Easter is the time when pastors’ thoughts turn to outreach and evangelism. Maybe it’s because the sun is shining, and after a brutally-long winter in Minnesota, we’re actually crawling out of our houses and offices, blinking in the sunlight like groundhogs after a long winter’s nap, and actually seeing neighbors and people in the streets again.
Easter is one of those seasons when people are open to checking out church again, and there’s just a hopefulness and an openness to life again.
But Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research and a church planter, asks in a recent article the question I’ve been thinking about lately, too: “Why is it that Christians are always looking for ways to talk themselves out of doing evangelism?”
I was dismayed a few months ago to share a cup of coffee with “seasoned Christians” who informed me they didn’t feel God was calling them to work with non-believers and newer Christians. And I’m like, “What Bible are you reading?” But the truth is, of course, that I am just as guilty as they are of wanting to hang out with Christians and finding ways to avoid sharing the Good News of Jesus.
Yet it cannot be more clear that God sent Jesus into the world to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). And Jesus, with the full authority of God, commissioned us to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20). And Jesus has sent us into the world just as Jesus himself was sent (John 17:18, 20-21).
Yet, as Stetzer points out, it seems that a whole lot of people are talking themselves out of their calling to do evangelism for a lot of reasons. He tackles just two in his article. Simply put, he says, “Christians need to stop thinking evangelism is a spiritual gift and stop thinking you can preach the gospel without words.”
There’s No Such Thing as the Gift of Evangelism
Stetzer argues that “it’s an unbiblical and unhelpful idea to think we should not share the gospel because we lack the spiritual gift of evangelism. Some think if a person doesn’t possess the gift of evangelism, then they are often relieved of this burden; they no longer have the responsibility to do evangelism. That’s bunk.”
It’s unhelpful to refer to evangelism as a spiritual gift reserved for the few, he says, because “It removes the responsibility of all believers to share their faith. Many think if they don’t have the gift, then it is not their job.”
But he reminds us that in the Bible,
Evangelism is not a “gift.” Instead, all believers are called to share Christ. Somewhere along the way, people confused the “role” of evangelist (Ephesians 4:11) with the “gift” of evangelism. The church is gifted with evangelists, and their job is to equip all of God’s people to evangelize. We should not wait for the gift to evangelism before we assume the task of evangelism.
God has given every believer the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). This means God calls all Christians to be agents of reconciliation, and to share how men and women are to be reconciled and redeemed—charged with the power of the proclaimed gospel.
Preach the Gospel—Use Words, Since It’s Necessary
Everywhere you turn around, it seems, you hear that Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”
Now it’s always good to live such good lives that we point to the person and work of Jesus. Yet there are basic problems with this quote: 1) Francis never said it, and 2) the quote is just not biblical.
It’s tempting to advocate serving others without words, Stetzer points out. “Words are cheap,” we like to say. “Actions speak louder than words.”
Yet the Bible is full of exhortations to share the gospel with words (emphasis added):
“This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world” (Matt. 24:14).
“They continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:42).
“Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them” (Acts 8:5).
“This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah” (Acts 17:3).
Christians are quick to encourage each other to “live out the gospel,” and to “be the gospel´ to our neighbors. We’re encouraging you to do this same in the weeks before and after Easter. But this will be really unhelpful if it just gives you and me another reason not to share Christ.
Saying ‘preach the gospel; when necessary, use words’ is a lot like saying, ‘feed the hungry, when necessary, use food.’ Both are silly when people need bread—and the bread of life. So proclaim it. Out loud. To people without Christ.
The communication of the gospel is part of the process—and the only means—by which people are brought into a right relationship with God.
The apostle Paul made this point to the church in Rome when he said, ‘For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him unless they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? (Romans 10:13-14 NLT).
So if we are to make disciples, we must use words. So pray for opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus with others—the story and implications of his life, and death, and resurrection for all people—and use words, since it’s necessary. You don’t need a gift to do it.
We all seem to love the idea of evangelism. Let’s pray for each other and encourage each other to live out the gospel—as well as telling people next door, and in our communities, and around the world—about the Good News of Christ. Let’s tell somebody about the One who changes everything.
–Steve Eng, lead pastor