It wasn’t too long ago when evangelism seemed like the end-all-be-all of the American church. Teaching and preaching were aimed at mobilizing God’s people for missional living. They were taught slick strategies for presenting the gospel on the fly and provided clever arguments for defending God’s work of creation, the resurrection of Jesus, and the inerrancy of the Bible.
While the zeal was laudable, it often left Christians feeling burnt-out, discouraged, and disillusioned. Those with particular gifts in evangelism or public speaking worked tirelessly at their craft while introverts had nightmares about the prospect of handing out tracts or cold-knocking on peoples’ doors. It became easy to say, “I’m not gifted in that way” and leave outreach to the “professionals.”
So are we all called to evangelize? Yes we are, but not in the way you think.
What is Evangelism?
Before we go any further, let’s talk about what evangelism is and isn’t. It is the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ with unbelievers. While good works should adorn the sharing of this good news, those good works are not a substitute for the good news. St. Francis of Assisi’s line, “Preach the gospel and if necessary, use words” doesn’t work here. Words are always necessary.
At the same time, evangelism isn’t a particular strategy for engaging the lost. We don’t all need to be street preachers, nor do we need to walk every friend down the “Romans Road.” By emphasizing particular types of evangelism over the years, we have catered to the gifts of a few and made it far more difficult for the majority of believers than it should be.
Every Member Contributes
Perhaps the best way to talk about our calling to evangelize would be to use the Bible’s image of the church as a body (1 Cor. 12). With Christ as our head, all Christians have unique and vital callings as parts of the body of Christ. We see this in a very practical way in our worship services, where we find preachers, teachers, ushers, greeters, and nursery workers. The more people who play a part, the better. In our weekly fellowship, from Bible studies to meal trains to prayer requests—we see the body at work as well.
For some reason, we often stop talking in this way about the body of Christ when we start talking about evangelism. Instead, we try to make everybody into one part of the body because we assume only that part is effective at sharing the good news of Jesus. What might it look like if we treated evangelism the same way we treat worship and fellowship?
For one, we would recognize that we all have a role to play. Every part is necessary to the body. We don’t make evangelism the exclusive province of ordained ministers or evangelism committees or highly skilled socialites. For evangelism to flourish, every member must contribute his or her respective gifts.
Secondly, we would recognize that we’re not all called to do the same thing. Not every Christian is a mouth or an ear. Someone might be skilled in hospitality or effective in discipling others. There might be shut-ins who can do nothing outside of the home but are powerful in prayer. You can occasionally see glimpses of what this might look like when an unbelieving neighbor is invited into a church small group where one family hosts, another cooks, another cleans, another looks after the children, while one or two members teach.
Yes, we are all called to evangelize, but not in the same way. Rather, each part of the body works to support the whole—all with the goal of glorifying God before the eyes of the watching world. This also presents a beautiful view of the church to unbelieving friends, as they get to see the blood-bought unity of God’s people on display, with every person and gift dignified along the way.