In Act II, Scene II of the classic work, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, there is a famous conversation between the couple. They love each other and want to be together, but they carry the burden of their surnames, and this means that they will be apart forever. In the midst of this complicated mix of feelings and emotions, Juliet uses a metaphor to persuade Romeo that their names do not matter; she says that if a rose had another name, it would still produce the same perfume. I believe that evangelism has a similar dynamic, because although the name comes with a full range of feelings, pre-concepts, fears and worldviews, it’s true nature, motivations and purpose, go beyond any word that we can use to name it.
It is time for people to understand what evangelism is, and what it means for the church of the 21st Century to engage in evangelism. So, to begin to ‘stir this pot’ I would like to introduce 10 things that evangelism is not.
1. Evangelism is not supposed to be complicated
One of the first things that comes to people’s minds when they hear the “E” word, is “it’s complicated”, but the fact is that this is not true. Evangelism is not complicated, it is simply to share with the world the life that you have found in Jesus.
There are three people who, in a very natural way, carried out evangelism in the New Testament, but who many people don’t recognise as engaging in evangelism. They are the blind man, the demon-possessed man of Gadarene, and the Samaritan women. None of them knew Jesus for a long time, or had much, if any, training. But they were willing to share the difference that Jesus had made in their lives and that is what it is to evangelise – to share who Jesus is and to share what difference He is making in our lives.
2. Evangelism is not supposed to be born out of guilty
We don’t evangelise to be saved or to earn salvation, but because we are saved. Some Christians share the Gospel only because of internal pressure and because they feel obliged to repay the debt that Jesus paid when He went to the cross – this feeling is based in guilt. In reality though, evangelism is a response to His love and forgiveness, that rises up in us because we want everyone to experience the same level of abundant life that we are experiencing. This removes the need for guilt and leaves only a place for loving obedience.
3. Evangelism is not supposed to be a response to external pressure
We shouldn’t evangelise because people around us are pressuring us to do it, but because Jesus released us and sends us to share the good news. Any motive that is not from God or Godly is a wrong motive. Your friends, church leaders and family should encourage you and cheer you on in your evangelism and ministry, but that should never become an external pressure to “make” you go and share. Remember that Jesus is freedom, and it is important that we share because we are free to do so. At the heart of evangelism is the truth that because love has found us, we now want to share this love with the world.
4. Evangelism is not to bullying, coercing or convincing people
We don’t bully people into accepting the gospel. Evangelism should never be an ‘act of terror’ and we definitely shouldn’t try to coerce anyone into becoming a Christian. In the past I was a victim of ‘terror evangelism’; while I was still an atheist, I was the target of many people who knocked at my door asking: “Do you know that if you die today you will go to hell and burn forever?” I don’t know if you have ever had an experience like this, or if, like me, you were the target of something similar, but I have never met anyone who came to Jesus because of this kind of evangelism.
It is not our role in evangelism to convince people. Yes! I will write it again to help people to be released from this burden! It is not your role to convince people; that role belongs to the Holy Spirit. Although we need to be ready to give the reason for our faith, the Holy Spirit is the one who convinces, and He is very good at doing that! Our role is to present and proclaim Christ to the world, everything else is the work of the Holy Spirit.
5. Evangelism is not the marketing of your local church
It’s ok that you like your local church, and it’s ok to invite people to come along, but this is not evangelism. Many churches think that to invite people to an event or service is evangelism, but this is not the case. Evangelism is to share the good news of Jesus and His story, with the world. It’s not wrong to offer an invitation or to be willing to bring people to our local churches, but what changes people’s lives is the gospel, and that’s what we need to be actively sharing!
6. Evangelism is not to critique other religions, other churches or other church leaders
Evangelism is not to critique other religions, or other churches and their leaders. We don’t waste time sharing what we are not, but instead, spend our time sharing who Jesus is and what He has done for each and every one of us. Don’t waste the precious time that you have to talk about the King, with talking instead about your views of other people and religions.
7. Evangelism is about more than technique
Technique is not wrong, but if God is in it, any technique will work. The three unusual people who were engaged in evangelism that I mentioned in the first point, didn’t have any technique, but even so, many people believed in Jesus because they shared the life that they had found in Him. Every church and organisation will have their own technique, and although I strongly recommend that you should support and get involved in the technique of your local church (if it is sound and biblical), remember that this is only one way in which to communicate the precious, unchangeable, good news of Christ.
8. Evangelism does not begin from a position of superiority
We don’t engage in evangelism or in evangelistic activities because we are the saved ones who go to those who are less than us. Spurgeon said that evangelism is “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread”. We go to others because we have received, and we are commissioned to go, not because of any merit or status of our own.
9. Evangelism is not supposed to be unloving
There is no true evangelism that exists without love. That is how the world will know that we are His disciples. When the message of the gospel reaches us, it transforms us, and this love will break the cycle of indifference and inertia in our lives, so that we are unleashed into the world, to do as Jesus did.
10. Evangelism is not an activity, but a way of life
I don’t do evangelism just as an activity on “Saturday at 3pm”. In fact, I don’t ‘do’ evangelism at all! We can go for a walk and distribute flyers as a one-off event, but evangelism is so much more than this – it is sharing life and we should do that in our lives in natural ways; it is part of who we are and what we do as Christians. We share about Jesus and the difference that He has made in us, and that can never be an isolated activity, but instead must grow to become something that is part of everything that we are and do.