Evangelism has an image problem. Many believers envision evangelism in negative ways. According to a recent Barna study, Reviving Evangelism, almost half of millennial Christians believe sharing the gospel and asking someone to change their religious beliefs is wrong. About one-fifth of boomers agree with this conclusion, with each intervening generation stair-stepped in the percentage which agrees with this position. Clearly, Christians are becoming more and more reticent about evangelism. This same study reports a strong majority of believers, in all generations, claim evangelism is important. They just don’t want to do it. Their view of what it means to be an evangelist overcomes their spiritual urging to share the gospel.
How can we change the image of evangelism? Not by marketing a better method or creating a more sophisticated approach to gospel conversations! The better way to change our image of evangelism is to reconsider biblical descriptions of sharing the gospel, influencing others to become Christians, and nurturing belief in new believers. Here are some examples.
Sharing the gospel is likened to being a fisherman (Lk. 5:10) or a farmer (Mk. 4:1-20). Telling people about Jesus is described as being a witness (Acts 1:8) or an ambassador (1 Cor. 5:19-20). The urgency of communicating the gospel is likened to searching for a lost coin (Lk. 15:8-10) or a lost sheep (Lk. 15:1-7). It is also illustrated by a banquet master inviting droves of people to share a feast (Lk. 14:21-23). Nurturing people in their newfound faith is compared to being a parent (1 Cor. 4:15).
Fishermen, farmers, witnesses, ambassadors, searchers, hosts, and parents—that’s a composite of the biblical image of evangelism. As you consider this list, what’s missing? Presidents, professors, apologists, attorneys, debaters, and social media provocateurs don’t make the list. Yet, too many Christians today think those are the primary roles needed to convince unbelievers to consider, receive, and grow in the gospel.
The biblical images of evangelism are drawn from the rank-and-file of life. They emphasize hard work and relational connectivity. These images focus on continuing activity and persistent service, not programs or projects. They are also all positive images—both in their day and ours—which is astounding when you consider how quickly perspectives on roles and responsibilities evolve over time.
So, how can you change your view (and the views of your followers) on evangelism? Start by studying biblical texts which use these timeless images. Ask God to change your view of what it means to share your faith. Then, if you have the platform, consider teaching a series of lessons, preaching a series of sermons, or writing a series of blogs on these biblical images. Help your followers understand evangelism is best imagined in a biblical context, not the warped view propagated by an unbelieving culture and deferentially adopted by confused believers.
Evangelism is our privilege and responsibility. When our evangelistic practices reflect a biblical perspective, we will do this important work without debilitating doubts about evangelism inculcated by our critics. We can share our faith with boldness, confidence, and humility.
In this episode of Faculty Dialogues, Dr. David Rathel and Dr. Paul Wegner held a live discussion on their views on dispensationalism.