbook, he writes “The reason why many Christians have never won anyone to Christ is because they have witnessed (or evangelized) very little”.
Because the majority of professing Christians do very little, to no witnessing or evangelizing, they automatically assume that they are not good at it. Or maybe because they don’t see results right away, they see themselves as a failure and never try again.
Reid writes “I am convinced that God is less concerned about the number of people we win than the number of times we share the gospel”.
Everyone once in a while, my husband takes my son fishing. I don’t have the patience to throw a line into the water and then sit around and wait for an unsuspecting fish to swim by, notice the bait on the line and take a bite so that I can finally reel it in. In the same way, we often don’t want to put in the consistent effort, patience, and perseverance it takes to see unsuspecting lost folks who cross our paths as worthy enough to throw our evangelistic line in the proverbial waters of everyday life.
After Christ resurrected from the grave, he appeared in various situations to show his disciples that he was alive and they should not lose heart. After Pentecost, filled with the Holy Spirit, they still seemed to need further direction and purpose. Seven of Christ’s disciples were gathered together (John 21) at their former work place – the sea. Peter declared to the others “I am going fishing”. It was obvious that the other six present were waiting for Peter to make that first move. They immediately said “We will go with you”.
Spending all night on the water and catching nothing, most likely they felt defeated once again. Former fishers of men who no longer knew how to catch fish, indubitably they were feeling a bit on the hopeless side. Once it was time for the sun to make its glorious appearance over the water, they decided to head back to shore.
Knowing how disappointed his disciples were feeling, Jesus showed up on the shore, started a fire and cooked his disciples a fish breakfast (John 21:4, 9). Pouring more salt on their wounds, he calls out
“Children, do you have any fish?”. (Notice how Christ uses a term of familial endearment, as a parent does when they recognize their child’s frustration, sadness, or hopelessness).
Jesus tells them to cast their net once again, knowing full well how many times these emotionally beaten up men must have cast their nets throughout the night. They obeyed the man on the shore not because they knew he was Jesus or a fishing expert. They threw the net back into the water because they had a tiny seed of faith that motivated them to try one last time.
Just like that….the gorged net was too much for the men to pull in. John, Christ’s beloved apostle, immediately recognized the work of the Lord and became cognizant that it was Christ standing on the shore.
“It is the Lord”, shouted John. Only Christ could have performed such a miracle, especially after all their human effort failed. It was Christ who put all those fish in that net and they knew not to take any credit for how the fish got there.
We often look at this incident between Christ and his disciples and only take note of the abundance of fish and erroneously come to the conclusion that evangelism should be that easy.
Most often, fishing is not that easy. Fishing takes patience. Fishing takes perseverance. Fishing takes consistent casting out the line or the net. When all our human effort is spent, we know that it is Christ alone that brings people to faith. That is the life that Christ calls all his disciples to.
Evangelism takes consistent patience and perseverance and most importantly it takes relying on the Lord to make us fishers of lost souls. We don’t need to be professional clergy members or on church staff to evangelize. It’s the duty of everyone who calls themselves Christian. Christ calls both men and women to cast out their line or throw out their nets, and leave the rest to him.
We are not called to build up church membership rolls or turn ourselves into performance gods to be praised by others.
Christ calls us to faithfulness and that call to faithfulness applies to our reformed brothers and sisters who take comfort in God’s electing mercy, grace, and saving love. Most often we don’t evangelize because we want to take credit for the “catching”. We fail to enjoy the fishing part of evangelism because it takes intentional actions, patience, perseverance and probably more trusting in God than what we are used to.
Cast out your nets dear saints. Salvation belongs to the Lord.