This week's 'thought' comes from very close to home -- my assistant here at the church, Randy Gehlert. He sent it to the ministry leaders in our church a couple weeks back, and I thought his insights were helpful and might resonate with many who struggle to do evangelism.
As Paul said to Timothy, "Endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist..." The majority of Christians I know tend to view evangelism that way. They don't feel like they have the "gift" (Eph. 4:11), so they don't make a concerted effort to share the Gospel.
Yet Paul seems to be saying that for timid people like Timothy (who probably did not have the gift either), one must push themselves to do the "work," knowing that if they don't take the opportunity to share the Gospel, many will never have the opportunity to truly "hear" it.
In this regard Randy's comments are honest and encouraging and I trust you will find them helpful. Enjoy. (And for those who have already seen it once, enjoy again!)
"I write this foremost to myself, but I will share it with you as well. The first comment I want to make is in regards to the word “intentionality.” I believe that most Christians that I have met do not wake up in the morning with any expectation that, “Today, I’m going to share the gospel with someone.” I imagine that most of us don’t really think much about evangelism at all throughout our day. We like Saint Francis of Assisi’s quote: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words,” because we can let ourselves believe we truly are doing evangelism in our actions alone. (Are we really even doing that?). And so we believe we don’t have to say anything unless someone asks us first. But if I had to guess I would say that St. Francis’ point was not to keep our mouths shut but that we should do every action with such a radical Christlikeness that the Gospel can also be seen quite plainly in what we do. His emphasis was probably on adding unnatural, Gospel actions to words. Our emphasis seems to be on not having to open up our mouths.
Now I know where this tendency to keep quiet comes from. We live in a culture where we are supposed to accept everyone else’s view as equally true. It often seems the only view that is unacceptable in our culture is one that says that other views are incorrect. If we add to that the clumsy (and often embarrassing) way that many Christians have assaulted people with a gospel ‘package’ and it is no wonder we would rather keep our mouths shut.
So, what am I saying? Should we all grab our tracts and head for the nearest mall? No, I am saying we need to start with a fundamental shift about the purpose of a Christian life. If God is actively building His kingdom and we are the agents He chooses to use to do that then evangelism (which develops into discipleship) is my primary job. Earning an income, going to my friends’ wedding, washing the car, taking my kids to soccer practice is all secondary. Of course, doing evangelism doesn’t have to exclude those other things, but generally we do all of those things in such a way as to exclude evangelism. (We plan our life and our schedule around ‘regular living’ instead of starting with evangelism and working from that starting point.) What I am saying is that I need to wake up in the morning and ask my master (my heavenly Father), “What is my assignment for today, Sir? What are we going to do today? Please give me an opportunity to share Your love and Your truth with someone. And please give me boldness to take hold of that opportunity.”
In Acts 4:23-31 the believers’ prayer was not for safety from persecution but for boldness to speak God’s word in the midst of persecution. They also prayed for God to move supernaturally. I recently read a book in which a man was going to see a non-Christian and he hoped to share the gospel with the man. Before he went he prayed and God gave this Christian insight into the man’s life, things he could not otherwise have known. When the Christian began to share the gospel with this man this special knowledge gave power and authenticity to the words he was sharing about the gospel. I fear that too often we live as if there really isn’t any power and this message is ok for me but you’ll be fine without it. What seems to be really important to me is my daily routine and my common American life.
The truth is that seeking opportunities to evangelize and then taking hold of those opportunities will greatly invigorate all the other links in the chain of church health (prayer, worship, fellowship, discipleship, social action and foreign missions). We will crave the discipleship that teaches us or helps us know how to evangelize better. In our worship we will rejoice in the fruit of the witness (whether that be persecution or people coming to Christ). In our prayer we will listen for our assignments and clear direction on whom God would have us love. As our concern for people’s eternal state increases we will grow more concerned with their physical state and be more involved in social action. And all of this will flow over to people not only in our own neighborhood but across the whole world (missions).
Without evangelism - prayer, worship and discipleship tend to become inward focused and social action and missions could become merely guilt offerings. “Now, Lord,…enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Acts 4:29-30 NIV
In the past century well-known evangelists did a great work in furthering the Gospel. Yet I fear that their prominence and success left many with the idea that evangelism is something done in large public rallies, and is the duty or domain of a very small and specially gifted minority. In fact, could it be that the noticable absence of any such individual in our day is God's way of reminding the Church that all His people are called to do such work? I believe it may be. And what we discover when we move beyond our fears and begin sharing is that it's not only a source great joy, and an activity that brings people into the kingdom, but one that adds much life and spiritual vitality to any church.