Jesus seemed to think that evangelism was an important part of being a disciple.
He told Simon and Andrew that to follow him would mean fishing for people. He told those of his friends who stuck with him in Jerusalem that when he sent the Holy Spirit, they would end up being his witnesses.
According to Matthew 28:19-20, his parting words make it clear that to be a disciple is to make other disciples. It all seems pretty straightforward. If we call ourselves Christians, we are meant to evangelize.
The same is true if we call ourselves Baptists.
The official basis of the Baptist Union of Great Britain only has three principles; one of those is that every disciple is to bear personal witness to the good news and take part in the evangelization of the world.
Yet, more and more of us seem to have a problem with evangelism.
On the one hand, we know we are supposed to, but quite frankly much of the evangelism we have seen puts us off: “If that’s what evangelism looks like, I wouldn’t do it to my worst enemies.”
Evangelism can so easily become intrusive, arrogant, pushy, manipulative, forced, artificial, dishonest – anything but good news. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you are not a fan of some of the evangelism that you’ve seen, here’s some good news – not the good news, but some good news about the good news:
- You don’t have to stand on street corners shouting at people.
- You don’t have to pretend that you want people to be your friends, just so you can evangelize them.
- You don’t have to devise a cunning strategy to get your friends to come to church even though you are pretty sure they don’t want to.
- You don’t have to invite them to hear some minor celebrity who’s pretending to talk about being a celebrity when really that’s just an excuse to preach the gospel.
- You don’t have to wear a wristband and explain what the heart, the X, the cross and the question mark stand for, or be able to draw “The Bridge to Life” or memorize “The Four Spiritual Laws” or any other formula for that matter.
Those things aren’t what evangelism is. They are just some of the ways that people have gone about evangelism.
So what is evangelism? To put it simply, evangelism is the communication of the gospel.
It’s all about helping people to find out about and understand the good news of Jesus in the hope that they too will want to follow him.
Evangelism is “goodnewsing” – getting on with life in such a way that people have a chance to discover Jesus for themselves.
If I’m right, and this is what evangelism is, another bit of good news is that it’s best not to limit evangelism to verbal proclamation.
We can communicate the good news as individuals or as churches by the way we are, and the stuff we do as well as the things we say. Being, doing and speaking are all important modes of evangelism.
When we are the kind of church that is welcoming, friendly, outward-looking, generous and forgiving, we communicate the good news by embodying it.
When we work to shelter the homeless, feed the hungry and campaign for the oppressed, we communicate the good news by enacting it.
When we explain to our friends why we pray, how we came to follow Jesus or what God means to us, we communicate the good news by articulating it.
Of course, these three modes of communication work best when they work together. That way they make for a richer expression of the gospel.
Being on its own is too passive. Doing on its own is too ambiguous. Speaking on its own is too facile. Get it all together though, and our message is more likely to ring true.
Glen Marshall is the co-principal of Northern Baptist College. A version of this article first appeared in the Summer 2016 edition of Baptists Together, a publication of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. It is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his blog, and you can follow him on Twitter @theglenmarshall.
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part two is available here.