Evangelism is a spiritual discipline believers must practice and plan for. And pastors are called to equip their people.
By Marissa Postell Sullivan
Although believers recognize their calling to share the gospel with their neighbors, not many are having evangelistic conversations. In a 2022 study conducted by Lifeway Research, few Christians say they had shared the gospel with a non-Christian loved one (38%) or stranger (30%) in the last six months. Yet most Americans are open to having faith conversations with strangers (51%) or friends (66%).
Matt Queen, professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes evangelism is a spiritual discipline believers must intentionally practice and plan for. And pastors play a role in equipping their people with the theological foundation for evangelism as well as methods and strategies for evangelism. In his book, Recapturing Evangelism: A Biblical-Theological Approach, Queen leads pastors to recapture a heart for and culture of evangelism in their churches. Here’s a look at a recent conversation with Queen.
Why are you passionate about evangelism? What are some of the things that have cultivated that passion in you?
Matt Queen: My passion for evangelism started at my conversion. As soon as I repented and believed, calling on His name, the Holy Spirit filled me. I was pumped up, and I ran up the church aisle. All the kids were outside playing tag, and I was saying, “I’m saved! I’m saved!” And I wanted a microphone to tell the whole world.
My first impulse was to get to people to tell them about salvation, and I’ve never gotten over it. A year later, my dad took me door-to-door evangelizing. I shared the gospel when I was in middle and high school as well. But my conversion is what impassioned me, even to this day, for evangelism.
In terms of molding and cultivating my understanding of evangelism, my first cultivator was my dad. When my dad went, and I saw my dad doing it, I knew I was supposed to do it. My pastor would take me to go do evangelism after I was called into the ministry. And then I went to Southeastern Seminary where professors influenced me.
What are some common misconceptions about evangelism today?
The most common misconception is that people think evangelism is a spiritual gift. They’ll say, “I know I need to share the gospel, but I don’t have the gift of evangelism.” But evangelism isn’t a spiritual gift. It’s never listed in the gift passages. But more than that, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 teach us spiritual gifts are given for the primary benefit of the church—to build up the saints for the ministry. But evangelism primarily benefits the unchurched.“The most common misconception about evangelism is that people think it's a spiritual gift.” — @DrMattQueen Click To Tweet
Another one is, “If I invite somebody to church, that’s evangelism.” But just because you invite someone to church doesn’t mean they know about their sin and Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection.
Another one is using words when necessary. People think, “I should live a moral lifestyle, and if I live holy enough, somebody will see me, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, there’s something different about you!’” At least when we look in the New Testament, we don’t see that happen at all. It’s always because there was an intentional effort to share the gospel. Words are necessary to share the gospel.
What is a corporate evangelism plan? And how is it helpful for developing a culture of evangelism in a local body of believers?
Corporate evangelism is driven by the pastor. If a pastor’s people don’t see and hear of him evangelizing, he’s not going to see and hear of them evangelizing. The church, as a whole, will not exceed the evangelistic passion and practice of its pastor.
One of the greatest enemies of congregational evangelism is assumption. Pastors may assume everybody thinks the gospel is as important as he does. Pastors also assume their people know they expect them to share the gospel. So they don’t talk about it. But pastors cannot expect what they do not inspect.“If a pastor's people don't see and hear of him evangelizing, he's not going to see and hear of them evangelizing.” — @DrMattQueen Click To Tweet
A congregational mode of evangelism gives structure. Unfortunately, although most pastors would say evangelism is one of the most important things their church does, there’s not always structure for that expectation. Providing expectations, measuring those expectations, providing training for people, and telling stories of church members having gospel conversations are ways to help a congregation be culturized in evangelism.
How can pastors equip their church for evangelism and share that responsibility with the whole body of believers?
A pastor or a staff member isn’t there to do evangelism for the church. They’re to do evangelism with the church and lead the church in evangelism. There should be an understanding that this is a unified area. There are some people church members see and interface with that the pastor will never see.
We must identify and utilize grace-gifted evangelists. According to Ephesians 4 which talks about the gift of an evangelist—Christ gave “some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11, CSB)—the evangelist is not there to do the evangelism for the church. The evangelist is there under the leadership of the pastor “to equip the saints for the work” of evangelism (Ephesians 4:12, CSB).
Some pastors are grace-gifted as a pastor, a teacher, and an evangelist. But not every pastor is gifted as an evangelist. That doesn’t mean he gets out of evangelism; it’s a spiritual discipline. If a pastor is gifted, that’s good. If he’s not, I think it’d be good for him to try to find that grace-gifted evangelist in his church or association to help train, equip, and encourage people in evangelism.
What are some evangelism guidelines that can prompt and encourage people to intentionally and consistently practice personal evangelism?
There are two helpful ways to prompt a consistent rhythm of evangelism. One of them is to have a quantitative goal. For example: “I’m going to endeavor to share the gospel once a day.” We don’t need to put guilt on ourselves, but if we don’t plan time for evangelism, we’ll fail to find time for evangelism.
There are also some principles to prompt evangelism. The Holy Spirit principle is to evangelize when you get that impression from the Holy Spirit. The five-minute principle is to evangelize to someone when you’re with them for five minutes or more and don’t know about their salvation. And the homestead principle is to evangelize when somebody comes to your home or place of work. Finally, the detour principle is to evangelize whenever you have an interruption in your day. It would be helpful for any person to choose at least one of these, or another they know, and make a deal with God. “God, when this happens, I’m going to take that as you bringing an opportunity for me to share the gospel.”
What could it look like for a believer to construct and execute a plan for consistent evangelism?
Evangelism is a spiritual discipline. It is a command for all Christians to make disciples. Evangelism isn’t any more optional than reading your Bible or praying.
So, if someone finds themself not having a regular rhythm of evangelism, the first thing you need to do is get alone with God and repent. If you sense that conviction, deal with that conviction in the way you would with any other sin—go before God, ask forgiveness, ask for His help, and ask for His Spirit to enable you to create that plan.“Evangelism is a spiritual discipline. It is a command for all Christians to make disciples. Evangelism isn’t any more optional than reading your Bible or praying.” — @DrMattQueen Click To Tweet
A simple way to do that is to daily pray asking God to give you an opportunity to share the gospel that day, sense enough to recognize it when it occurs, and boldness to act on it whenever you recognize it.
As one mission pastor said, realize “starting spiritual conversations is easier than turning conversations spiritual.” If you’re going to be intentional, try to start the conversation in a spiritual manner so you can get to the gospel easily.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Marissa Postell Sullivan
Marissa is the managing editor for LifewayResearch.com.
Matt QueenFIND OUT MORE