What Does it Look Like to Be an Evangelist Today?
- Candice Lucey Contributing Writer
- 2021 1 Feb
“Evangelism means preaching, announcing, or otherwise communicating the gospel, our salvation,” wrote Jessica Brodie in “What Is Evangelism?” The first apostles’ evangelical work involved traveling from town to town across the Roman Empire, telling people about Jesus. Does evangelism look different in the 21st Century?
What Is the Meaning of Evangelist?
Paul went where his feet or a ship would take him. His only other means of sharing the Good News was by letter. Clearly, he was a highly effective evangelist since modern Christians still use those letters to teach people who Christ is, but methods of evangelism have changed. That’s partly to do with modernization and partly a cultural matter. Paul was evangelizing in the Middle East after all. Believers still go into places where paganism or atheism has taken hold, meeting urbanites and tribes, sharing Jesus with them all. But modern North Americans evangelize using various media or they meet with the lost over coffee two blocks from home.
Sharing the gospel in the West isn’t generally dangerous or arduous, at least not for the average person. Paul and the others lost their liberty and, in most cases, their lives for the privilege of sharing the gospel. It’s no easier to spread the word - consumers receive all kinds of messages from the internet, not just the Good News. Self-help authors, politicians, companies that sell diet pills, and other organizations are also evangelizing. Modern Westerners are likely to skim off the foamy bits, too impatient to dig for the truth. Evangelists need to compete with commercials.
And we’re thin-skinned these days. People are so easily offended. The same digital culture that opens doors can be closed to someone who is deemed “intolerant” for preaching uncomfortable truth. Brodie points out that “we are tasked to deliver that message both by Jesus and every other apostle in no uncertain terms.” But it’s helpful to remember, as Dr. James Emery White wrote in “Rethinking Evangelism,” that “the Bible challenges us to contextualize our message for the sake of evangelistic impact. The message of the gospel is unchanging, but the method of communicating that gospel must change according to the language, culture, and background of the audience.”
What Does the Bible Say about Evangelism and Evangelists?
Evangelism: In 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul tells the young apostle “as for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Timothy’s commission was the same as Paul’s: “delivering the message that Jesus Christ is not only the Son of God but also gave His life as a sacrifice for our sins,” Brodie wrote. Jesus commanded his disciples: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16) This was and still is evangelism: sharing the truth of the gospel.
Evangelist: An evangelizer, as described by Jesus in Matthew 9:37-38, is a “laborer” at the harvest. There aren’t many laborers but plenty of fruit to be harvested. 2 Timothy 2:15 classifies an evangelist as a “worker” whom God has “approved.” Jesus proclaimed that “whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30) His words suggest that all believers, every new creation in Jesus, is an evangelist. You can’t love him and not love others, and you can’t love others and not tell them the Good News about Jesus. The Holy Spirit makes you a light through no skill of your own.
How Can We Do Evangelism Best Today?
1. Music. In an article entitled “Real People. Real Worship” by Steven Douglas Losey, Bart Millard of MercyMe said that “Paul and Silas worshiped in prison, and the guard came forward to say, ‘What do I do to be saved?’ Worship has a tendency to rub off.” That’s why, “if MercyMe had a mission statement, it would be to lead people to Christ through worship.” I’ve heard of people who came to Christ because they were intrigued by the passion of worship musicians. Jesus will use virtually any style of music found within a given community. “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) The benefit of a catchy tune is that it sticks with you, playing itself over and over in your mind until you have to ask yourself what the lyrics are trying to say. That’s why it’s so important for musicians to write the truth into their songs.
2. Social Media. A few pastors and friends at my church use Facebook in order to share messages of hope and truth. Sometimes they simply restate the gospel. “If you’re on social media,” commented Joey Cochran in “God-Glorifying Social Media,” “you have friends, connections, those you follow, or a circle.” Social media allows you to reach them with “a deep thought.” or “something in the Bible or in a book that strikes you. If you’ve got your social network handy, [...] be immediate in sharing.” Share God’s Word directly, perhaps with a personal application. You are scattering seed, so pray for someone to come along with fertilizer and water.
3. Friendships. Jesus got involved in the lives of his disciples. He ate in their homes and comforted them. Our workplace or school needs evangelists, but don’t be in a hurry to preach - people don’t like being viewed as projects. And they are often distracted by a physical need. Meet it. Offer silent comfort when a friend fails a class, her parent dies, or she is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Friendships grow slowly, so you have time to ask questions and to portray Christ in your various words and actions. 1 Peter 2:17 says “Show proper respect to everyone.” You might have to tread lightly or wait a long time for that friend to trust you enough to ask about your faith, but it will show if you’re authentic in your walk with Christ. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) Demonstrate sacrificial love and servanthood towards others and do it humbly. Christians are known “by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16)
What Does Good Evangelism and a Good Evangelist Look Like?
We must not be afraid to tell the truth about Jesus, but evangelism is more than talking. There’s a place for preachers - usually on Sundays when we expect to hear a lesson. Evangelism, however, is outreach to people who resist the gospel of Jesus Christ. Good evangelism demonstrates 1 Peter 2:17, John 13:35, and Matthew 7:16.
1. Respect. If our friends have other beliefs, we don’t criticize, attack, or embarrass them. We ask questions and accommodate traditions that don’t offend God. Not every moment is a teachable moment. Sometimes, making a point would be rude and insensitive. Decide which points are important and don’t get into fights about peripheral matters such as veganism or tattoos.
2. Loving Each Other. Evangelists sometimes focus on outreach and forget their church family. But when we love each other, word gets around. Unbelievers notice and become curious about the things that make us different (in a good way).
3. Fruitfulness. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” and there is no law against these things (Galatians 5:22-23). If you are in Christ, you aren’t perfect, but the unbelieving world notices your patience in the face of anger or your generosity towards those less fortunate. Be real about your flaws, but walk the talk and let Jesus work through you. A lot of people expect Christians to be pompous legalists. Part of evangelism is proving that you aren’t because Jesus wasn’t.
Missionary organizations send teams around the world to build schools and distribute bibles, yet evangelism is a way of life we are all called to. Often, the work is a joy, a slow and simple extension of relationships. It can be hard, you need the courage to speak about Christ to people who don’t know him and don’t want to know. Be ready “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) because God calls when he is ready and if he calls, then he’ll make a way for you to speak.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Aarón Blanco Tejedor
Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.
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