What is the most evangelistic thing a Christian could do? Suppose a certain Christian desired all people to know Jesus and they gave themselves wholeheartedly to that task, what might it look like? As evangelicals we might imagine that person holding a crusade in a football stadium or maybe just telling everyone they meet about Jesus, whether it’s on a bus or at the office. We have many predetermined categories of what evangelism looks like. But what if that certain Christian was in one of Paul’s churches in the first century? Then what might evangelism look like?
Surprisingly, evangelism in Paul’s churches looked almost nothing like evangelism in our churches. To begin, when it comes to the motivation or reason for evangelism, modern evangelicals always point to the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel: “Go and make disciples of all nations. . .” All our evangelistic efforts are built on this commission, yet amazingly Paul never mentions it once in any of his letters. Paul certainly understood his own life as a fulfillment of the Great Commission, but he never passes that commission on to any of his congregations.
In fact, Paul almost never tells his churches to do evangelism (as we would understand it) at all. There are a couple debated passages in Paul’s letters, but surprisingly there is not one single clear call to evangelize! How can this be? How can Paul, whose life was centered on evangelizing the gentiles, not tell his churches that they should also be evangelizing? What gives?
What gives is that Paul has a very different notion of evangelism than we modern evangelicals do. Paul is not interested in training his churches on how to initiate gospel conversations with their friends and family, nor is he concerned with teaching them how to present the four spiritual laws to a passerby on the street. Paul’s vision of evangelism does not look like ours. Instead of gospel tracts handed out on the street corner, Paul envisages his churches living out the gospel in such a powerful way that their lives and the life of the local church becomes the gospel tract itself!
To that end, Paul’s letters are filled with hundreds of commands on how Christians are to build gospel-centered communities that reflect Jesus to the world. They are simple commands like loving, forgiving and submitting to one another. Paul doesn’t appeal to the Great Commission because he doesn’t need to. If these new Christian communities would simply give their lives wholeheartedly to living out the gospel, they would become like a city shining on a hill where people “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).
You see, this was Jesus’ idea from the beginning. Some, like the twelve, and later Paul and other evangelists would be sent out on mission, but the ordinary followers would be tasked with creating transformative Jesus-centered communities that would in and of themselves draw people to the Father. This is why most of what Jesus says to the crowds is not about evangelism, but about how to live in his kingdom. And when his followers do this well it results in many more people being drawn into the kingdom.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that all our modern notions of evangelism are misguided or off the table – we still may be called to verbally share the gospel – but the emphasis in the gospels and Paul’s letters is on living out the gospel in such a way that it attracts unbelievers to the Reason behind our ways. Paul’s words to Titus concisely portray his vision of evangelism. As followers of Jesus, we will live our lives in such a way that we “will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10).
That’s our job as Christians. Make the gospel attractive. That’s what Paul has in mind for ordinary Christians like you and me and how we advance God’s kingdom. It may not look evangelistic by our standards, but this is the way of Paul and the way of Jesus and most importantly this the way that works! Any student of the early church will notice that these first Christians also hardly ever mention evangelism. Instead, the church of the first couple centuries focused its efforts on helping the vulnerable, being charitable and generous and generally just living out the gospel. The result of this kind of living was that the early church grew by as much as 40% per decade – unprecedented growth! (Imagine 40% growth in the North American church today!) And it came not by Christians trying to evangelize more, but by faithfully living out the gospel, becoming a shining city on a hill that made the good news of Jesus attractive to millions of people.
So it may be that the most evangelistic thing a Christian could do today would be to give themselves wholeheartedly to life of a local church, loving and forgiving and submitting along with many other committed Christians. We underestimate the power that such a community would have on an unbelieving world. The words of Bryan Stone in Evangelism after Christendom say it perfectly, “The most evangelistic thing the church can do today is to be the church.” Thus, the most evangelistic thing a Christian can do today is to live out the gospel in a local church, radically embodying the teachings of Jesus in every area of their life, letting their light shine and adding that small light to many others, creating a shining city on a hill that attracts many to the Father and to the kingdom of His Son.