What picture does the word “evangelism” bring in up in your mind? A television evangelist on the stump? A more than eager Christian foisting the message of the Gospel upon a stranger?
Experience teaches me that much of the reaction against “evangelism” comes from a misunderstanding of what it is actually meant to be. An unbalanced concentration on the message on the part of the sharer of the Gospel too often overlooks the individuality of the person to whom one is talking. Where is that person along the path to Faith in Christ? What roadblocks to Faith is he or she currently encountering?
Here it would be helpful to understand the meaning of another important (and also frequently misused) word – “witness.” In a court of law a witness simply reports first- hand information, usually something seen or heard, not a moral judgment on the person involved or advice on how to live. As witnesses of our Faith in Christ we Believers simply need to share what the Lord has done and is doing in and through our own lives.
Just moments before his Ascension, Jesus said to the Apostles: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Ten days later, on the Day of Pentecost, Saint Peter initiated this program of evangelistic outreach. How did he proceed? First, he answered the people’s questions, explaining to curious onlookers what they were seeing as the Apostles declared the wonders of God in many languages, and related this to Joel’s prophecy that God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:16-21).
Then Peter gave a sermon centering on the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:22-41). The audience was cut to the heart and asked what they should do in response to the message. Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).
A few months later Saint Peter used much the same approach when he entered the home of Cornelius, the Roman army officer (Acts 10:34-43). First Peter found out what the man’s concerns were. Then he began to give witness and counsel, reporting on how Jesus of Nazareth had gone around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the Devil. Peter then described Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection, stating the Apostles’ personal connection with Christ: “we are witnesses of all that he did” (Acts 10:39). Finally, Peter proclaimed the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ Name.
Sharing our relationship with the living Christ
What lessons can we learn from Saint Peter’s evangelistic work? First, he began where the people were, relating to them the Good News about Jesus in language they could understand. He then gave his own witness, his personal experience of Jesus’ teaching and healing, Death and Resurrection. Only then did Peter address his audience about sin, repentance, and their need to be forgiven.
An important principle here is the Apostle Peter’s willingness to listen and ask questions, so as to build a bridge of rapport. Through this method Christians are far more likely to develop a natural way of bringing Jesus into the conversation, effectively relating to unbelievers how Christ has met all of our needs in life from “his riches in glory”(Philippians 4:19). In doing this we must be sensitive to a non-believer’s reaction. If it is positive, the conversation can continue on a similar theme and may reveal a way in which Christ can be related to the life of the one to whom the Believer is witnessing. If the person’s reaction is negative, it is best for the time being to drop the subject. But remember: evangelism is more than presenting a message of salvation; it involves sharing our relationship with the living Christ. It is making Christ known and displaying why Believers trust him, love him, and obey him.
Although Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6), there is (according to the interests or needs of the individual) a variety of paths that can lead a person to Christ. Sharing the reality of Jesus with others in one’s own life often leads to the opportunity to share how one applies the Gospel in every day activities as other persons become open to hearing the message of our Lord. Since this sharing is best done with friends or colleagues, evangelism becomes an opportunity and privilege for any member of the Body of Christ, in virtually any job or social setting. Each of us has unique situations in which we can be the most effective instruments through which the Holy Spirit presents to our friends and fellow workers the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.
“My one purpose in life is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which, I believe, comes through knowing Christ.”The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham (1918 – 2018)