What is Evangelism?
To the regular person, it sounds like a complicated term that borders on being weird. But evangelism is nothing more than sharing the gospel, the good news, with someone who doesn’t know it or believe it. You may know this process as witnessing or sharing your faith, which are often substituted for this somewhat clunky greek-inspired word, but the meaning should remain the same. But no matter how much we talk about this sharing of the gospel, few Christians seem to actually do it. Something that may help people to consider sharing the gospel is to clarify what evangelism is not.
Evangelism is Not
- An imposition
- A personal testimony
- Social action or political involvement
- The results of evangelism
Mark Dever, Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and Executive Director of 9Marks Ministries, tells us in his book, “9 Marks of a Healthy Church”, that evangelism is for everyone, not just the professionals and helps to clarify what evangelism is and is not.
First, Dever says that evangelism is not an imposition, although the way it is often presented can confuse that theory. You must understand two things: 1) that what you believe as a Christian is made up of fact, not mere beliefs or opinions, and 2) that these facts are not personal only to you, but pertain to the Christian Gospel. According to scripture, when we evangelize we are simply telling the Good News that Jesus died for our sins.
Second, evangelism is not giving your personal testimony to someone. This is not to say that a testimony of God’s work in your life cannot be included in a presentation of the gospel, but that a clear presentation of the gospel is not personal, but factual in nature, and comes from the Bible.
Third, evangelism isn’t social action or political involvement, although it is commonly confused with both. In my own research, the famous Francis of Assisi often has his quote taken out of context when he said, “preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” But this is not an adequate replica of how the gospel is presented in scripture, so it isn’t good enough here either. We can and should be against evil in this world, and involvement in ending atrocities such as sex trafficking or poverty are noble and worthwhile, but should not be confused with evangelism. Dever notes that, “Societies are challenged and changed when, through the Gospel, the Lord brings individual men and women together in churches, to display His character in the interactions of those whom He has saved” (134). Social action or political involvement, aside from the preaching of the gospel, should not be confused with evangelism.
Fourth, evangelism is not apologetics, although again, they are often linked together. Apologetics refers to the process of question and answer regarding objections to the Christian faith. Instead of defending the faith, which apologetics very nobly aims to do, evangelism is “the positive act of telling the Good News about Jesus Christ and the way of salvation through him” (134).
Finally, the process or act of evangelism should not be confused with the results of evangelism. Presenting the facts of the gospel to those around you does not mean that you carry the burden of whether or not they are “converted” to faith in Jesus. Dever notes that the Bible defines evangelism as faithfully delivering the message, and nothing more. Whether or not you are “good” at delivering the gospel message should not deter you from doing so, because its not up to you whether that person responds to the truth that you are presenting. I like the quote that Dever uses from John Cheesman that says,
“Evangelism is not a making of proselytes; it is not persuading people to make a decision; it is not proving that God exists, or making a good case for the truth of Christianity; it is not inviting someone to a meeting; it is not exposing the contemporary dilemma, or arousing interest in Christianity; it is not wearing a badge saying ‘Jesus saves’! Some of these things are right and good in their place, but none of them should be confused with evangelism. To evangelize is to declare on the authority of God what he has done to save sinners, to warn men of their lost condition, to direct them to repent, and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
So Why Should We Evangelize?
The three simple reasons Dever gives for why we should evangelize are because of 1) A desire to be faithful to the Great Commission, given by Jesus in Matthew 28, 2) A love for lost people, and 3) A love for God. It doesn’t really get any simpler than that. Now let’s get out there and share the good news!
To read more about this and other marks of a healthy church, pick up a copy of Mark’s book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.