“The challenge today for the church to evangelize the world is indeed awesome. But it is no greater a challenge than Jesus gave to the first century disciples. Of a certainty, the world population today is many times that of the first century. But we possess means of communication and transportation which enable us to do more work in less time. Also of a certainty, many people in the world today are not receptive to the gospel. So was the case in the first century (Acts 13-14). The great challenge today is this: will each one of us personally be the Lord’s faithful servant?” (“The Challenge of Personal Evangelism”, Grimes, The Church – Challenged by Current Issues, ed. Jackson, p. 269). What we have going for us is great:
· We have the truth, never forget that. What the world offers in place of true religion is a mockery. It is slavery to sin (2 Timothy 2:26). We have the Bible, the Word of God, and that will never let us down.
· We have God on our side. “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31)
· We have each other.
· We need to remember that when a person refuses to listen to the Gospel, he is rejecting God not us. It is not our fault if we have done what we can in offering the message.
· There are many people who actually want the Gospel. We must never let those who reject God get us down.
· The job is really not that difficult. We are not expected to know everything, all the time, but to do our best. God asks only that from us.
Some see the process and activity of personal evangelism as the job of the preacher, elders, or especially “gifted” members of the church. This is probably the most dangerous misconception there is about personal work – we must never feel like the only person who is needed to save souls is the one doing the teaching, or the one who is paid to do it.
It Takes A Church
There is an old adage about raising children that says it takes a village to be successful. The same can be said of personal evangelism – it takes a church! We all have a part to play in the activity of personal evangelism. “When I speak of ‘saving a soul’, I am referring to a process that begins with the initial contact with an unbeliever, and does not stop until years after the baptism into Christ. Many Christians only see the baptism. They are unaware of the time and effort spent patiently instructing, discussing, encouraging, and persuading. Further, Christians who are not involved in this process do not realize how difficult it is for a new convert to exchange their old carnal friends for new spiritual relationships. Most have forgotten the tough changes that must be made and the help needed for a new Christian to go from sin to righteousness” (Focus Magazine, Kercheville, November 2000, p. 12). When we being to take a deeper look at “saving souls” we realize how important every one of us is. Not all should be teachers (James 3:1), so let us never think that that is all there is to it:
· Saving people takes the cooperation of the entire church (1 Thessalonians 5:14, Acts 2:43-47, Hebrews 3:13).
· Not only does a successful conversion require a teacher, but it also needs a social network of warm, kind church members to make the new person feel at home. Too many new converts feel isolated because they are not a part of a preexisting social structure.
· We need hosts for Bible studies. You may not teach a class, but you can certainly open up your home to a neighbor and have somebody else teach the class.
· There is a need for class assistants – people who can go to a class just for support, or as a witness when a woman wants a study with the preacher.
· If you have the ability to teach, then why are you not doing that? Can a church really grow from the work of only the preacher? The problem with relying solely on the evangelist for personal evangelism is that he does not have the social opportunities that other church members do. He may never meet your neighbor or your coworkers, so who will evangelize them?
· Even Paul did not do the all of the personal evangelism. In fact, most of his work was strengthening churches that were already doing their own personal work without him (1 Corinthians 1:14-17, Acts 14:22, 16:5).
· The reason why many churches do not grow is because members are not getting on board with personal evangelism.
Every Joint Supplies Something
“From whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16). Notice that every joint has something to offer – when it is working “properly”. When church members are using their God-given talents, then everybody stays busy and the congregation operates like a well-oiled machine. When members are not doing any work at all, or are not working properly, then the church becomes like an athlete with tendonitis. A church is hobbled when its joints do not work they ought to. So the tough question you have to ask yourself is: “Am I a member that is slowing the group down, or helping it along?” In the ideal congregation, nobody is idle:
· If you are able to teach, then do it.
· If you are weakened by trials and temptations, then pray about it.
· If you are having trouble with attendance, then come no matter what.
· If you are not spiritually mature, then grow.
· If you are growing, then grow some more.
· If you are not evangelizing, then get up and do it.
· Everybody needs to be doing something, and if you find yourself idle in the work of the church, you may find yourself left behind when the congregation moves on and does great things in spite of you.
What can I do?
To help the church grow, we need to stop and consider all of the things we can do. We are not worthless unless we make ourselves that way. Every person has the potential to do something, as is made clear by the story of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Even the man with one talent had one talent! So when we each consider what we can do, we need to remember to try things. You never know if you will be good at something until then – and you will never know how easy personal evangelism is until you just start doing it.
I can love the lost…
It is very clear to most people whether or not a church is a loving one. If we do not have a genuine concern for a soul’s welfare, then he will see right through us and reject the Gospel. Are just putting in our time when we evangelize the lost? Are we just trying to get “the preacher” off our backs? If we truly love lost people, then why do so few of us ever do anything about? Truly loving somebody involves telling them what they need to hear, regardless of the response (Acts 24:24-27). We also need to remember that it involves preaching the Gospel to people we may not like at all. Recall how awful Saul was to the Christians when we first meet him in Acts 7:58, 8:1, and 9:1. Even he was given the Gospel by Jesus Christ, who was obviously hurt by Saul’s hatred and sin (Acts 9:4). But how do we love people we do not even like? And, more importantly, why should we want unlikable people at church at all?
· Do not forget that Christianity is for everybody, regardless of a person’s sinful background (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Acts 17:30).
· It is not up to you to decide how a person will act after being converted. We sometimes dismiss somebody because of their past misdeeds without realizing it is the worst of sinners who often come to God with the deepest humility (1 Timothy 1:15-16). We should give everybody a chance, and stop being a respecter of people.
· Just because you do not “like” somebody, does not mean God does not love him.
· Try to keep in mind that even the worst sinners of this world were once innocent little children. It should be our goal to get that person back on track and help them return to the innocence they once knew.
· When faced with unlikable people and conversion, also bear in mind that you may have been pretty unfriendly, obnoxious, or uncouth before you were a Christian – yet there were people who loved you enough to help you realize your spiritual potential!
I can be patient…
People will not be converted right away, nor will they be changed by one or two Bible classes, a sermon here and there, and a single invitation to lunch on Sunday. It may take decades for people to change and get better. After all, if a person lived so long in sin, should we be so unreasonable to expect them to completely change right away? The work of personal evangelism must be seen as drawn-out and long-term. It cannot be done a little bit every now and then, but must be a daily part of our lives. “So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present” (Acts 17:17). Just because we do not convert somebody right away, or change a new converts bad habits in the first few weeks, does not mean we have failed. We just need to keep plugging away at it. Notice also the way Paul handles his studies with Felix in Acts 24:27. He studied with him for two straight years, yet was never discouraged enough to stop trying – and it was not even Paul who walked away from the situation!
I can have a positive attitude about the success of the Gospel…
“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Many people give up on personal evangelism because they do not think it works. They have become bitter from failure after failure. While it is true that rejection can hurt, we need to pick ourselves up after getting bucked off and just try again. Instead of always anticipating a “no” from everybody we try to convert, we need to approach the situation from a more positive perspective.
· Believe wholeheartedly that the Gospel has the power to change people.
· Believe that the Bible has enough evidence on its own to convict sinners.
· Believe that God has the ability to see into the heart.
· Believe that the church will grow if you work hard and depend on God.
· Believe that people want the Gospel, but might not know it yet.
· Believe that the very next person you talk to about the Gospel will respond positively.
· Believe that you are not a failure, but an honest, bold ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).