In my experience as a pastor, I have found Christians to be afraid of evangelism. Every Apostolic Pentecostal Christian is well familiar with Jesus’ closing statement in Matthew:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
They understand the imperative to make disciples, but they are afraid of failure. In fact, the imperative compounds the fear. They are afraid of not obeying, yet they are afraid of failure.
I would submit that earnest Christians should be afraid of evangelism–at least the way we have defined it. In my experience, evangelism is the shorthand for getting people to repent, be baptized in Jesus’ name, and receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit. If we are commanded to accomplish these things, we are right to be afraid because we cannot control any of them. Repentance is completely in the hands of the person; in fact, we are unable to see the heart to even ascertain whether they are being genuine with God. While the baptizer participates in the act of baptism, baptism is only effective if the person has genuinely repented (see Acts 2:38–“Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins….” Repentance and baptism together accomplish the forgiveness of sins). Again, we are not in control. And, finally, the scriptures are clear that God is the only one able to pour out his spirit. We cannot give nor take away the Holy Spirit for it is God giving himself to the person. So, if we are unable to control any of these elements, and yet are commanded to accomplish them, it seems reasonable to fear failure.
Is it possible that we have incorrectly defined evangelism? The word evangelism is defined by Merriam Webster as “the winning or revival of personal commitments to Christ” and/or “militant or crusading zeal.” The first known use of the word in English was in 1626. The word actually comes from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (transliterated euangelion) via the Latinised version Evangelium, the title for each of the four gospels written to tell the story of Jesus. The Greek word’s original meaning comes from two words: εὐ: good and ἀγγέλλω: to bring a message, usually good (this word also shares the same root as the word for angel defined as a messenger). So, from this brief etymological survey, evangelism should be defined as the act of bringing or sharing good news. In the specific context of Christianity, it is the act of sharing the good news embodied in the story of Jesus. This, in my opinion, correct definition of evangelism does much to remove the fear factor. But I think there is one more element that can completely eradicate the fear factor.
The writer of the Acts of the Apostles recounts how confused the disciples were about what exactly Jesus was doing with his life. They were focused upon him establishing an earthly kingdom for his chosen people, the children of Israel. When asked about the restoring of the kingdom to Israel, Jesus response was not what they expected:
“You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)
The promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit was going to result in an ability that the disciples did not currently have–the power to be Jesus’ witness. This word comes from the Greek word μάρτυς which means witness and in times of persecution martyr (one who dies for their witness). It should not escape our notice the legal context of the word witness. A witness is not the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, the advocate, the plaintiff, or the defendant. A witness is an accessory. They serve someone else. They do not control the outcome, they simply tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Jesus informed the disciples that when they received his spirit, they would be empowered to be his witnesses. He would use them in accomplishing his promise, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). In fact, only God can draw people to himself (see John 6:44–“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…”). Our job as Christians, followers of Christ, is not to save people. We are not the Savior. It is not even our job to draw them to Christ, for no one can come to Jesus unless God draws him. Instead we are accessories in God’s advocacy for the salvation of humanity. Our only responsibility is to join with Jesus’ witnesses that have gone before us. We join with them in affirming that “it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
There is no fear factor in evangelism when we realize that God is the savior and we are simply his witnesses. He does the drawing and we simply tell the truth. Evangelism is our availability to show up in the court of life and bear witness to the good news of Jesus. We only testify when he has drawn a soul to him. We do not need to prosecute them, defend them, or persuade them. Just tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We simply join with the writer of 1 John when he states:
“This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life-and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ). Thus we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:1-4)
Evangelism is a joy. It is also very simple. It will most likely come with rejection and persecution. But there should be no fear factor. We simply have to tell the truth. Jesus described evangelism to his first disciples:
“I am sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of people, because they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues. And you will be brought before governors and kings because of me, as a witness to them and the Gentiles. Whenever they hand you over for trial, do not worry about how to speak or what to say, for what you should say will be given to you at that time. For it is not you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:16-20)
When we are available for evangelism the way that Jesus defines it, we are simply allowing God to speak through us. Not only does that remove the fear factor from evangelism, it also puts us in our proper place. We are not the savior. We are only his witnesses. The only way that we can fail is if we refuse to tell the truth. Tell the people what you have heard, what you have seen, what you have touched. Speak the words he gives you. You cannot fail. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto Jesus. It is that power that will draw people to him through you and by telling them his words, you will make disciples.
Fear Factor Be Gone!
For a spoken version of this presented at the January 6, 2012 Evangelism Meeting at Newark United Pentecostal Church, click here.