All of us know someone who is in need of the Savior, whether a loved one, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance. Having experienced the wonderful Gospel of Christ, we realize the blessings they are missing and carry a burden for their souls. It is our desire to see unbelievers saved, and we pray for them. However, when it comes to evangelism, we may find it difficult to know where to begin or how to make our efforts effective.
By looking into five aspects of evangelism, using God’s Word as our guide, we can better equip ourselves to share the Gospel with those around us. These aspects could be called “The Five W’s of Evangelism” as they are what, why, who, where, and when.
WHAT is evangelism?
The word “evangelism” does not appear in the English Bible. However, it is rooted in three Greek words used in the New Testament: euaggelion, euaggelistes, and euaggelizo. The first of these words has a meaning of “gospel or good news,” the second refers to “an evangelist or one who proclaims the gospel,” and the third is “the act of proclaiming the gospel or bringing good news.” When combined, these meanings give an understanding of the English word “evangelism.” It is the act of communicating the Gospel message to others.
As we endeavor to evangelize, we trust and pray that God in His sovereignty will supernaturally use our human and natural means to bring about His divine purposes.
Necessarily, evangelism involves using our imperfect ways of communicating. Each of us delivers the message through testimonies, illustrations, metaphors, and stories filtered through our own context of experience, personality, culture, and location. However, though we have a part in spreading the Gospel message, evangelism does not rest solely upon our efforts. It relies on the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told His followers, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). As we endeavor to evangelize, we trust and pray that God in His sovereignty will supernaturally use our human and natural means to bring about His divine purposes.
For a better understanding of our role, we can look closer at the three Greek words that constitute evangelism.
Euaggelion: the message. The focal point of the evangelism message is the good news that Jesus Christ saves from sin, and the message is anchored by His life and teachings. Just prior to Jesus’ birth, an angel instructed His earthly father, “. . . thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
This is not our message, but a message from Heaven. At Jesus’ birth, a heralding angel visited shepherds in a field and proclaimed, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). Though this news of a Savior was declared in Bethlehem, the angel specified that it was “to all people.” The message of salvation is for the Africans, the Asians, the Europeans . . . all people, and it is the greatest news we will ever share with another!
When we hear of something good, it is difficult to keep the news of it to ourselves, even when that news is nothing more significant than a bargain at a clearance sale. I like to tell others when I find a good restaurant. One time, I discovered an exceptional buffet restaurant in Spokane, Washington. It is owned by Christians and features a large variety of good foods. Soon after returning home, I told the saints at church, “The food is great, and you can listen to Christian music while you eat.” Upon my recommendation, many in our congregation have eaten there.
Some news is so important that no one would ever think of withholding it. What if you discovered a cure for cancer? Would you keep that information to yourself? No, you would tell the whole world, “I have the cure!” The Gospel message is so much more important than that. God has given us the secret to curing the worst disease in the world, which is sin. We should want to tell everyone, “We have the cure!”
Euaggelistes: the messenger. Before we can tell others how good the Gospel is, we must experience it for ourselves. Upon receiving salvation, we become equipped to share the basics of the message with others. Then as we continue in our walk with the Lord, deepening our relationship with Him and studying His Word, we gain further knowledge and experience, enabling us to share more.
Another condition for telling others about the Gospel is that we must be living according to God’s Word. The people we speak to observe how we live, and this is our greatest testimony. Paul told the converts at Corinth, “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men” (2 Corinthians 3:2). Therefore, it is important that we continually examine our own hearts to be sure we remain fully surrendered to God’s will.
There are a number of other conditions that contribute to the success of evangelism, and we should cultivate these in our lives. Here are some listed in the Apostolic Faith Minister’s Manual:
- Understand the lost condition of humanity. Those who are most successful in helping people see their need of salvation are those who deeply realize that individuals without God are eternally lost. Paul related that for three years, he “ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31). We need to pray for a profound spiritual understanding of the lost condition of mankind.
- Have a genuine love for people. Nothing is a more compelling influence than a real love for others. And people will never believe we love them unless we truly do! A love for people’s souls is a gift of the Spirit of God and is the first fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22.
- Have perseverance and patience. Sometimes the salvation of a soul requires prevailing day after day, week after week, and even month after month. We must not consider anyone beyond the Lord’s reach and give up on them.
- Know the Bible. It is the Word that produces conviction for sin, so knowledge of the Word of God is a necessity.
- Pray. If we want to be used of God in winning souls, we will need to spend time in prayer, asking God to bring us to the right people, give us the right message, anoint us with His power, and make our efforts for Him fruitful.
- Labor in the power of the Holy Ghost. The definite empowerment by the Holy Ghost was a necessity for power in the Early Church, and it is still a necessity today.
If we will focus on preparing our hearts and listening for the Spirit’s direction, we need not concern ourselves with the immediate results. As we do our part, God will do His part. Paul said, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Euaggelizo: the delivery. Whether we are preaching, testifying in church, or witnessing to someone personally, our goal should always be to point to Jesus. For example, our testimonies of salvation should not dwell on how sinful we were in the past, but on what Jesus did to deliver us from sin. Also, when telling about times that God has healed, provided, or protected us, our focus should be on His goodness more than on what we did to receive an answer to prayer. God is good, and that is what we want others to hear. If we share the Gospel and people walk away saying, “Oh, what a teacher,” we have lifted up ourselves instead of Jesus. There is power in this Gospel, and we want everyone to walk away exclaiming, “Oh, what a Gospel!”
John the Baptist was a great evangelist and his approach was to point people to Christ. When his disciples were unsure of where their loyalties should lie, he said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Likewise, if we want people to see Jesus, we must drop any desire for worldly accolades and attempt to emulate this attitude.
It is necessary to evangelize, and the reason is brought out in Romans 10:14. It says, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” People cannot choose to believe in Christ if they have not heard of Him.
It is our responsibility to introduce Christ to those around us, first because He commanded us to, but also because we know how precious each soul is.
The Lord commanded it. The Early Church saints were first called Christians at Antioch because they obeyed the commandments of Christ and were thereby associated with Him. As Christians, we have submitted our lives to the Lord, and we too obey His commands.
Jesus appeared to His disciples and gave them one final mandate, which became known as the Great Commission. He told them, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Of all the thoughts Jesus could have left His followers with, He chose this one.
Shortly before His ascension into Heaven, Jesus appeared to His disciples and gave them one final mandate, which became known as the Great Commission. He told them, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Of all the thoughts Jesus could have left His followers with, He chose this one. He did not remind them to feed the poor, heal the sick, or continue to do miracles. Therefore, we do not want to take this charge lightly.
The concept of the Great Commission was not new to the disciples. From the time Jesus first called them, He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Throughout His ministry, He continued to prepare them for the task ahead. He helped them to understand that God’s people would participate in the divine activity of carrying His truth to lost humanity.
The mandate that was given to the disciples is our mandate as well. The human race is lost, and people need to hear that Jesus can rescue them. It is our responsibility to share this Good News.
Every soul has value. God specifically created each of us and knows us so intimately that even the hairs on our heads are numbered. He gave us undying souls, and after this life on earth, we will live on for eternity either in Heaven or Hell. As each of us is God’s unique creation, He places tremendous value on our souls. He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
God so loves us that He sent His Son to die for us while we were yet sinners. We read in 1 Peter 1:18-19 that we “were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” Jesus paid for our redemption with His own Blood! That is how valuable we are to Him.
As recipients of God’s love, we are compelled to act compassionately toward others also in need of redemption. When we see people at work or school who are headed for everlasting punishment, our hearts should burn with a desire to tell them about Jesus.
WHO do we evangelize?
In a broad sense, evangelism refers to the Christian’s effort to proclaim the Gospel message to any audience, whether believers or nonbelievers. When speaking to other believers, telling what God has done in our lives can encourage them to press forward in the faith.
In a narrower sense, evangelism is for the lost—those who have never known the Lord or who are backslidden. These people generally fall into one of four categories: some are completely ignorant of their need for salvation, some are religious but have an erroneous view of salvation, others realize their need of a Savior and want to be saved, and still others have little or no concern for their souls.
Looking again to our Minister’s Manual, we find some guidelines for how best to approach the people in each category:
- Those who are ignorant of their need. We must be prepared to begin with the basics. They will need to understand that they are special creations of God and loved by Him. Sin has separated them and the rest of humanity from God, but He has bridged this separation through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, providing forgiveness of sins for all who will receive it.
- Those who are religious. We will need to point them to the possibility of living a life of victory over sin through a definite experience of salvation. At times this can be done by inquiring whether they know that their sins have been forgiven and they are ready for eternity.
- Those who want to be saved. There are wonderful promises in the Word of God that can encourage people who are in this category. We should be prepared to point them to verses such as “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
- Those who have little or no concern. When dealing with people in this group, our goal must be to bring about that concern. At times, a verse such as Romans 14:12, “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” may help them see their need.
In dealing with a person’s need for salvation, we are addressing a life and death matter. We must approach such discussions with solemnity and earnestness, and in the power of the Holy Ghost. As we do so, God will give us insight and grace.
WHERE do we evangelize?
Jesus told His followers, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The first place He mentioned was Jerusalem, because that is where they were located. Evangelism begins right where we are!
For an example, we can look to a woman in our congregation who was hired years ago as a secretary. One day, her boss gave instructions that if a call should come in from someone he did not want to speak with, she should say he was out. She refused, telling him, “I can’t do that. It would be a lie to say you are not here.” She did not know it at the time, but this brought heavy conviction to her employer’s heart. Eventually, he accepted her invitation to an Apostolic Faith church service, and there he prayed and was saved. Now this man leads our work in Yakima, Washington. That sister was faithful, and God used her right where she was.
As we reach out to those in our locations, we must also be receptive to God’s call and be willing to go where the Spirit leads. After I completed my PhD in Langley, British Columbia, I applied for thirty or forty jobs in the area. I felt it was my duty to stay in Langley and support my pastor and the Gospel work there. However, God had other plans. I was turned down for every job, including stocking shelves. I asked God, “What would You have me to do?” He led me to apply for a couple of jobs in the United States, and I was hired at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.
We must be willing to start where we are and then go where He leads.
My wife and I moved our family to Pullman, and on Sundays, we began attending the nearest Apostolic Faith Church, which was two hundred miles away in Yakima. After a time, another family moved to our area and began making a similarly long drive to church. Eventually, with the blessing of our pastor, our families stayed home every other Sunday and watched the Portland service online. We invited others to join us, and on the weekends that we went to Yakima, some of them came with us. One day it was suggested that we hold a church service in Pullman to see what would happen. People came and about six months later, we held another service. Little by little the numbers grew, and now we have a congregation. Though none of us involved could have foreseen it, God had a plan to reach people in Pullman. We must be willing to start where we are and then go where He leads.
WHEN do we evangelize?
We also need to be ready to evangelize whenever the opportunity arises. Peter admonished believers, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). Every day as we go about our regular routines, we encounter people who need the Lord; whether a co-worker, neighbor, or grocer. The difficulty is not in finding someone to speak to about the Gospel but in knowing how to begin. By preparing a few ideas for starting a conversation, we can be ready to share the Gospel message at all times.
One possibility is to look for a commonality with the other person, even if it is nothing more than your surroundings. Jesus did that when a Samaritan woman came to Jacob’s well to draw water. They had the well in common, so He initiated the conversation with, “Give me to drink.” This led to a discussion about living water, which resulted in the woman telling others, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” (John 4:7, 29).
Something else we can do is to be aware of the people around us, taking time to listen to them, and asking good questions. Phillip observed the Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah and asked, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” (Acts 8:30). That was a good question, because it had the potential to lead to a discussion.
Some environments, such as work or school, preclude people from speaking about their faith. However, there is nothing to stop us from living a Christian life before our associates, and this can often lead to a conversation. One time at a faculty event, I was in the buffet line. My dean was behind me and asked, “Aren’t you going to take any wine?” I told him, “Sir, I have never taken wine in my life. I would love to have water.” He asked someone to bring water for both of us, and since that day bottled water has been served at all of our college events. More importantly, though, simply following God’s principals started a dialogue with this man. Over the years, he has come to ask different questions about my faith. With a little preparation, we will be able to evangelize whenever the opportunity arises.
The greatest news ever told is that Jesus Christ saves from sin! God has called us to be part of His plan for sharing this news with the world. As Paul said, “We are labourers together with God” (1 Corinthians 3:9). We can help bring hope to the lost. What an exciting opportunity!