It could happen among any group of Christians when the subject of conversation turns to evangelism. One person draws back from the thought of approaching strangers to distribute evangelistic leaflets. Another feels unable to engage in door-to-door “cold campaigning” such as is done by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, but also feels guilty in this regard. A third member of the group rejects such outreach methods totally as being impersonal, and insists that evangelism requires a personal relationship to be genuinely authentic. A fourth individual suggests that not every Christian is gifted to be an evangelist, just as not all are teachers, pastors or prophets.
Do you identify with either of those four? I certainly do–or did until God changed me almost without my knowing it. I still remember the day I gathered a selection of “gospel tracts” and started down a tree-lined street in my home town, going door to door. My message was non-offensive and my manner was mild. To any who answered the door, I told my name, handed a tract, and said I would be honored to study the Bible with them should they ever be interested.
As best I recall, no one ever was–perhaps in part because I was about fourteen years old or maybe even younger. My outreach ended abruptly when a householder faced me down with the question, “Young man, are you satisfied with your religion?” Upon hearing my affirmative answer, the strangely irate lady sternly admonished, “Then keep it to yourself!” and closed the door in my face.
Clearly the “E-word” has fallen into disrepute among many Christians and even whole churches today. I suspect that this demise of evangelism results in part from fear and cowardice, in part because of a popular culture that abhors religious conviction, and in part as reaction to the distasteful antics of some would-be evangelists whose certainty surpasses their knowledge and whose zeal outweighs their good manners.
According to the Apostle Paul, not all believers are called to be evangelists (Eph. 4:11-13), but all Christians have a place in the evangelistic agenda of the church. Thankfully, Christ’s special emissary to the Gentiles (which includes most of us) does not abandon us in cliches and generalities. Instead, he provides us with a kind of evangelism that is respectful, winsome, and effective. And in Colossians 4:2-6, the apostle leaves us a handful of easy straightforward guidelines that make evangelism as natural as everyday life.
“Devote yourselves to prayer,” he says first, “keeping alert,” always “praying that God will open a door for the word.” God himself prepares lives to receive the gospel, opens hearts to hear it, and gives faith to receive it. We ask him to do all that, then we watch to see where he is working so we can join in what he is doing. “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders,” the apostle continues. Our own daily lives usually provide the connection with others whom God will touch through our efforts. Our consistent, observable conduct also lends credibility to our conversation when the time comes to speak a gospel word about Jesus and God’s love revealed in him.
“Making the most of the opportunity,” Paul concludes. “Let your speech always be with grace.” When God provides an open door, we need to be ready to open our mouth and speak–to speak clearly and courageously, but also graciously and with sincere respect for each individual we address. God then will open hearts as it pleases him.
This is evangelism without pressure, because it is God’s program accomplished in God’s strength and for God’s glory. As we regularly do these things, God uses us in his great saving purpose. We are always successful if we are simply faithful, because faithfulness is our only responsibility. This is God’s agenda and he is responsible for the results.