Getting Clear on Evangelism
We might have evangelism mixed up.
When evangelism is often discussed, it tends to focus on how churches mobilize their people to get out and connect with unbelievers. But when we think in these terms, the definition of evangelism can be mistaken as a maneuver, rather than proclamation.
To evangelize, explains pastor Jeff Vanderstelt, simply means to herald the good news of Jesus. The evangelist, or messenger, is the one who says,
Jesus has come and preached good news. Jesus has given his life, died for your sins, in your place, risen from the dead to overcome all of sin and brokenness, and put death to death, and bring new life to all who put their trust in him.
This is the good news that makes a Christian Christian. This is the news that we can be saying to one another all the time, which means something central that we’re bound to skip if we reduce evangelism to tactics. It’s that evangelism requires affections. We will have a hard time proclaiming someone who doesn’t impress us — but not if we’re overcome with joy and captivated by glory.
This means that foundational to evangelism isn’t so much our strategy for outside contact, but our seeing and savoring Jesus Christ. Evangelism, or our mission, is an extension of our joy in God. As one veteran missionary writes,
Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy. The news that the rejected and crucified Jesus is alive is something that cannot possibly be suppressed. It must be told. Who could be silent about such a fact?
At the heart of mission is thanksgiving and praise. . . . When it is true to its nature, it is so to the end. Mission is an acted-out doxology. That is its deepest secret. Its purpose is that God may be glorified. (Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, 116, 127)
And then, with this kind of heart, we learn how to step out into the world and share this joy with those who haven’t yet embraced it. Vanderstelt explains in this two-minute video:
More on evangelism from Desiring God: