Our church is seeking to grow in our understanding and effectiveness in evangelism so I am teaching an eight-week class on practical evangelism and discipleship. Among several other texts, I am using Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by J. Mack Stiles. I received the book from attending the Together for the Gospel conference this year. Each Monday, I will be posting a short summary of that week’s class. I hope it is helpful.
The first four weeks of the class are now behind us and we spent that time focusing on the theoretical concepts behind evangelism and discipleship. This week we began talking practically. Last week I challenged the class to take steps in the next week or two to share Christ, strike up an intentional conversation and/or just do something relating to evangelism and discipleship. I started the class by asking if anyone wanted to share any of their experiences from the week prior. I was delighted that there were a number of hands that went up. One woman shared how through giving jumper cables to someone who needed them in a parking lot, she shared with that person that Jesus loved them. Another young woman shared that she was able to have a long phone conversation with a friend in which she explained the gospel. Finally, an older gentleman shared how he had to spend a few days working with a young man and in that time shared the gospel with him. There were a few others that shared and I plan on spending part of the time for the remaining classes giving people the opportunity to share their experiences.
This week was a bit lighter on content in that I wanted to foster more discussion. We touched on four main points in relation to actually sharing our faith in an evangelistic/discipling situation:
Knowing the Message
It is essential to actually know the gospel message before engaging in evangelism and discipleship. This may seem obvious, but if one truly looks at evangelism actually requiring words to be spoken and not just actions or invitations to church, than knowing the message is essential. We have made the case already that evangelism requires words to be spoken. Stiles in his book gives some helpful tools in the appendix focused around a gospel presentation and some relevant verses from scripture, (pg 115-118). We reviewed the main buckets of verses which ultimately seek to answer the four questions that Stiles says any good gospel presentation should answer:
- Who is God?
- Why are we in such a mess?
- What did Christ do?
- How can we get back to God?
Stiles’ buckets of verses are framed around answering each of these questions. We talked about the importance of seeking to open the scriptures with people that we are discipling/sharing the gospel with.
Spurgeon famously said that we learn to pray by praying. Prayer in the realm of evangelism and discipleship is a certain type of prayer. We are all halfway decent at a rudimentary type of prayer where we ask for things for ourselves. Yet prayer that accompanies evangelism and discipleship is different from that. There are at least three types of prayers in relation to these two works of ministry:
- Prayer for the lost to be saved
- Prayer for the saved to grow in Christ
- Prayer for ourselves to have the words to say, to have opportunity, and to be obedient when the time comes
One of the gentlemen in the class mentioned his own experiences with prayer in terms of evangelism. He said that he has found it absolutely essential and should really be the first step before we ever speak. Every week we have started the class praying for those that we want to see come to know the Lord. I mentioned that it is no mere coincidence that we are naming the particular people in prayer. It is a sure sign that God is already pursuing and already working in their lives.
Looking for Opportunity
One of my mentors always says that God reserves the right to interrupt your life (I believe he is channeling Bonhoeffer in that statement). The same is true with opportunities for evangelism and discipleship. We do not always, in fact rarely, have the opportunity to schedule our times to share the gospel. These opportunities normally just spring up in the midst of everyday life and often in times that we feel are not so convenient. Nevertheless, we need to be ready for those opportunities by looking for them. One of my favorite and I feel, one of the most helpful passages in understanding watchfulness is in Matthew 26 when Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane with Peter, James and John. “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” (Matthew 26:41, ESV). It is significant that Jesus says to watch and pray and not just pray. At this point, the three disciples that are with him in the garden really don’t grasp what is going on with Jesus and that is why Jesus is telling them to watch. There is an aspect of paying attention, opening your eyes and being present in that command to watch. Though the passage is not about evangelism, I think that sense of watchfulness is essential when looking for opportunities.
Finally, at some point we need to say something! Stiles gives some practical insights on pg 104-105 like asking permission before you share the gospel with someone. This came up as something that many in the class have used before and felt that it was well received. We talked about how it is an incredibly personal conversation to begin talking about the gospel with someone, so in a sense you have to earn that permission to step into that zone with someone. Asking permission is good manners, but also a good way to build credibility. Another example that Stiles provides, on which we had a good amount of discussion, was staying away from simply giving moral correction and instead focusing on people’s separation from God due to sin. The first person I ever shared Christ with, I spent the next few weeks and months trying to be the Holy Spirit in his life. I was focusing on his behavior rather than focusing on him loving Christ. This is a pitfall that is easy to dive into as we share our faith, but not if we actually focus on the message of the gospel. Stiles says, “…ambassadors don’t have the freedom to change the message; their job is to deliver it accurately…We must deliver the message regardless of the discomfort produced, effort required, and shame endured,” (Stiles, pg. 101).
We will be talking about the different styles of personal evangelism, which tend to vary based on personality and gifting. We are also going to talk about where apologetics come into play in evangelism and discipleship.