Evangelism: Teaching the Gospel with the Aim to Persuade
How do we know when evangelism is happening? Well, the answer depends on how we define evangelism. Defining evangelism in a biblical way helps us align our evangelistic practice with the Scriptures. If we don’t have biblical evangelism nailed down, we may not be doing evangelism.
For example, a housewife meeting with a friend over coffee may be evangelizing, while a brilliant Christian apologist speaking to thousands in a church sanctuary may not be. Few see it that way, but that’s because we have false understandings of what evangelism is. Defending the faith is a fine thing to do, but it is easy to give apologetics for Christianity without explaining the gospel—and we cannot evangelize without the gospel.
Here’s a definition that has served me well for many years:
Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.
Sort of dinky, huh? I bet most people would expect much more from such an important theological word. But this definition, small as it is, offers a far better balance in which to weigh our evangelistic practice than looking at how many people have responded to an appeal.
Here is how amplify my definition: Evangelism is teaching (heralding, proclaiming, preaching) the gospel (the message from God that leads us to salvation) with the aim (hope, desire, goal) to persuade (convince, convert).
Notice that the definition does not require an immediate outward response. Walking an aisle, raising a hand, or even praying a prayer may tell us that evangelism has happened, but such actions are not what evangelism is. Notice, too, that if any of the four components are missing, we are probably doing something other than evangelism.
There is much sickness in the church worldwide because of churches calling something evangelism when it is not. So, teach clearly what the gospel is and what is required of a person to turn to Christ.”
Have as an aim to persuade, but to persuade without manipulation. Don’t exclude what is hard about the Christian life, however tempting that may be; don’t confuse human response for a move of the Spirit; and especially don’t lie about results. Be wary of calling people Christians without some evidence that they are truly converted followers.
Recognize the temptation to sacrifice biblical principles for results and “success.” As I look around, I see much practice of unbiblical evangelism. The gospel often remains untaught, and unbiblical words water down the poignant true meaning of sin, death, and hell, or confuse those who are genuinely seeking truth.
Promises of health and wealth deceive the most vulnerable: the poor, disadvantaged, and sick. And many churches offer a costless, comfortable, and benefit-giving “gospel” that is found nowhere in the Scriptures. In fact, the gospel is subverted with what Paul calls “different gospels,” which are not gospels at all (Gal. 1:6–7). By catering to the desires of people, churches communicate that their focus is on non-Christians, not on the glory of God displayed by his people worshiping him.
So often the church service becomes an avenue for entertainment rather than worship. Jesus was engaging, but he never entertained; there is a huge difference, one that just might be lost on the modern church. The high-pressure sales job of yesteryear has been replaced by the soft sell of self-help.
These kinds of things are the result of worldly temptations that undermine biblical evangelism.
But there is an answer to such temptations. It’s no different today than it was in Paul’s day. The solution is to fix biblically principled, gospel-centered evangelism in our minds and hearts. It is to learn how to teach the gospel with integrity and to keep the big-picture aim of true conversion in view.
So in the next post, let’s carefully “amplify” the four parts of my definition: “teaching,” “gospel,” “aim,” and “persuade.”
Note: This post is an excerpt from Mack Stiles’ book Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus.