Several years ago I found myself at a local laundromat washing clothes. Our family washing machine had bitten the dust, and I was forced to take our laundry and a bag of quarters to the public washateria. As I headed out I made the decision to be intentional with my time there. I decided that I was going to start a conversation with someone there in hopes of telling them about Christ. After I starting a few loads of laundry, then pulling a few from the dryer, I spent idle time folding clothes. Soon, without my prompting, an elderly woman began a conversation with me as we both worked on our separate tasks. To my surprise, it was her who started asking me about my relationship with Jesus! This was certainly not what I expected, but I was joyful at the opportunity to talk about Christ and the Gospel. Unfortunately, the conversation soon shifted. This sweet older lady then began saying things about Jesus and using certain language that raised serious red flags. The more I asked questions, the more I was alarmed by her answers. She ended up being part of either the Jehovah’s Witness church or the Mormon Church. I cannot remember the church in which she was affiliated but, either way, she had a terrible misunderstanding of both Jesus and the Gospel itself. She had a distorted view of Christ, and I spent the next thirty minutes or so talking with her about who the real Jesus is and what the good news of the Gospel is all about. After she ended the conversation, and I headed back home with what my family needed to survive for a few days, I began to rethink the encounter. Had I really been clear about the Gospel, or did I just try to win a debate? Was I clear about the person and work of Christ? As I soon realized, there is a big difference in talking about Gospel things and actually evangelizing the Gospel.
Christians are called to evangelize. Along with the Great Commission (Matthew 28), there are many passages in Scripture that implore us to evangelize the Gospel. In Scripture evangelism simply means to proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ. If Paul was accurate in Romans 10, that faith comes from hearing, then how do we know if we are sharing enough information for someone to hear and believe? The woman at the laundromat didn’t just need for me to tell her a few historical facts about Jesus. Many unbelievers already know those things. She didn’t just need me to show her all the holes in her false religion. An atheist could have done that. She didn’t need me to invite her to church. She already had one. This woman needed to hear the truth of Jesus Christ and the actual good news found in the Bible. She needed to hear that she was believing a lie, and that true hope and redemption are only found in the Gospel itself. I could have simply told this woman that she was lost or that Jesus is the only way, but that would not have been evangelizing. Both of those things are true and need to be said, but an unbeliever needs more than that to repent and believe. For clarity sake, we need to know the difference in genuinely evangelizing and merely giving Gospel truths. I want to spend some time looking at three stages in which we minister the Gospel, but only the last one is actually evangelism.
Stage 1: Basic Connection
The first stage of ministering the Gospel to an unbeliever is about connection. In the context of your daily life, this might look like you starting up a conversation with someone at the gas station or the teller at your bank. It may look like you taking a meal to your new neighbor down the road and introducing yourself to their family. This may not be a perfect arrangement, but I think inviting someone to church or even saying that you will pray for someone may fit into this category as well. To be clear, you have not truly evangelized the Gospel in this stage. You have made helpful and profitable connections here, but you haven’t told anyone about Christ and His death, burial, and resurrection. You have started conversation, and you have started building bridges. Both of these things are needed and significant in getting to the part about sharing the Gospel, but you are not there yet. As a believer you are called to make these connections in your community and to reach out to people around you. You need to start learning the name of the bank teller. You need to visit the same gas station every week to learn the attendant’s story. You need to help the stranded motorist on the side of the road and get to know all the other parents at the T-ball game. Looking for opportunities like these is what being kingdom-minded is all about! You should be working out Stage 1 every week. You are living intentionally for Christ and on mission as you build blocks toward evangelizing the Good News.
Stage 2: Gospel conversations
What are Gospel conversations? Simply speaking, Gospel conversations are conversations that are filled with Gospel language but haven’t gone so far as to share the Gospel message. This may include you sharing about all the things that Christ has done for you and may include your testimony. This may look like you contrasting the Gospel of Jesus and other religions. This may look like you intentionally inserting biblical language into conversations or you talking about Christs’ work in your church. Stage 2 is about getting into deeper conversations about Christ. These conversations may happen over dinner with a neighbor or even in the middle of a casual meeting. No longer can you rely on your mannerisms at work to convey Gospel language, you have to be deliberately bringing up Gospel issues. Not many people want to skip ahead to asking a stranger (or even scarier, a friend!) about his relationship with Christ. Most churchgoers say they are uncomfortable evangelizing. Fortunately, God has placed you in your community for a reason. He has placed you in a job, in a neighborhood, and in people’s lives on a daily basis for the reason of connecting with the people around you. Make basic connections, yes, but to be living out God’s design you must be having Gospel conversations with people with the aim of evangelizing the Gospel to them. This may look like you saying you will pray for someone, then you giving specifics of how you are praying for their souls. Conversations might take place about a friend’s circumstances. However you are choosing to talk about Christ, it is not a matter of preference but obedience.
Stage 3: Evangelism
To truly evangelize the Gospel of Jesus Christ means to tell people, first, of the bad news. I know, Gospel means good news, and that is certainly what it is. But we have to understand the bad news before we can understand the good news. No evangelism is complete without proclaiming our sinful state and, apart from Christ, that we bear the weight and wrath of God. When Adam sinned in the garden, he brought condemnation on all men. Each of us are sinners and in desperate need of salvation. The next part is what makes the Gospel so good! The Son of God came to redeem and reconcile. He came to bear the wrath of a holy and righteous God. Christ accomplished this by living out a perfect life and dying on a cross, only to be raised three days later. Christ is our substitute. Any salvation to be had only comes by repenting of sins and believing upon Christ. To truly proclaim the message of the Gospel is to evangelize these truths. We fall short of evangelism if we do not convey the clear Gospel. While it’s very important for us to be making connections and having Gospel conversations, those are not evangelism. Evangelism is proclaiming, as Paul says, the “full council” of God (Acts 20).
Do not think of evangelism as some giant mountain of perfectly articulate Gospel presentation. Most evangelism is delivered through feeble men and women whose resumes are devoid of PhDs and seminary degrees. God does not call us to have superb oratory skills or high IQ levels to proclaim the good news. He has called every single one of us to use whatever tools He has given to minister the Gospel to a lost and dying world. We cannot be fulfilling what God has called us to do without engaging in each of these areas. Go make connections in your community. Go get into conversations with people that are filled with Gospel language. But most of all, go evangelize the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. –Romans 10:17