By Lucas Stoltz
What is Evangelism?
J Mack Stiles defines it as follows: “Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.” I hope you can see that this definition does not require an immediate outward response. As walking down an aisle, raising a hand, or even praying a prayer may tell us that evangelism has happened, but these actions are not what evangelism is.
And consider this observation; if teaching, the gospel, aim, and persuade, are missing; we are probably doing something other than evangelism. Hence, we are not evangelizing when the gospel remains untaught, and unbiblical words water down the true meaning of sin, death, and hell, or confuse those who are genuinely seeking truth.
We are also not evangelizing when we make promises of health and wealth… this is important because this deceives the most vulnerable: the poor, disadvantaged, and the sick. Yet, the sad reality is, many churches offer a costless, comfortable, and benefit-giving “gospel” that isn’t found anywhere in the Scriptures. Hence Paul calls it “different gospels” (Gal. 1:6-10), which are not gospels at all.
Four words that help learn how to teach the gospel:
1) Teaching: what we need to understand is that there is no evangelism without words. After all, Jesus tells us He is the Word (John 1:1). Therefore, salvation must be revealed to us by God through His Word.
But teaching is also the pattern of the Bible. The Bible is a book of teaching, and from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible teaches us. And the Bible tells us to teach others: our kids, our neighbours, the foreigners in our midst, etc.
And when Jesus saw that the crowds were like sheep without a shepherd, He fed thousands with a few loaves of bread and fish (Mark 6:34–44; Luke 9:10–17). But the interesting thing is that in each instance, Jesus’ first act of compassion was to teach. Even the Apostle Paul’s method of evangelism was primarily a teaching method.
2) The Gospel: If you do not know how to teach the gospel, you may not truly understand it. And if you do not understand it, you may not be a true Christian. Many people thought they were believers, but when they began to study the gospel in order to teach it, they realized they had never truly repented of sin and put their faith in Jesus.
Hence, it is important to know that the gospel must be taught before someone can become a Christian. It’s also important for us to teach the gospel properly because there is much confusion about it around the world.
So when you teach the Gospel, don’t make it small, as if it only “gets us saved.” That is like selling fire insurance! Stiles says, “The gospel is both the door of salvation and the pattern for life.” And unfortunately, we can also make the mistake by selling the Gospel too big – when we say that the gospel is everything. So many already think we are saved by faith and good deeds. People add things that may be good, even religious things; living a moral life, taking care of the poor, or seeing the sacraments of baptism and Communion as critical for salvation.
Now, all of these are important parts of the Christian life and privileges for Christians. But when we talk about salvation, we need focus on the gospel message. Knowing that the gospel is the joyful message from God that leads us to salvation. And the gospel message answers four big questions: Who is God? Why are we in such a mess? What did Christ do? And how do we get back to God?
3) The Aim: As we teach the gospel, we have an aim. And our aim comes from understanding that everyone we talk to is headed to one of two ends: eternal life or eternal punishment.
Evangelism’s aim helps us to be compassionate, understanding, and loving. We can act like robots or treat people like robots. More so, having an aim helps us keep perspective on what we’re doing. It steers us toward an end.
And our aim should help us remember that much is so much at stake! And there is a beautiful opportunity to see people move from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom.
4) Persuade: but in evangelism, not just any aim will do. Our aim is: “to persuade people to convert, to become followers of Jesus.” In 2 Corinthians 5:11, Paul says we persuade others to follow Jesus.
But we persuade, we do not manipulate! We are not the ones who bring about repentance or conversion. Sure, we want to see people converted because we understand that conversion is required for them to become Christians. But conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Bible also clearly teaches that conversion is not a function of your parents’ or ancestors’ religion, and it’s not based on your academic achievements! Conversion comes from true, conscious, genuine faith in Jesus. And yet, just as we cannot produce conversion, neither can we produce genuine faith. This also is the Holy Spirit’s territory.
Evangelism is for every believer, As Spurgeon once said; “Soulwinning is the chief business of the Christian minister; indeed, it should be the main pursuit of every true believer. We should each say with Simon Peter, “I go a fishing,” and with Paul our aim should be, “That I might by all means save some.””
For more helpful resources, check out:
J Mack Stiles – Conversion: How God Creates A People
Mark Dever – The Gospel & Personal Evangelism