How can our lives be marked by faithful evangelism?
Even asking that question can prompt guilt in many of us, because we so often feel like failures. I understand. I’m a pastor, but I haven’t been a great evangelist. However, I want to change. This year I want to cultivate more faith in God to grow in evangelism because I want God’s glory to be known and lost people to have eternal joy in him. Don’t you? I’m sure you do.
Just like in any other area of life, the first action step toward growth is typically crafting a plan. Failure to plan is planning to fail, right? So here’s my very simple, biblical plan that doesn’t guarantee unbelievers will become disciples, but it does cultivate faithfulness: pray, be present, and present yourself as a Christian.
Pray Specifically for Specific People
First, we must pray for people to be saved. Only the Lord can raise the spiritual dead among us. Who are we seeking the Lord for day after day after day? God tells us, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2)! Growth in evangelistic faithfulness begins by asking God for it more often.
“Growth in evangelistic faithfulness begins by asking God for it more often!”
So begin an evangelistic prayer plan. For our family, we have a regular time before bed when we all gather for a few minutes to read a brief Scripture and pray. It’s not flashy. Sometimes we miss it. But we’ve made it decently consistent. When we moved into our neighborhood five years ago, our family began praying consistently for the Lord to enable us to make disciples in our neighborhood. Things haven’t happened fast, but we have seen the Lord do some amazing things, which we recognize as direct answers to prayer.
A prayer plan can (and probably should) be simple. It could be a note card in your Bible, a photo on the wallpaper of your phone, or a verse you memorize. You might walk through your neighborhood for ten minutes each day and cry out to the Lord for your neighbors’s souls. It could be any number of things, but the point is to have some sort of simple, structured intentionality for praying specifically for specific people. This is our starting point.
Spend Time with Others
Second, we need to be present in the lives of other people. What does that mean?
Well, here is what it doesn’t mean: driving your car into your garage every day after work and rarely showing your face outside the house. Nor is it avoiding conversation with other parents at your kids’ extracurricular events. Nor is it having as little involvement in community activities as possible.
Instead, being present means intentionally seeking to be among unbelievers. This looks different for each of us, depending on our particular gifts and context, so we each must ask ourselves (and pray about) what it means to be habitually present among unbelievers in our sphere of influence.
Many of us, while agreeing we should do this, struggle with actually doing it. But again, let’s start simple: plain, old-fashioned hospitality. In today’s culture, people tend to be less trusting of churches, so they may not show up to our Sunday gatherings. But most of them would show up to our dining room tables! I often tell the folks in our church that, humanly speaking, their table might be the most powerful place for evangelism in the 21st century.
When we first moved into our neighborhood, neighbors didn’t spend much time together. So we decided to simply host a Christmas open house. Nothing fancy. Just a few drinks and desserts. We were amazed at how many people showed up, and we hardly knew anyone yet! Everyone had a great time!
So first we pray like crazy, and then we seek to be present among unbelievers to see how God might answer those prayers.
Speak as a Christian
Finally, we must present ourselves as Christians. What does this mean? It simply means that we are willing to talk like a Christian. We don’t hide our faith when an opportunity arises to articulate truth as God defines it. We determine to open our mouths and speak as an ambassador for God (2 Corinthians 5:18–21), connecting our faith to the real world, whatever the topic of conversation.
For example, a few months ago the whole world was talking about the horrific shootings in Las Vegas. If that topic comes up in conversations with unbelievers, we can say something like, “As a Christian, I am so thankful for a God of justice, who will ensure that no injustice will go unpunished.”
“Growing in evangelism will mean intentionally seeking to be among unbelievers.”
Notice that I didn’t include the essential tenets of the gospel message, but I did speak truth that is found in the Bible. I am presenting myself as a Christian. And when I consistently make this my practice, it frequently leads to opportunities to clearly present the gospel in an organic conversation — such as what God’s justice is all about, what it means for us, and what the cross has to do with it.
In the past, I have tried to awkwardly shoehorn all sorts of historical truth about Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection into conversations with unbelievers. But I’ve learned that simply presenting myself as a Christian — just talking like a Christian about anything without trying to say everything — often leads to sharing my faith more naturally.
If you’re like me and the folks at our church, the emotion you feel at the thought of doing this is inadequacy. “I don’t know if I could ever articulate my convictions on the spot like this.” That’s okay! Let’s just start where we are and build on it. Doing it is how we learn to do it, and how we learn to overcome our unbelieving fears and trust God.
Presenting ourselves as Christians has the good effect of driving us to soak more in our Bibles, and draw more from Sunday morning sermons, and ask more questions and counsel at our small group, and to read helpful books, like Basic Christianity by John Stott, three or four times in a year in order to equip our minds in the Christian worldview.
To grow in faithful evangelism this year, we don’t necessarily need to attend more seminars or master complex techniques. In my experience, these three simple goals — pray more intentionally, seek to be present, and speak as a Christian — can help us make progress.