Let’s be honest, evangelism can be intimidating. For most, it can induce certain anxiety that can be crippling. It is easy to leave this high call that every believer has to a select few – elders, extroverts, or “experts.” Where does this intimidation come from when it comes to evangelism?
In some cases, personality is certainly at play. Not everyone has a “golden retriever” personality that jumps at the opportunity of engaging people, whether familiar or stranger. And it would be naïve to say we can eliminate all feelings of nervousness when it comes to this endeavor. Even the most personable and outgoing person feels a gut nervousness when engaging people with the gospel message.
But I think even more than natural bents and dispositions, more than a general nervousness – the fear biggest factor in evangelism comes primarily from misunderstandings of what evangelism is.
I have recently been working through a mid-week Bible study on biblical evangelism at the church I currently serve at. From the beginning, I wanted us to understand what evangelism was not in order for us to understand what it is, and how we can further cultivate personal evangelism. Consider this list of examples I used of what evangelism is not:
- Evangelism is not apologetics
- Evangelism is not conversion
- Evangelism is not a specific method
- Evangelism is not a program
- Evangelism is not a personality type
All of these misconceptions of evangelism only serve to further fuel the general nervousness we all have about engaging people with the gospel message. Not all of us are gifted apologists; none of us have the power to convert anyone, and not all of us have the same approach to people. And that is okay! Why? Because evangelism is much simpler. To borrow from Mack Stiles, evangelism is simply: “Teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.” Notice how that definition alleviates the pressure to be impressive at any of the above. If you are interested in unpacking that definition further, I encourage you to pick up a copy of this short, helpful book on evangelism.
But with that definition in mind, what are some practical ways we can all cultivate personal evangelism in our lives? Here are four.
1. Pray for Them
One of the most remarkable scenes in the book of Acts is in chapter four, just after Peter and John are released from prison. “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30) I find this passage both comforting and challenging.
Comforting, because there is a prayer for boldness that implies a dependency on God to keep them from giving into fear, anxiety, and nervousness that we all have to some degree. It is a comfort to know even the early church who witnessed signs, miracles, and wonders needed to pray for boldness. Challenging, because the church is not simply waiting for opportunities to walk through the door but is intentionally praying for evangelistic opportunities. On the top of the prayer list for this group of believers is gospel conversations and boldness to teach the gospel with the aim to persuade.
2. Be Willing to Take Them
“And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (Acts 16:9-10) We all know what it is like to pray for something audacious and faith-stretching and God actually answers. Although we prayed for it, we do not always expect it to happen. But when we pray for something that involves the gospel message coming to bear on the soul of an image-bearer, then we should expect that prayer to be answered with an urgency similar to that of Paul’s in these verses.
Notice the urgency Paul had in taking this gospel opportunity– the text says, “Immediately we sought to go into Macedonia.” In other words, Paul and his team didn’t drag their feet or avoid this present need. This was a “full-send” moment. Here we have a model for how we should approach gospel doors that open for us, especially when we prayed for them – we run through them!
While we may not experience a supernatural vision, we do have a great commission (Matthew 28:19-20). And those final words of Jesus then are for us today. Jesus’ last words are lasting words. It is one thing to pray for these opportunities and another thing to take them with immediacy when they come.
3. Embrace the Weird and Uncomfortable
Acts 16:16-24 narrate a scene for us where Paul and Silas are confronted with a girl who “has a spirit of divination” and brought her owners “much gain by fortune-telling.” (Acts 16:16). This girl followed Paul and Silas around, mocking and crying out against them. Talk about a seemingly weird individual and situation. Yet Paul turns around and engages her with the name of Jesus, demanding the spirit to come out of her. This of course lands both of them a beating and in prison with their feet fastened in stocks (Acts 16:22-24). Talk about uncomfortable. Paul could have easily steered clear of this situation and saved himself and Silas from the weird encounter and uncomfortable beating and imprisonment. But he didn’t. He counted the gospel message and this girl to whom he delivered it more worthy than his own comfort.
While some of us may not experience this level of spiritual warfare and physical harm in our endeavor to evangelize, it is no doubt that evangelism will often put us in weird and uncomfortable situations. We might be looked at or thought of as weird, or backward. And evangelism might land us in uncomfortable situations. Worse, we might be rejected and seen as threats to people’s way of life, especially if that way of life is supplying someone with much “gain”. But if we are going to cultivate personal evangelism in our lives and churches, we have to be willing to embrace the weird and uncomfortable.
4. Invite People into Your Home
The end of Acts gives us a glimpse into Paul’s two-year house arrest ministry in Rome. Awaiting trial, Paul is engaged in gospel labor. Luke concludes with this: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:30-31)
Paul’s confinement to his rental house did not become a hindrance to evangelism. Instead, it became the place for evangelism. Imagine instead of waiting for gospel doors to open, we opened the doors of our home and made these spaces fertile ground for gospel conversations. Inviting people to church can be good but inviting people into our homes is even better. Street evangelism and door-knocking can have their place, but living room evangelism and dinner table evangelism, and front-porch evangelism might breed evangelistic opportunities just as organic as the spaces they are taking place in.
Notice how these four suggestions do not require a large program, charismatic personalities, or methods to memorize. A simple yes and commitment to the mission of King Jesus where we are at is all it takes.
 Stiles, J. Mack. Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015) 26