A few days ago Steph and I were watching our favorite series of missions videos called Dispatches From the Front when something really caught my attention. The host Tim Keesee was traveling around the country of Albania looking at how the gospel is advancing in a big way – praise God! He mentioned how one of the pastors used a simple strategy to reach people for Christ. Here’s how it goes:
- Meet people
- Tell them about Jesus
As I pondered this, I was struck by the simplicity of it all. Pastors and church leaders today are bombarded by “how-to” methods and strategies to plant churches, evangelize, disciple, and grow existing churches. We have more books and more information on how to “do church” than ever before, but most would agree that the church is weak and anemic and in need of revival.
A few questions come to mind: Are we complicating the biblical mandate to go and reach the lost, preaching the gospel of grace? Are we relying more on strategies and fads than trusting the power of prayer? Have we shied way from developing new relationships with people and fostering already existing friendships? And have we become tongue-tied when it comes to telling people the glorious gospel of Christ? I fear the answer to these questions is probably “yes” for most of us including myself.
I trust this will give us all a little food for thought. “Knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:8) is far and away the greatest thing in the world and we are not meant to keep the good news to ourselves. May we be like the two blind men Jesus healed in Matthew 9:31: “They went away and spread his fame through all that district.” Amen!
I once read the story of a pastor who was invited to debate an atheist. The pastor agreed to debate on one condition – that the atheist would bring 50 people who had been transformed by being atheists. The pastor in turn would bring 50 people who had been transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. As you may have guessed, the atheist admitted he would not be able to find that many people impacted by rejecting Christian theism.
As you seek to give an answer for the hope that is within you (1 Peter 3:15), please don’t forget about the power of testimony. Please don’t forget about what Christ has done in your own life, but also in the lives of millions upon millions of people the world over. Like the blind man healed by Jesus, we can confidently say as Christians, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). It is only Jesus Christ who has the power to transform and heal our sin-sick lives. By all means, we must seek to present a rational defense of the Christian faith, just don’t forget that there is a place for testimony in our apologetics.
No one has ever been transformed by rejecting the existence of God. But millions upon millions of people have been transformed by the rescuing power of Jesus Christ. As the Scriptures remind us, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). So lets get to work, telling the world what Christ has done for us.
According to a recent poll (June 6, 2013), “56 percent of Americans surveyed believe in the devil, 53 percent believe in hell and 43 percent believe in hell as “a place of suffering and punishment where people go after they die”. Some might think these numbers are low, but it is quite remarkable that more people believe in hell than don’t believe in hell. The only explanation for this is Christianity’s influence on the culture. The other side of the coin is as follows: “An equal amount of respondents (38 percent) believe that people who commit violent criminal acts go to hell as well as those who don’t ask God’s forgiveness for their sins before they die. Greater than 61 percent of respondents believe they’re going to heaven, while only 1.5 percent believe they will go to hell.” So while most people believe in hell, almost nobody (1.5 percent) thinks they are going there. Of course this doesn’t surprise us. If a person has a notion of heaven and hell, chances are they believe they are going to heaven.
In short, Christian’s have been successful in helping people see that hell is real, but unsuccessful in helping people see that apart from Christ, they are headed there. Back in the day, hellfire and brimstone preachers made a name for themselves by focusing on God’s judgment. In my estimation, most preachers today focus on God’s love with little or even no mention of God’s judgment. The Bible speaks of both and if we are going to be faithful to our calling as preachers, we must preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Jesus spoke more about hell than everyone else in the Bible combined and did not shy away from speaking about the consequences for those who reject God’s gracious offer of salvation. So whether we are preaching, doing personal evangelism, or counseling a friend, let’s not shy away from speaking the truth about God, and the consequences of rejecting Christ.
“Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.” (Colossians 4:3)
Every Christian is surrounded by non-Christians. Whether it is next-door neighbors, co-workers, relatives, or friends, there are people in your life who are not following Jesus. Unfortunately, there are many professing Christians who are unconcerned about this reality. They are not burdened that people around them live without hope and have not embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ. We would do well to look at the evangelistic example of Paul and his heart for the lost.
As you will note from the verse quoted above, evangelism starts with prayer. The apostle, as much as anyone, knew the power of prayer in converting the lost. As skilled as he was in apologetics (check out Acts 17), Paul’s evangelism strategy was not limited to persuasion and strength of argument. Above all, he relied on the power of prayer. We too must pray for the lost souls around us. If you don’t see results immediately, please don’t give up. I have been praying for a friend of mine for over a decade and I believe that one day God will save him. But we MUST persist in prayer.
When we are consistently praying for the lost souls around us, it goes without saying that we will also be looking for opportunities to “share” the gospel. Part of our prayer will be that God would give us the opportunity to share the gospel. That is exactly what Paul requested from the Colossian believers – an open door to declare Christ. Friend, don’t be afraid to pray that prayer, just make sure you’re ready when God brings the opportunity your way (1 Peter 3:15).
I do understand that evangelism is not easy. If it was easy, Paul would not have ended up in prison. But we must realize that temporary suffering is well worth the price. Remember that we not only have the greatest, most glorious news in the world (the gospel of Jesus Christ), but also the most powerful vehicle on earth (the Holy Spirit of God) to spread that news. I want to encourage you to keep praying for your lost friends and then watch how God works and uses you in the process.
For years now, we have lamented over how “Christ” is being taken out of Christmas. For example, this morning I drove by a house with a giant sign that read “Merry X-Mass.” And I am sure at some point during this Christmas season you will hear “Happy Holidays.” As I pondered this trend, it occurred to me that we shouldn’t be surprised by it. We can protest and demand that people say “Merry Christmas,” but why should we expect everyone to celebrate this holiday when many don’t even believe in Christ or know about the Christ of the Bible?
I was talking to someone in church on Sunday who told me that he recently witnessed to a man who had never even heard the Christmas story. That is the shocking reality of the world we live in. There is a lack of Biblical literacy that permeates our society. But rather than demand everyone say “Merry Christmas,” perhaps a better approach would be to use this season of Christmas as a platform to share the gospel. One simple idea is to give someone you know a New Testament Bible and encourage them to read the Christmas story and learn about the person of Jesus Christ. It’s simple, but it could be life changing for that person.
It’s a wonderful privilege to freely celebrate Christmas each year. As Christian’s we know that Christmas is all about the incarnation – how God came to earth in human form to dwell among us. No matter what kind of language the world uses, we know that this season is all about the birth of Christ and the hope that we find in him. To the unbeliever, it doesn’t make sense. “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). To the believer, it is the glorious message of salvation and eternal life in Christ.
Let me encourage you not to miss this opportunity to tell the Christmas story to those who need to hear it most. Be bold and be prayerful and then watch how God works. One more thing – Merry Christmas!
“We have to conclude that a Christian with no passion for the lost is in serious need of self-examination and repentance. Even the atheists have worked this out. Penn Jillette is an avowed and vocal atheist, and one half of the famous comic–illusionist act Penn and Teller. He was evangelized by a polite and impressive man, and had this to say about the experience:
‘I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and that people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that….”
Copied from page 53 of The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.
When we think of evangelism often what comes to mind is a particular technique or method to share the gospel with those around us. These methods tend to come and go, with some enduring longer than others. I like the method found in John 9 with the blind man. He simply said, “I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). Few would argue with the effectiveness of a person sharing how Christ has changed their life. When Christ makes a “new creation” out of someone, it speaks volumes to a watching world.
There is another important aspect, which doesn’t seem to get much press these days. I am speaking of the words of Jesus in John 13:35. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This verse is not talking about evangelistic method or apologetics (defending the faith). Rather, it has to do with the example we set in the Body of Christ. What Jesus is saying is that the way we relate to one another as Christians really does matter. J Mack Stiles puts it this way: “biblical love, practically applied in the church, is the greatest image of the gospel we offer the world.” Mark Dever adds to that in saying, “God intends to display his glory through the local church today, as Christians live together in patience, forgiveness, justice, mercy and love. We reflect God’s own character by the character of our congregation’s life.”
I believe that we need to be intentional and creative in our evangelistic endeavors. All around us there are people who are searching for hope, purpose, and joy in life. It’s only through the saving work of Christ that they will find that. But we must not forget (especially in our individualistic society) that God created the church for a reason. The Body of Christ is to reflect Christ, as we love one another. Love, one to another offers a compelling witness to the world. Conversely, a lack of love has the opposite effect. We’ve all heard people say they would never become a Christian because so and so is such a lousy witness.
What about you? Have you committed yourself to a local congregation? I realize that not all people will agree with me on this, but church membership is important – very important. More than anything, it shows that you are committed to loving your brothers and sisters in the Lord. When you take this step, it will go a long way in making you an effective witness for Jesus.