By J. Mack Stiles
I don’t know a pastor or church leader who doesn’t desire for ordinary people in their congregations to be ignited with a passion to share their faith.
At the same time, I know many churches where it seems like igniting the faithful for evangelism has as much chance of success as setting fire to wet kindling in the pouring rain. What are pastors and church leaders to do?
Start where most don’t
Don’t start by teaching on evangelism, or pointing out the need for evangelism, or passing out books on evangelism (as much as I want pastors to do all three!). Those things are helpful, but the first order of business is to help your congregation love the gospel.
Sharing our faith must spring from our love of the gospel. And the only way to come to love the gospel is to understand the depth of our sin and the height of His mercy.
Looking at the awfulness of our sin may be a counterintuitive place to start developing a passion for evangelism. But when we understand the depth of our sin, deeply rooted in our sin nature, we come to love and understand the height of God’s mercy at the cross. And without this understanding, we’ll have no concern for those around us.
I remember leading a Bible study on Luke 7 about the woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears. When we came to verse 47, where Jesus says, “He who is forgiven little, loves little,” someone in the class said she identified with Simon the Pharisee. “I haven’t sinned much and God doesn’t have that much to forgive me for,” she said. “So, I have a hard time loving people.”
Somehow, she missed that Simon the Pharisee is as much a sinner as the woman who washed Jesus’ feet. She was also unaware of the depth of her own sin. Of course, I can understand where she was coming from.
She meant that she didn’t run guns in Afghanistan or sell drugs to children at the local elementary school. But, according to the Bible, her sin is such a huge problem she’s actually God’s enemy, a child of wrath, and, apart from His intervention in her life, she is worthy of eternal death in hell.
Only when the depth of our sin is taught and understood can we love God’s mercy. For only when we understand how far we’ve fallen can we understand how great a salvation has been bought for us. This realization motivates us to evangelize.
If people are unclear about the depth of their sin, they certainly aren’t going to believe others are hopelessly lost in sin. But if they believe Jesus has saved them from their own wretchedness and condemnation, they can believe He will save others, too.
It’s not only what gets us saved
A congregation must also understand the gospel message not only starts the Christian life but also is the very truth that helps us grow our faith. The gospel is a way of life and the center of all we do in living the Christian faith.
There have been times in my own life when I’ve operated as if the gospel was merely the message that got people into the kingdom. After that, the Christian who wanted to deepen his or her faith should spend time plumbing the Bible for wisdom on more practical things such as how to have a good Christian marriage or how to be healed from the scars of sin.
But there is nothing deeper than the gospel; it relates to all of life. Humbly acknowledging our sin, experiencing true repentance, and putting our trust in God leads to restored relationships, both with God and with others. The gospel is the way to a good marriage, to healing, and to life and godliness.
When we see how the gospel relates to our everyday Christian life—how we work, how we raise our children, how we relate to our spouses, and how we see our neighbors—it becomes a part of us and will flow out of us in conversations in a natural and winsome way.
Define your terms
Igniting evangelism in others requires pastors and church leaders to teach two primary things: what the whole gospel is and what true evangelism is. We need to make sure people are on the same page.
Here’s an important definition: the gospel is the message from God that leads us into salvation.
Since the gospel is a message, we need to understand the message. The message answers five big questions for anyone who would come into a personal relationship with the living God: Who is God? Who am I? Who is Christ? What did He do that has anything to do with me? How do I respond to Him?
Here’s a second important definition: evangelism is teaching the gospel message with the aim to persuade.
These are two critical building blocks for evangelism. If people don’t understand the message they are to share and how to share it, there won’t be much evangelism.
Putting it all together in a culture of evangelism
There’s one final piece that is critical for lighting a fire for evangelism, and that is creating a culture of evangelism.
This is where we are all provoking one another to share our faith. It’s not a group program so much as it is a shared mission. In a culture of evangelism, we look for ways to encourage one another to share our faith whenever we can.
So, encourage your congregation to pray for unsaved coworkers and family members. And ask them to talk about their attempts to share their faith.
It can be especially powerful to hear how the pastor or other church leaders are sharing their faith. Everyone is encouraged when they hear stories of people coming to faith through the evangelistic efforts of people in the church.
A culture of evangelism is the spark that lights the fires of evangelistic zeal. We need one another. We need a healthy church that loves the gospel and desires to share it with others.
Love the gospel and what it’s done in your life. Understand that it’s meant to become such a part of you that sharing your faith comes naturally when the right circumstances arise. And seek to develop a culture of evangelism, a church where evangelistic efforts are encouraged, supported, and celebrated.
MACK STILES (@MackStiles) is CEO of Gulf Digital Solutions and general secretary for the Fellowship of Christian UAE Students (FOCUS) in the United Arab Emirates and author of Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus.