So many Christians dread the E-word: evangelism. It strikes fear into our hearts because we worry what people will think of us says Rev Matt Stone.
We are afraid of offending people or losing a friend. We agonise over whether we will have the right words to say or whether we’ll get tongue-tied and flustered. When Paul says that some are gifted as evangelists, we can often wonder whether this is our get out clause, thinking “it’s somebody else’s calling, someone else’s job.” Now there’s no doubt that some people are definitely more gifted at evangelism than others, but all of us are called to get involved because all of us have good news to share.
Here are four ‘i’s to help us get to grips with evangelism:
First, we need to be INPSIRED by the Gospel
I’ve noticed that the best evangelists tend to be the newest Christians. Why is that? Why are the least experienced Christians often the most contagious? I suspect it’s because they are passionate about what Jesus has done for them. The love, grace and forgiveness they’ve experienced is incredibly powerful. It’s alive and fresh and active. There’s often a joy in new Christians that’s infectious. They are excited about their new found faith.
Those of us who have been in the church a bit longer seem to have lost some of that passion and excitement. We need to be reinspired. We need to be fanned into flame once again by the Holy Spirit.
Do we really ‘get’ how amazing the Gospel is?
Do we really grasp the enormity of God’s love?
Do we really appreciate the stunning sacrifice that Jesus made for us?
If Jesus is at the centre of our lives, lighting us up and giving us joy and hope, it will show.
Secondly, we need to be INFORMAL in the way we share the good news.
There are two extreme views about evangelism. One is that people will come to know Jesus just by the way we live our lives. The opposite extreme is that we have to go round bashing people over the head with our Bibles, arguing with them until they enter the Kingdom.
We need to chart a middle way. Evangelism is about slipping our faith into casual conversation. Effective evangelism is often organic, flowing out of good relationships we already have with people. People who know us and trust us and like us – and who know that we care about them – are more likely to respond positively to us sharing about our faith than people who’ve never met us before.
I naturally and informally talk about my wife, Jenni, when I’m in conversation with people because Jenni is a big part of my life. We share life together. The same should be true of Jesus. I should talk naturally and informally about Jesus, because Jesus is my ever-present companion and guide, Jesus has changed my life and continues to change my life. Jesus is the best thing that’s ever happened to me – better even than getting married, better even than being called to ministry and ordained.
It would be unnatural NOT to talk about Jesus. Not talking about Jesus means suppressing our faith and keeping God in a box so that he doesn’t offend anyone. Not talking about Jesus means refusing to surrender our whole lives to God, and being ashamed of the Gospel.
Thirdly, evangelism should be INTENTIONAL.
Generally, people will not become Christians just by simply looking at how we live. Actions have to back up our words, but words are crucial. Quoting Paul in Romans 10:
As the scripture says, “Everyone who calls out to the Lord for help will be saved.” But how can they call to him for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed? And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out? As the scripture says, “How wonderful is the coming of messengers who bring good news!”
When we leave our worship services, we are being sent out to proclaim the message of Christ. We are ambassadors and witnesses. We bear a precious and valuable gift that is for everyone.
How do we make sure we are intentional about evangelism?
PRAYER: By praying for people to come to know Jesus, and by praying for opportunities to share the good news. It’s amazing what prayer can do. Prayer helps us to receive the boldness we need from God to share our faith. Prayer helps us to get in the mindset of wanting to share our faith; it changes out outlook on life and draws us closer to God’s plan and will for those around us. We need to pray!
PREPARATION: By being prepared to talk about your faith if someone asks you about it. And by being prepared to talk about your faith in an informal and gentle way even if someone doesn’t directly ask you about it!
I used to work at Waitrose and I occasionally – I’m being honest here, I’m not perfect – occasionally used to pray for opportunities to share my faith. And one day when I wasn’t really tuned, my manager asked me what all this church-stuff was about. It was an absolutely perfect opportunity to talk about my faith, and I just blew it. I was caught off guard and I didn’t know what to say and so I said very little. And what I did say probably wasn’t going to warm Phil to following Jesus, “oh well we sing a few hymns, listen to a sermon, all that stuff...”.
Being intentional is realising that someone like Phil might only ever ask that question once in his life and that we have to be prepared. We need to think through and practice what we might say in response to different questions: Why do you go to church? What’s all this God-stuff about then? What do you do at church?
1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you.” We mustn’t miss the easy evangelistic opportunities! And we’ve got to be prepared for the less easy ones too.
Fourthly, we have to be INVITATIONAL.
As churches, we can make the task of evangelism easier. We can practice talking about Jesus on a Sunday after the service over coffee. We can share our experiences. We can pray for one another. We can also create events and activities that we can invite friends, neighbours, family, and colleagues to – courses such as Alpha or Christianity Explored, special festival services, Back to Church Sunday, the list goes on!
Evangelism doesn’t have to be difficult. But we do need to be inspired, informal, intentional and invitational. I long to see our churches thrive and grow, with lives being transformed by Jesus. Each one of us, empowered by love and equipped by the Holy Spirit, has the power to help make that happen.
You are being sent to proclaim the message. Know it, share it, live it, for the sake of the Kingdom of Jesus and the glory of God.
Rev. Matt Stone is a Minister in the Norwich Area United Reformed Churches, serving at Ipswich Road URC, Norwich and Wroxham & Hoveton URC.