The Spiritual Disciplines: Evangelism

By Peter Amsterdam

June 3, 2014

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During the days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven, He gave instructions to His disciples. Luke tells us that He appeared to them during a 40-day period and spoke to them about the kingdom of God. He also ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait until they received the promise of the Father, which was the infilling of the Holy Spirit.[1] Jesus said that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.[2] During those days, He also told them to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation[3] and to make disciples of all nations and teach them all that He had commanded.[4] His last instruction to those who believed in Him was to share the Gospel, the good news, everywhere to everyone; to teach them everything He had taught them. He told them: As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.[5] In instructing those who believed in Him in that day, He is also speaking to us today.

The direction from Jesus is to proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation and to make disciples. The aspect of evangelism that this article focuses on is the discipline of proclaiming the Gospel to those who haven’t come to faith in Jesus for salvation. Making disciples of those who believe in Jesus is also part of evangelism, and is a multifaceted topic which will require more in-depth study than can be covered in the Spiritual Disciplines series. That aspect of evangelism will be covered in a future series, God willing.

All Christians are expected to share the Gospel, to present others with the opportunity to receive Jesus as their Savior and help them learn how to develop a personal relationship with God. We are commissioned by Jesus Himself to be communicators of God’s great plan of salvation to others. People do not usually come to faith unless we, as Christians, share the Gospel with them. How can they call on Him to save them unless they believe in Him? And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him? And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them?[6] People generally hear about God’s plan for salvation because someone communicates the Gospel to them, and the “someone” meant to be doing this is all of us who already know Jesus. If we are going to be true to the commission the Lord has given, we must make a regular conscious effort to do so. This is where evangelism as a Spiritual Discipline comes into play.

We know that God wants us to share the message of the Gospel with others, but so often we’re too busy. Our days are so full of responsibilities that taking time to witness can seem almost impossible at times. If we want to fulfill Jesus’ command to share the Gospel, it takes disciplining ourselves to make time to do so. We need to choose to make this a priority in our lives. We need to make the effort to find or create opportunities to share the Gospel. This means seeking out opportunities to interact with non-Christians in an atmosphere which is conducive to conversation, such as inviting them for dinner or meeting them for coffee. You might look for ways to get together with a co-worker or fellow student after hours. In many cases, the furthest you will get will be to “till the ground” rather than actually “planting the seed.” This initial period is sometimes called “pre-evangelism.” This quote from Norman Geisler explains it well.

If evangelism is planting seeds of the Gospel, then pre-evangelism is tilling the soil of people’s minds and hearts to help them be more willing to listen to the truth (1 Corinthians 3:6). Because of the kind of world we live in today, we may not be able to plant the seeds of the Gospel until we work the soil of people’s minds and hearts. Failure to prepare the soul may lead to closed doors for planting seeds today and a reluctance to consider the Gospel message in the future … In the world we live in today, we may have to plant many spiritual seeds for a period of time before someone will seriously consider the person of Christ. We may have to till the ground before we have the opportunity to plant a seed. We are not called to bring all persons to Christ but simply to bring Christ to all persons.[7]

Much of our initial contact with people will fall under pre-evangelism, when we get to know them and have conversations on a variety of subjects, some of which may be very deep and may lead to you answering their questions in a manner which reflects what Scripture teaches, without necessarily bringing Scripture into the conversation. As friendship grows and trust builds, people are more inclined to be open to hearing what you have to say in regard to Jesus and salvation. And to build friendship and trust requires you making time to be with them in environments which are conducive to deep conversation, and that generally takes planning and effort.

Sometimes spontaneous opportunities to witness arise, and we should be open to those, but it’s often the case that to have a chance to share the Gospel with someone you need to be intentional about it. Plan to meet at a place or time when you can have a deeper conversation, creating a situation in which they feel comfortable and are apt to be open to speak about deeper topics. This could open the door for you to talk about spiritual matters and to bring the conversation around to salvation.

Of course, there’s no single setting or way of sharing the message, as the world is made up of billions of individuals of different nationalities, worldviews, interests, likes, dislikes, and personalities; and while the Gospel is meant for each of them, the manner in which it can be effectively delivered to them and to which they will best respond will vary. Therefore, the Holy Spirit will often use your particular talents and gifts to reach certain people who respond to you as a person. So while we are all commissioned to share the Gospel and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so,[8] we aren’t all expected to use the same methods. Generally speaking, the Lord will lead you to share the message in a manner that is compatible with your personality, temperament, spiritual gifts, opportunities, etc.[9] The diversity of those sharing the Gospel is necessary due to the diversity of those who need to hear the Gospel.

We are each in different circumstances, so whom we reach and how we reach them will be different depending on the situation and how God leads you. But we know that God, who loves humanity, and doesn’t wish that any should perish, but rather that all should reach repentance,[10] will use you to reach others in whatever circumstance you are in.—If you will let Him.

The Spiritual Discipline of evangelism is the commitment to letting God use you to be His messenger to others. When you practice this discipline, you commit to making the effort to witness, and to taking the steps that will make it possible. It’s a sacrifice to intentionally devote time to witnessing to do our part to obey Jesus’ call to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations, but the eternal results of witnessing are more than worth it.

Last Christmas, Maria and I took up the challenge of sharing 50 Activated magazines with others. It was fun and rewarding, but it required disciplining ourselves to take them with us when we went out and to give them to those we came in contact with. As I was writing this, I asked myself, Why am I not giving out 50 magazines every month? I made that commitment once, but shouldn’t I discipline myself to do it every month? Of course I should! The only reason I haven’t distributed them every month is because I haven’t yet disciplined myself to do so. More specifically, I haven’t developed the habit of ordering the magazines regularly, taking them with me each time I go out, and consistently watching for opportunities to give them to the people I meet, or to take the new edition of the magazine to those who received the mag from the previous month. The “discipline” of giving out the Activated mag would consist of a series of simple steps that I do regularly.

Inviting others for dinner, meeting a colleague for coffee, building a relationship with non-Christian friends, visiting your neighbors, giving someone a tract or another piece of literature—these things only happen if you plan for them, if you discipline yourself to intentionally seek opportunities for sharing the Gospel. What you plan for will depend on your specific situation and gifts, and everyone won’t use the same methods. Author Donald Whitney wrote:

In one of his letters the Apostle Peter divides all spiritual gifts into two broad categories of serving gifts and speaking gifts (1 Peter 4:10–11).[11] Some find that they evangelize more through serving, others more through speaking. Evangelistic serving might involve hosting a meal and living the Gospel in front of your guests. As they see the distinctives in your home and family lives, immediate or eventual opportunities to voice the Gospel may arise. Perhaps you might cook a meal or grill some burgers to provide an open door for your spouse to share his or her faith. I’m told that every family averages a “crisis” once every six months. During that time of illness, job loss, financial crunch, birth, death, etc., being a Christlike servant to that family frequently demonstrates the reality of your faith in a way that piques their interest. Through serving you may have a chance to give evangelistic literature or to fulfill the Great Commission in more imaginative ways.[12]

Since we are called to share the Gospel, no matter what our circumstances, God’s Spirit can lead us to a means of doing so that will work within our circumstances. Perhaps in your situation it’s virtually impossible to set aside time to meet with others due to caring for your children or your elderly parents. You may not be able to have long conversations with others, but you can still plant seeds. You can give someone a piece of literature.You can ask them if there is something you can pray for. You can show them kindness and tell them Jesus loves them. You may not be in a position to do much in-depth witnessing, but you can prepare the ground of people’s hearts through showing God’s love and concern for them.

Many of us are in a position where we could make some time to witness, yet we haven’t disciplined ourselves to do so. It’s not on our to-do list, and we aren’t consciously thinking of it. And what we don’t plan for, we seldom do. The discipline of evangelism begins with a commitment, followed by seeking the Lord for how to realistically make it an intentional part of your life. If you are praying for the Lord to help you witness and to show you what method will work in your circumstances, He can give you ideas and opportunities.

I’m a firm believer in the value of “you” when it comes to sharing the Gospel. While it is the message of the Gospel—God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice—which will ultimately bring someone to salvation, their willingness to listen to that message often has to do with you. As Dwight L. Moody said, Every Bible should be bound in shoe-leather. You are the Gospel in shoe leather; you are the living contact point of the Holy Spirit, the human agent of divine power.[13] The love, the kindness and gentleness, the care and concern which people feel from you, help them to be willing to listen to what you have to say. As we let the light and warmth of God’s Spirit emanate from us, people feel God’s love. Through us, Jesus spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved…[14]In order for others to come in contact with that fragrance, they need to come in contact with you. Once they do, when they see and feel your love, when they feel they can speak with you, ask their questions, and share their hearts, you will be able to till the ground by answering their questions with the hope that you can plant the seed of God’s love and truth into their hearts.

Often people are drawn to you because, unbeknownst to them, you are filled with God’s Spirit, light, and love. Since they notice that something is different about you, it can give you the opportunity at some point to speak to them about the Lord. However, unless at some point we put into words what it is that makes us different, they may never know and could miss the opportunity to hear about the gift of salvation and the transformed life that is there for them to accept. I read a story, though unfortunately I don’t remember where, about a Christian who did his best to act in a kind and loving Christian manner but didn’t tell others he was a Christian. One day a co-worker came up to him and said, “I finally figured out what makes you so different from the rest of us: you’re a vegetarian!”

A similar but even sadder story is told by Donald Whitney:

I heard the story of a man who became a Christian during an evangelistic emphasis in a city in the Pacific Northwest. When he told his boss about it, his employer responded with, “That’s great! I am a Christian and have been praying for you for years!” But the new believer was crestfallen. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?” he asked. “You were the very reason I have not been interested in the Gospel all these years.” “How can that be?” the boss wondered. “I have done my very best to live the Christian life around you.” “That’s the point,” explained the employee. “You lived such a model life without telling me that it was Christ who made the difference. I convinced myself that if you could live such a good and happy life without Christ, then I could too.”[15]

So while living the Gospel and being an example of Christlikeness is what may initially attract people to you and make them open and receptive to the Gospel, they also need to hear the message in words. Being a living example of God’s love is very important, but we must, at some point, verbalize the message of salvation in order to bring them into the family of God.

Sharing the Gospel with others is the call of Christ to every Christian. All around us are people who have yet to hear the great news that God loves them, that He sent His Son so that all who believe in Him will be reborn, saved, and will enter into relationship with Him. They need someone to connect with them, to explain how to receive God’s free gift of love, to teach them how to be spiritually transformed, and to guide them in their spiritual growth. Those around us have the need and we have the answers. What keeps us from telling them?

We all have busy lives, but the overarching context of our Christianity is to share the Gospel with those who don’t yet possess this great gift. As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us. We are called, sent, and commissioned to preach the Gospel. It is up to each one of us to find a way to use the gifts and talents God has given us to share Him with others. Seek Him, ask Him to show you how, where, when, and with whom you can share your faith. Remind yourself that no matter what your circumstances, you are a disciple sent into the world—your world, your city, your neighborhood, your workplace, your family—with the commission to share Jesus with those He brings across your path. Witnessing doesn’t just happen on its own. We must discipline ourselves to make it happen.

Witnessing is a lasting investment in eternity—both yours and that of others. As Christians, we are called to make space in our lives, our hearts, and our time to share His Word and truth with others, and that takes discipline, determination, and commitment.


Note

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Acts 1:4.

[2] Acts 1:8.

[3] Mark 16:14–15.

[4] Matthew 28:19–20.

[5] John 20:21.

[6] Romans 10:14 NLT.

[7] Norman and David Geisler, Conversational Evangelism (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2009), 22–23.

[8] You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses… (Acts 1:8).

[9] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991), 104.

[10] 2 Peter 3:9.

[11] As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 4:10–11).

[12] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 110.

[13] K. Hemphill, “Preaching and Evangelism,” M. Duduit, ed., Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), 525.

[14] 2 Corinthians 2:14–15.

[15] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 111.

 

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