Evangelism has the ability to make some of us very uncomfortable. We worry about offending people. We agonize over saying something wrong, unorthodox, or unhelpful that might end up leading someone further from Christ in lieu of closer to him.
While we certainly don’t want to share Jesus carelessly or apart from the spirit’s leading, avoiding evangelism out of fear is not a God-honoring option. There is no ‘perfect’ way to share Christ—we’re told to do it and do it boldy trusting that the seeds we plant will bear fruit in his timing.
As D.L. Moody famously said, “Frankly, I sometimes do not like my way of doing evangelism. But I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”
For pastors, avoiding the topic of evangelism cannot become the default choice. For the church to continue thriving, we need everyone—churchgoers young and old—to buy into a shared passion for the spreading of the gospel. If our hearts are truly for the unbelievers—those who haven’t yet heard the good news of God’s love for them—we’ll be willing to face discomfort, difficulty, and even the possibility of failure to share it with them.
Here are some ways to practically encourage evangelism in our churches, organizations, and personal lives:
Create a culture of evangelistic accountability
I am always conscience of the shoes I’m supposed to fill—I sit, after all, in Billy Graham’s chair and preach at D.L. Moody’s pulpit. Evangelism, for obvious reasons, should be my middle name.
One of my goals during my time at the BGC has been to create a culture of evangelistic accountability to serve as a reminder of its importance to our organization. At the Billy Graham Center, I’ve tried to encourage other staff members to take our responsibility to show and share the love of Jesus in a broken and hurting world seriously.
I’ll often ask the staff to tell our team who they’ve shared the gospel with most recently—it’s a form of accountability that I’ve found to be most effective in organizational settings.
For the pastors and church leaders, the strategy can and should look similar. Individuals who are truly passionate about building thriving church communities will be willing to push the envelope on their comfort level in order to create disciples. They’ll also be willing to encourage their congregation to do the same.
Does this approach sound forced? Maybe it does. But the point is that after a few times of being asked, “Who did you share the gospel with this week?” our team members and colleagues won’t need to fumble for words. Sharing Jesus after a while will become something all of us do automatically—not because we have to, but because we want to.
It will be something that happens naturally, flowing out of a love for Christ and a desire to build his kingdom in this world.
Tell evangelistic stories in public
Of course you should always ask before volunteering to share someone else’s story for them. But, I’ve found that hearing stories about the transformation that the gospel has brought into people’s life encourages others to pursue opportunities to share their faith.
For many of us afraid to share our faith, it brings courage and confidence. For others, it serves as a reminder that telling someone about Jesus is worth those moments of discomfort and uncertainty.
Some have attributed the quote “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary” to St. Francis of Assisi. To set the record straight, St. Francis never said that. But nevertheless, I believe it’s misguided a lot of Christians, giving them the impression that actions are holier or of higher value than words.
Don’t get me wrong, the things we do for God—the acts of self-sacrificial service and obedience—matter. But chances are, serving at a soup kitchen or volunteering at an animal shelter are not in and of themselves going to bring anyone into a relationship with God. The gospel is certainly demonstrated in deeds, but it is primarily proclaimed in words.
As we tell others about the opportunities God we’ve been given to evangelize, we open doors for them to do the same. If we do not, scripture says that even the rocks will cry out in proclamation of his glory.
Pray for the harvest
In Matthew 9, Jesus’ instructs the disciples to “Ask the Lord of the harvest…to send out workers into his harvest.”
Prayer is a critical part of the process. We, after-all, are not the producers of the crop nor do we bear the responsibility of producing a successful harvest. We are workers in our heavenly father’s fields—and we need to pray that God will soften more hearts to come and do his work.
In Matthew 10, after asking his disciples to pray for laborers in the previous chapter, Jesus sends them out into the world as agents of change in a broken world.
Let us, as his followers, heed this same call and go out with willing hearts to proclaim the gospel as we make disciples for Christ.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.