The apostle Paul did not have a “church-centered” evangelism. The apostle Paul went wherever he could in order to preach the gospel. In Acts 17:17, we read that Paul debated in the synagogues and in the marketplace with those who happened to be there. I think one of the big mistakes in American Christianity is that we think that unbelievers should come to church in order to be evangelized rather than the church going to them in order to evangelize them.
What Paul Didn’t Do
The apostle Paul did not go around Athens asking people what they wanted in a church and then proceed to put together great programs with contemporary music and uplifting messages. We simply do not see him trying to build a church by inviting unbelievers to church. The apostle Paul went to the unbelievers. He did not wait for them to come to him.
American Christianity is stuck in the “build it and they will come” model of evangelism. We think that to reach our neighbors for Christ, we must have a worship service where they will come and receive Christ.
But what is “church”? What Paul calls “coming together as a church” is the time when Christians come together to worship the Lord by praising Him, hearing His Word, and partaking of the sacrament. This is a time primarily for the believer (note: I’m not saying we should discourage unbelievers from coming if they want to come).
But what does an unbeliever think of church in the sense above? According to Hart & Muether in their book, With Reverence and Awe, “True worship, then, will be odd and perhaps even weird to the watching world. This oddness is not lamentable but essential to the church’s faithful witness” (34).
Since this is so obviously the case, what have most American churches done? They have sought to make church more acceptable to the unbeliever. They have filled it with things that are acceptable to natural man: music, drama, humor, and tips for living. These are all things that are not so strange to natural man. The trouble is that the supernatural (the holy God and His gospel) are often left out.
On the other hand, imagine the alternative. Let us say that you speak to one of your friends, neighbors, or relatives about the gospel of Jesus Christ. He then becomes convicted and decides that he want to be a follower of Christ. Then you will not need to cajole him into coming to church. More often than not, he will simply see it as the natural response to becoming a Christian. In this way, church remains what it should be. It remains a gathering of believers hearing the Word of Christ that they might receive Him for justification, sanctification, and salvation.
What Paul Did Do
One problem that often confronts those who critique the modern “seeker sensitive” church is that they themselves have little to offer. They do not do a lot of evangelizing of their own. The seeker-sensitive church might respond as D. L. Moody did, “The method I do is better than the method you don’t do.”
So, what should we do? The answer is quite simple. We should go out and talk to people. We should talk to whomever we meet. We should not shy away from those who are smart or those who are poor or those who are “evil.” We should look at ourselves as debtors to all people, that is, those who owe it to everyone to tell them about Jesus (Romans 1:14).
Some people may think that this way is somewhat superficial and treats people as merely objects of evangelism rather than as human beings. Though, of course, such a thought is possible, it does not need to be so. Instead, we should do this out of a genuine love for Christ and for others, recognizing that it is genuinely in everyone’s best interest to receive Christ. This is just what Jesus said. We are to go and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15; cf. Matthew 28:19–20). The apostles were to be His witnesses to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The story of Acts is how the apostles went all over the world speaking the truth about Jesus wherever they possibly could.
This is what we must do in our day. We must not wait for the people to come to us. We must go out to them. We must find out where the people are and go there and preach the gospel. This is the special assignment of pastors, but it is also the duty of all Christians.
1. People will think I’m weird. Reply: This is true, and I think this is the main reason that we in America are afraid to say things about Christ. We live in a comfortable society, and we are hesitant to do anything to disrupt that. What we need to do is contrast the tiny sacrifice of people thinking we are strange to Christ’s reproach on the cross that He endured for us as well as the multitudes who have suffered much, much worse for His name.
2. I am afraid of difficult arguments and questions. Reply: Then, you should study in order to be able to answer better. But do not wait until you have studied enough. Trust in the Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit. Explain what Christianity is in a humble and gentle way and trust that the Lord will help you.
3. I would rather take it easy (laziness). Reply: Taking some time to relax and refresh ourselves is fine, but not to the neglect of our duties. Also, even when we are relaxing, we are still soldiers of Christ who continue to serve in His army.
4. I am busy with other important things. Reply: This is probably the most prominent excuse for a pastor. There is no end to administration, organization, visits, meetings, and teaching/preaching prep. However, we need to see that evangelism has just as much a claim to our time as other duties of the ministry. We must remember the importance of bringing souls out of the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of Christ. We should earnestly desire that God will use us to bring many people into His kingdom.
5. If they are elect, then they will find me. Reply: We do not use this sort of reasoning anywhere else; why should we use it here? We do not say, “If God wants my car to start, then it will start on its own.” No. Recognizing God’s sovereignty, we use the means He has appointed. We put the key in the ignition and turn. So it is in every other area of life. God determines the ends and the means, and we should not expect the end without making use of the means, which, in this case is speaking the Word of God to those around us. Besides, telling others about the gospel is both commanded by God and glorifying to God.
6. A pastor may say: I equip the saints, and they evangelize. Reply: You must lead also in this area, and this is your calling. If you do not lead in doing evangelism, then do not expect the sheep to follow you in evangelism. They will rather follow you by not doing evangelism.
7. I’m not a pastor. Reply: You are a soldier of Jesus Christ. You are called to make His glory known. Has Jesus not saved you, and do you not love Him? Then, make it known to those around you.
Some Practical Suggestions
There are really two things that we need to do in order to implement this method. First, begin with those whom you know. It is easy for us to categorize in our head who is and who is not a good target for evangelism. Do not do that. Think about who you know, pray for them, and seek to tell them about Christ.
Second, find out where there are people and go there. Do not stay in your comfort zone. Try to get new people. In fact, think about all the times that you do interact with people throughout the day and week. Take the time to speak with them and show a genuine interest in them. Then pray that the Lord will open the door for you to tell them about Christ.
Finally, pray for yourself and others that you would speak boldly. If we ask God to give us opportunities to glorify His name through evangelism, He will give them to us! Let us, then, seek the opportunities around us and ask the Lord to open the doors for us and bless us when we walk through them.
Rev. J. Wesley White is pastor of New Covenant PCA, a small church nestled in the Black Hills of Western South Dakota.