A couple of years ago I committed to reading at least one book on evangelism every year. I do not naturally think of looking for evangelistic opportunities and I need things to remind me to do that. So in addition to adding evangelism to my prayer list, I also remind myself of this necessary discipline by reading something about it on a regular basis.
So this summer I ordered and just finished reading Mack Stiles’ book, Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus. It’s an excellent book (so excellent that I just ordered two other books he’s written on the topic). It’s excellent because it is theologically and biblically accurate. And it is excellent because it is hopeful. Too many books on evangelism leave me thinking, “I can’t do that.” But not this one. This is one that I put down and said, “I needed that and everything he identified is something I can do.”
One of Stiles’ emphases is to create a culture of evangelism in the church. The idea is not that the church cultivates programs where evangelism is done, but the church creates a culture where evangelism is the natural activity of all the believers in the body. It is expected that believers are doing evangelism. When a visitor shows up at church and is not a believer, it is expected that they will be invited out and the gospel will be graciously unfolded to them. Conversion stories are told and re-told to affirm the saving power of Christ. And evangelistic encounters and conversions are celebrated.
Stiles comments, “I yearn to be in a church where even evangelistic attempts are championed. Even if an evangelistic effort doesn’t lead to a gospel conversion, evangelistic failure is better than not trying evangelism at all” (57).
The question is, how can we create such a culture? Stiles identifies six ways we can “become intentional evangelists living in intentional cultures of evangelism:
- Prepare our hearts, minds, and feet
- Understand a gospel-shaped way of life
- Slay our assumptions (that everyone who attends worship services is a Christian)
- See evangelism as a discipline
- When possible, give leadership in evangelism
And he also provides a number of principles to guide the actual process of sharing our faith:
- Give yourself grace when you share your faith.…it’s good to remind yourself that even your mistakes can help you become a better ambassador.
- Look for open doors.
- Be compassionate and maintain a tender heart toward others.
- Remember that we have the answers to life’s biggest questions.
- Focus on people’s separation from God, not on being morally upright.
- Be intentional in your conversation.
- Acknowledge what we know and what we don’t.
- It’s good (though not required) to ask permission to share the message of the gospel.
- Ask lots of questions. Be a good listener.
- Finally, if you anticipate a certain issue in a person’s life, it’s good to be acquainted with it by reading a book or talking with someone who knows about the issue.
And in multiple ways, he reminds the reader through the book that it is God’s work to do the saving and our task is merely to be obedient to talk about the gospel. And that as we talk we will be encouraged and experience joy (because we’re being obedient to the Lord).
Take heart. Evangelism is bigger than what we see. Remember God’s promise: he is giving you fuller understanding of the good things we have in Christ. He’s giving you his eyes to see people as he sees them. He’s helping you know the rich meaning of the message we bear, and he’s helping you depend upon him to work in people’s lives.
Those are enough reasons to keep going, but it gets even better. Sometimes God lets us see tired people transformed into people filled with light. That’s a glorious thing, filled with wonder and hope.