Do I have to evangelize?
Do I have to evangelize or is that a job for the church leaders? What if I am afraid or I don’t know what to say? In this episode, I talk about every Christian’s role in evangelism and whether or note we all have to do it.
According to the Barna Group, “In 1993, 89% of Christians who had shared their faith agreed this is a responsibility of every Christian. Today, just 64% say so—a 25-point drop.”4 Furthermore, “Christians today are more likely to say they are proactive about looking for or trying to create faith-sharing opportunities with non-Christians (19% today vs. 11% in 1993).”5 However, “They are also more likely than Christians in 1993 to say they are unsure whether “most non-Christians have no interest in hearing about Jesus” (28% vs. 5%).6 In this episode of 16:18, and in many other upcoming episodes, I will be addressing every Christians role in evangelism.
Today, by going through a poll that I put out on Facebook, we will be looking at what evangelism is, when Christians should evangelize, why they don’t evangelize more, and, finally, whether or not we all have to do it. I want to look again at the Barna Group’s poll. According to their research, there has been a dramatic, 25-point drop, from 1993, between people who believed it was every Christian’s responsibility to share their faith and people who didn’t feel the same. Statistically speaking, that means that most Christians born since then, or “born again” since then, have consistently reduced their belief that evangelism falls to them personally.
What is Evangelism?
Before I get into the Facebook poll, it’s important that we define what evangelism is. First of all, where do we get the word evangelism? It comes from the Greek word euaggelizó7 (yoo-ang-ghel-id’-zo), which we find in the New Testament on over 50 different instances, and it means to bring the Good News, or the euaggelion (yoo-ang-ghel’-ee-on), or the Gospel.8 So, if evangelism is the bringing of Good News, or the Gospel, then what is the Gospel? The simple version is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life, died a sinner’s death, raised from the dead on the 3rd day and offers this gift of Salvation freely to any who confess their sins and believe in Him.
I am convinced that true evangelism must involve the verbal proclamation of the Gospel. What do I mean? I mean that simply working alongside someone, never saying anything or commenting on their life choices or decisions and never giving them the Gospel, even if you are living a “Christian Life,” is not truly evangelism. Sure, if you are doing this then you are being a good testimony for Christ’s working in your life, and your actions point to your faith, but that person can’t be saved by watching you do good things. Now, I don’t want you to mishear me. I understand there are situations where people notice that you live differently and ask why. In fact, 1 Peter 3:15 tells us that we should expect this! So, your actions are an important aspect of evangelism, but by themselves, they are not true evangelism. True evangelism, in my opinion, involves the actual sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Moving on, however, I want to get to that poll that I put out on my Facebook page. It was a 5- question survey on evangelism and I invited people to anonymously fill it out. I want to take a few minutes and go over the questions and the responses that I received. I am so thankful that over 20 people were willing to take time and fill this out! As I go over the questions and responses, I am not going to read everything, but for those interested, I will post the results of the survey at the end of the transcript which you can find on my website, 1618podcast.com The first question said, “To whom does the primary responsibility of evangelism fall?” 96% said that all Christians bear equal responsibility, while 4% said the church leaders bear this responsibility. I actually asked this question because I wanted to know if the people in my life matched the people surveyed by the Barna Group, and I am glad to say that they did not! If you recall, the Barna Group found that only 64% of Christians today believe that Evangelism is the responsibility of every Christian.9
What does the Bible have to say about this, though? The first thing that comes to my mind is what we know of as the “Great Commission.” In Matthew 28, Jesus told His disciples, and through them it is widely understood that He was telling all Christians, that they are to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.10” Furthermore, when speaking of conversion, Paul says in Romans 10:9 that, ”If you declare with your mouth, ’Jesus is Lord,‘ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.“ But we often forget what he said right afterwards in verses 10:14-15. Many times, these verses have been written off to those who are ”sent” with a special sending (i.e., Missionaries), but where does Paul make that distinction? Is he not talking about his desire for the Jewish, as well as Gentile, people to be saved? He says in Romans 10:1, ”my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” But how may they be saved if they do not hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ? This is one of the main reasons why I believe that true evangelism must involve the sharing of the Gospel.
Questions 2 & 3
The second, and by extension, third question that I asked in the survey was, “Do you believe there is a time and place for evangelism, or that it is always appropriate? And please elaborate on your answer.” 64% said that there is time and place, and 36% said that it is always appropriate. Now this is a tough one for me. With a rough 60/40 split on my poll, I am sure that many Christians have many thoughts on this topic and I certainly can’t provide any conclusive answer in our time today, but I can speak on both sides of the issue. First, is there a time and place for evangelism? Some of the responses I got were, “You have to establish a personal connection and then evangelize.” Another, “Building relationships first opens doors to evangelizing. I think the Christian needs to show wisdom in presenting the Gospel, and that implies speaking at the right time and in the appropriate manner; being too pushy or unwise can make people reticent to hearing anything else about God in the future.” And my personal favorite, “There is time and place for evangelism, [for example], Someone’s family member just died. “Have you considered Jesus?” Dude, read the room. But I know people like this… Don’t be like this.” Obviously, people have different ideas on when you should or should not say the Gospel message to someone. But what do people say who feel that it is always appropriate to share the Gospel? One of the responses was, “You make opportunities, you don’t find them. Souls perish otherwise.” Another, “It is not always the first thing that should be brought up, but there is no time that is off limits for evangelism.” And a third, “I believe there can always be an opportunity to share the gospel.” Now, except for the first response, these seem less confident answers. They seem to lean towards a “we should do this but it’s not always possible.” For example, a few people wrote just that. One said, “Sometimes, especially in our culture, there is too much antagonism for open evangelism.” And another said, “It *should* always be appropriate but because of social “norms” it doesn’t feel that way.”
What do we do with all of these responses? What does the Bible say about the appropriateness of sharing the Gospel? For one, some of you may have realized that I left off the ending of 1 Peter 3:15 when I quoted it earlier. The full verse says, “But in your hearts revere 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.” Can it ever be a dis-respectful time to tell someone the Gospel? Perhaps. Maybe some of you agree and maybe some disagree, but tactfulness always has its place. I am not going to go into different examples, but what I will say is that even if right now is not the “best” time to evangelize, that does not mean you should drop the issue all together. Instead, you should be readily looking for times to share your faith and your worldview. Especially when it inevitably clashes with the unbeliever! I know that I haven’t been nearly comprehensive on this answer, but I want to keep the discussion open and going for the future, so don’t be shy about sharing your thoughts and convictions!
Questions 4 & 5
The last two questions that I asked in the survey were, “Choose what most accurately describes you: I have told someone the Gospel within the last month, I have told someone the Gospel within the last year, it has been more than a year since I have told someone the Gospel, or I have never told someone the Gospel.” And the follow up was “What is your biggest reason for not evangelizing more?” The purpose of these questions was to see the practical application of the convictions held by those who took the survey and, if they wish they evangelized more, why they don’t! The results? 46% said, “I have told someone the Gospel within the last month.” 27% said, “I have told someone the Gospel within the last year.” 18% said, “It has been more than a year since I have told someone the Gospel.” And 9% said, “I have never told someone the Gospel.” When asked the follow up question, “What is your biggest reason for not evangelizing more?” What were some of the responses? I’ll read a few: One said, “I find it very difficult to connect to strangers or go deeper in conversation with just acquaintances.” Another said, “That I will alienate the person, and that I may not be a worthy example of a Christian and so it might result in the person judging the gospel by the messenger (me).” And another said, “I’m not intentional enough. I’m also mostly surrounded by Christians for my job. I have most evangelizing opportunities in the gym or when I go out to eat in public places.” But, by far, the biggest reason offered by half of participants had to do with some sort of fear, nervousness, or uncertainty. I didn’t take the survey, but if I did, fear would certainly have been a big reason of why I don’t evangelize more.
But why are we afraid? Is it normal to be afraid or does that make us some sort of less-than Christians? Well, I am encouraged, at least, by Paul encouraging Timothy to not be afraid or ashamed when he preaches the Gospel. Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:8, “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” It has been said before that Timothy must have been a weaker, or more timid person, but one commentator wisely takes in the context of Timothy’s environment and realizes that, “Paul’s ministry faced enough hostility to give pause to the most courageous person.”11 Paul was encouraging Timothy to be, with him, a partner in suffering and, to some extent, as we go forth in all of our different environments, we must take upon ourselves the same partnership: to be prepared to suffer for the Gospel. However, as we analyze our own lives, the same commentator writes, “Long-term Christians who have never experienced any negative response to their faith should ask themselves if anyone really knows in detail what they believe. And if no one does, it is also worth asking if they even have genuine, saving faith.”12
The night before Jesus died, He told His disciples, “If you love me, keep my commands.” Soon after He rose from the dead and before He ascended to Heaven, He commanded them to, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Now, I firmly believe that when Jesus gave these two commands, He was not just speaking to His disciples then, but to all who would ever become His disciples. And what do we read in Romans chapter 10? That only through the confession of sins and belief in Christ can a person be saved, but, “how, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? How can they hear without someone preaching to them? How can anyone preach unless they are sent?”
I believe that this command from Jesus to go and make disciples entails me speaking the Gospel out loud, but I also believe that paired with that is relationships. Finally, I believe that evangelizing will make me an outlier in this society and that I will face harsh opposition to the Gospel, but I also believe that the Holy Spirit, the Helper promised by Jesus, will not forsake me. In Luke 12, Jesus is speaking of a time in the near future, for His disciples, where they will be persecuted and false accused because they believe in Him. Although that time, in those exact circumstances, has passed, I believe the promise that He gave them still applies to us. He says, “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” So, is it every Christians responsibility to evangelize? Yes. If that makes you uncomfortable, that is okay. The Lord will help you. If you feel ashamed of that, then you should check your heart because maybe you love the world more than Jesus.
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10 Matthew 28:19-20. NIV.
11 Blomberg, Craig L. From Pentecost to Patmos. 1 ed., Nashville, TN, B&H Publishing Group, 2006, p. 377.
12 Blomberg, Craig L. From Pentecost to Patmos. 1 ed., Nashville, TN, B&H Publishing Group, 2006, p. 382.