Evangelism Without All the Pressure

Most of you know the feeling. It’s somewhere between a visit to the doctor’s office and auto repairs. I’m referring to the pressure most of us feel to evangelize others. We know the need is great and, of course, imperative in the Christian life, as Jesus commanded us in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20). Like that reminder in the mail that it’s time for our annual checkup, sermons, books, conferences, and—yes—even articles on evangelism remind us of this important task. We feel a great pressure to perform and yet powerless to make a difference.

There has to be a better way. Jesus has promised he has “all authority” (Matt. 28:18) so that we would have great confidence in evangelism. So why the pressure? Why do we often feel like evangelistic failures? The problem, I believe, is that we often forget God’s mode and method for evangelism.

God’s Mode

The first and decisive blow to the pressure we feel in evangelism is to recognize how God prefers to get things done. Rather than comb through spiritual resumes, and commend only the top candidates for evangelism, Paul lays out his other-worldly qualifications in 1 Corinthians 1:26–2:5: “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” Why is this? “So that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” Furthermore, the message is “not … lofty speech or wisdom” but “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

God’s desire to work this way removes the pressure for us to “make it happen” in evangelism. We don’t have to create the right moment to share, to rely on our ability to out-reason nonbelievers, or to keep up with trends and “be relevant.” Rather than our clever tactics or “the wisdom of men,” our neighbors’ faith rests “in the power of God.” (1 Cor. 2:5). Remembering God’s mode reminds us who is doing the heavy lifting in evangelism and leads to a humble—and especially prayerful—confidence.

God’s Method

If God’s mode for evangelism is to be strong where we are weak, and if the gospel “is the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16), then God’s method reflects such realities. As John Leonard explains, much of the hardship in evangelism is because we have often individualized the task—expecting Christians to do it on their own rather than primarily as part of their cooperative work within the church.[1] We imagine Jesus’ promise to make his disciples “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17; 4:19) in the modern sense of a single person with his rod, and his bait, preferably alone, fishing. The image we should have in mind, however, is the disciples using large nets requiring multiple people to work together.[2]

Evangelism was primarily communal in the Scriptures. In the midst of the Christian community, God works to evangelize our communities. This happens because we don’t wall ourselves off from our nonbelieving neighbors, but strive to make the distinction between the church and the communities we live in as porous as possible. We see this in Acts 2:42–47:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

As the apostles preached and taught, faith was created, because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The believers were breaking bread, likely referring to the Lord’s Supper, which not only builds up believers as they partake, but also serves to witness to nonbelievers, just as Paul states in 1 Cor. 11:26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Such preaching and communion then flowed into the various homes and communities of these Christians, as they were “breaking bread in their homes” and caring for each other—especially to “any as had need.”

The key to this communal form of evangelism is to make welcoming nonbelievers a key fabric of our lives and churches. This means churches may have to cut a few programs to give space to their people to spend more time with their neighbors. We might have to miss community group because we’re spending time with someone from our community. As we do this, we remember God’s mode—we do not hide our weaknesses, struggles, sins, or doubts but rely on God’s mercy as we are honest about them. Such vulnerability demonstrates that our churches are places where sinners just like us find real grace.

We have underestimated how far it goes to invite a coworker, friend, or relative to dinner and, eventually, to church. When we welcome them in, they experience God’s grace. John Leonard says, “When you use your gifts to grace nonbelievers—when you pour out God’s grace upon them—we call that evangelism.”[3]

This approach takes the pressure off, because it’s for everyone. It commends a prayerful reliance on the Holy Spirit to be our strength. Yet it also challenges us to allow the Lord to make our lives, our homes, and our churches places of grace. Even for those who couldn’t tell you what “grace” is—they will know it when they feel it.

[1] John Leonard, Get Real: Sharing Your Everyday Faith Every Day (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2013), 58-63.

[2] Leonard, Get Real, 59.

[3] Leonard, Get Real, 60.

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Nick Davis

Nick Davis is an ordination candidate in the Anglican Diocese of the Rocky Mountains. He earned his B.S. in Family Studies and Human Development from The University of Arizona and his Master of Divinity from Westminster Seminary California. He lives in Phoenix, AZ with his wife Janet and their baby boy Dallas.

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