On many weekends, I have the privilege and blessing of being in a local church delivering TMS Global’s Activate Conference. These churches have invited me to either help ignite a passion for missions among the membership or to assist in taking their existing missions program to a higher level.
In the context of these weekends, the issue of evangelism has been increasingly raised. Most often, the comments go something like this, “I know we are supposed to be engaged in missions, but this evangelism thing makes me feel so inadequate.” One church called before a weekend event and said, “The people here are asking if this Activate Conference is for missions or evangelism. What should I tell them?” Upon further questioning, I discovered that if it were a missions event, people would come; if evangelism, they would not. The truth is evangelism (witnessing, faith sharing, etc.) scares the socks off many Christians.
I think there are several reasons for that. When it comes to evangelism, Christians generally think:
1. Closure – not process
While we want to see all people come to the place where they invite Christ into their lives, the truth is that rarely does one do that after having only one encounter with the Gospel. For most, it is a series of “God encounters” that lead to a decision point. Sometimes we may be the first to introduce the reality of the risen Lord to someone. Other times we may be one of many along the continuum. Every once in a while, God may have us present at the time a person is ready for a decision, and we may get to pray with them as they accept Christ. However, no one encounter is more important than the other. All contribute to the end result. Jesus simply calls us to be His witnesses.
2. Knowledge – not experience
Many Christians think they have to have extraordinary knowledge of the Bible so they can recall specific verses as they share their faith. Others feel as if they have to know some formula or have a specific tool such as the Four Spiritual Laws or Evangelism Explosion to be an effective witness. While these certainly can be used, in truth, if you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you have the most powerful tool available. You have your story, and nobody knows and can tell your story like you. At the very heart of witnessing is relationship building. When you combine relationship with a non-believer and your personal experiences with Jesus Christ, you are witnessing. You are engaged in, dare I say it, evangelism.
3. Special – not ordinary
Sometimes Christians are reluctant to talk about their experience because their story lacks the spectacular. We marvel at those Damascus Road stories where people were saved from a life of debauchery or from pending doom. The fact is that God is at work in the ordinary, the routine, and the everyday things in life. If we would be more observant, we would see His presence at work, and that would form a basis for relating the love of Christ to a variety of people in a variety of situations.
Let’s go back to the question mentioned earlier, “The people here are asking if this Activate Conference event is for missions or evangelism. What should I tell them?” The answer is, both. TMS Global practices and promotes holistic ministry. That is, we minister to the whole person, and we would never think of separating compassion ministries from evangelism. We are fond of saying that through compassion and mercy ministries we build bridges to people. However, once the bridge is built, we always want to carry the Gospel over it.
I like the way Larry Williams, an Agrimissions specialist, puts it. He says, “First the bread, then the Bread of Life.” We are the Church. As such, we have been called to be His witnesses in our community, our nation, and our world (Acts 1:8). To attempt to do missions without the Gospel element is to reduce the Church to a service club. That is not something to which God has called us.
Note: This article first appeared in the Spring 2008 edition of Unfinished magazine. It appears here in an updated form.