All followers of Christ are likely familiar with Jesus’ call to spread the Gospel to the world. Just before He returns to heaven, Jesus tells his disciples, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). This is the foundation of Christian evangelism.
Christians through the centuries have been sharing the Good News and being involved in evangelism. Like any aspect of the Christian life, however, it is easy to lose sight of what biblical evangelism should look like; it’s easy to turn evangelism into being about us or even the people we are trying to reach, rather than having Christ as central.
In his article “Where Evangelism Fails” for The Gospel Coalition, Glen Scrivener addresses four common ways Christian evangelism gets off track and also five lies we often believe about how evangelism will be most effective. He then concludes by offering a call to return to Christ as the center of sharing the Good News.
One thing we (and our churches) tend to fall into when we are evangelizing is to think we need to assure non-believers that Christians and Christianity is “cool.” We offer outreach services with modern music and plenty of trendy food and beverages, and we reframe the Gospel with hip words and examples. While none of these things are bad per se, they can easily distract from Jesus Himself.
Another thing Christians can get caught up in when evangelizing is to assure non-believers that Christians have “credibility.” You’ve probably heard arguments that say that faith and science are not mutually exclusive or that some of the smartest people on earth are Christians. While both true, this also communicates the opposite of what Jesus told His followers: "So the last will be first, and the first will be last" (Matt. 20:16).
Sometimes when we evangelize we simply offer a creed, something such as five truths that you need to believe to understand Christian faith or several doctrinal statements that you must affirm. Scrivener notes that, while doctrine is important, “our fundamental offer must be Jesus, not ‘a worldview.’”
Yet another way our evangelism can miss the mark is to make the Gospel about taking a certain course or fulfilling certain requirements. This also runs the risk of putting Jesus in a box.
So, why do we (and so many Christian churches) choose to evangelize in these four ways if they miss the mark? Scrivener believes that when we evangelize in these four ways, we reveal what we truly believe about God and about how He works through evangelism. When we examine these beliefs, it perhaps will become clear that we are straying from the truth.
Although we probably wouldn’t admit it, we may think that being cool and having credibility is more attractive than Jesus. Part of us thinks that we can handle evangelism better than Jesus can, and, of course, all of us likely desire to be liked and to fit in.
Perhaps we are also thinking of the Gospel as a process rather than incarnate in the person of Jesus. We have processes for most other things in life, so why not for becoming a Christian?
Or maybe we doubt that God can move in peoples’ lives and hearts and that real change can happen. “Perhaps we’ve thought about conversion merely sociologically. Maybe our thoughts are taken up with the observation that ‘people are much further back these days’ and ‘we just need to bring them on a few steps toward faith,” writes Scrivener.
This kind of evangelism, focused more on what we can do rather than what God has called us to do and the work He has promised to do in peoples’ lives, also reveals that we shy away from being vulnerable. It’s hard to admit that we are sinners and that we need Jesus every day. It’s even more difficult to tell that to others and to be willing to share that part of our story.
What all these things really reveal is that we aren’t trusting the Holy Spirit to work. “We don’t actually think the power of almighty God is unleashed when the Word is preached. Instead we trust the resources of the flesh,” writes Scrivener.
When famous preachers John Wesley and George Whitefield would engage in evangelistic efforts in the eighteenth century, they didn’t focus on how many people accepted Christ or how much they were accomplishing. Instead, notes Scrivener, they simply testified that they had “offered Christ” to the thousands of people who listened to their preaching. “In summarizing their evangelism, the emphasis fell on the divine offer, not the human response: ‘I offered them Christ.’”
This leaves us with a question: “What are we offering when we evangelize?” If we are adding to the Gospel or believing it is not enough, not only will our audience likely remain unconvinced, but we ourselves will miss out on the full power of the Gospel, centered on Jesus.
To read more on this topic, see the Crosswalk.com article "5 Ways We are Doing Evangelism Wrong."
Photo courtesy: Unsplash/Ben White
Publication date: November 9, 2017
Veronica Neffinger is the editor of ChristianHeadlines.com