The Discipline of Evangelism

One of the most challenging chapters in Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is the chapter “Evangelism…For The Purpose of Godliness.” The idea of evangelism has been thrust into the forefront of my mind for two reasons: 1) I am taking a class called Evangelism and Discipleship, and 2) because I want to plant a church from evangelism.

I was twenty-three years old before I heard of anyone actually setting aside time in their week to go evangelize. I knew Latter Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses went purposefully, but I had never heard of a faithful Christian person plan to go evangelize. For some of you, planning to go evangelize just does not compute. It did not compute for me either until I began to be influenced in another way. See, evangelism was something the whole church did through events or from living a Christian lifestyle, not personally sharing the good news of Jesus. Evangelism was always guilt driven too. “You needed to be doing it, and you were a bad Christian if you were not evangelizing” (whatever that meant). Evangelism in some cases was simply inviting someone to church. Evangelism, for me, was an ethereal idea that happened unintentionally. I have since changed my perspective.

Evangelism is not some ethereal idea. Evangelism is the communicating of the gospel to another. I explain the connecting between evangelism and discipleship here. As someone who loves the church, we need to rediscover the art of verbal proclamation of the gospel Monday through Saturday.

For some, even reading about evangelism causes an eye-dropping, foot-shuffling anxiety, and the response to click off this post and stop reading. We would rather the idea of personally sharing the good news be left forgotten. However, as Donald Whitney articulates, evangelism is actually needed for our growth in godliness. He says, “I’m convinced that the main reason many of us don’t witness for Christ in ways that would be effective and relatively fear-free is simply because we don’t discipline ourselves to do it.”

We do not discipline ourselves to do it because the only image we have is the guy on the street corner shouting at people about how they are going to hell. At the end of the day, we have not consistently seen very many methods of evangelism. For many years, my excuse was that I had not seen someone effectively do it. I have heard the excuse I do not know enough, or I am not sure what to say. We let our lack of “learning” stop us from doing. Evangelism is always an assignment of faith. The believer is seldom wholly prepared for every tough question or every single encounter.

What’s fascinating is that in Mark 5:1-20 Jesus provides a great blueprint for evangelism.  Jesus takes his disciples to the unclean region across the Sea of Galilee where they encounter a demon possessed man. The disciples most likely knew exactly where they were headed. The demon possessed man could have been heard all across the lake in his chains. Jesus casts out the demon upon reaching the other side and then begins getting back into the boat.

18 As he [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged him earnestly that he might remain with him. 19 Jesus did not let him but told him, “Go home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So he went out and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and they were all amazed.

Simple. No training. No extra time with Jesus. Just go tell others what the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you. Then, the man went and did.

All he knew was the Jesus he encountered and how it transformed his life. Two questions:

  1. How has the Jesus of the Bible impacted your life?
  2. Can you share that story?

If you can share the how Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection has intersected and impacted your life then you can “evangelize.” Recently, I have been challenged the only way to learn is by doing; in conjunction, the only way to do is through discipline. When speaking about discipline people react in funny ways as well. I know I do. Most discipline is drudgery because it has no direction. When the direction is to become more like Christ (Rom 8:29), we cannot honestly pursue Christ-likeness without the discipline of evangelism. Further, when we pursue Christ-likeness it will take effort but ultimately cultivate delight in the Lord.

Disciplined faith is a faith that is likely to survive and lead to faith in others. – Alister E. McGrath

In order for Christianity to reach movement stage (my personal vision for church planting in the Pacific Northwest), pastors have to lead out in personal evangelism and subsequently equipping others for evangelism. Jeff Christopherson says this thought well.

“When churches are planted for evangelism, they often find themselves culturally mismatches and fail to gain an indigenous foothold. When churches are started from evangelism, they seem to instinctively know how to move forward, with great credibility, in a sea of networks and relationships.”

If you would like to see a movement in your city or revival in your church then take up the task of personal evangelism. Will you take a step to discipline yourself to evangelize?

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