Chapter OneHow to Develop an Evangelistic Lifestyle
Some time ago, I was speaking at a conference on evangelism. Near the end of the conference a man said to me, "I realize that evangelism shouldn't be merely a program or activity; it should be a way of life. But how do I make it that? How do I develop an evangelistic lifestyle?"
Anyone who wants his or her life to count for something eternal ought to ask the same question. How do I develop an evangelistic lifestyle? To receive the needed help in this area, we ought to ask, Is there anything about the lives and lifestyles of people in the New Testament that could help me develop an evangelistic lifestyle?
The answer is yes. As we study this topic, several things become clear.
In Matthew 9:36, the observation is made concerning Christ, "But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd." The New Testament speaks of Christ being moved or filled with pity eight times. He looked beyond people's faults and saw their need — they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Many times Christians feel that being around non-Christians is an unpleasant experience. Some unbelievers are very self-centered and their language can be less than desirable. We forget, though, that the problem is not what they do, it's who they are — individuals who have never met the Savior. As Christ looked beyond the person's actions and saw the problem, we are to do the same. We must have a heart of compassion toward non-Christians and see them the way Christ does. His practice is to be our pattern.
A number of years ago, several missionaries were killed by the Auca Indians in Ecuador. The father of one of the missionaries made the statement, "I feel sorrier for those poor Indians than I feel for my own son." That's a spirit of compassion!
The basis of evangelism is the Great Commission. Christ's command is: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Luke 5:1-11 tells us about one of the first things Christ taught His disciples in evangelism. Using the metaphor of catching fish, He taught them to catch men. After they had fished an entire night with no success, Christ said to Peter, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." Any fisherman acquainted with the Sea of Galilee would understand that if you don't catch any fish at night, you might as well settle for no fish. Despite this fact, Peter answered, "Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net." Miraculously they caught a net-breaking, boat-sinking load, and Jesus said, "Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men." His message was simple: "When I say do it, do it!"
We sometimes think that we aren't called to speak to a lost neighbor about the Gospel because we may not be able to answer his or her questions. Sometimes this concern has some merit. At other times, it becomes an excuse behind which we hide. After all, Christ's calling is to us as well as to the first disciples, and He can provide the miraculous catch.
When we turn to the New Testament, we find that those who gave themselves wholeheartedly to evangelism also gave themselves to prayer. Not only did they plead with men for God, they also pleaded for men with God. We find them asking God for the opportunities to speak the Gospel (Col. 4:3). They also requested the courage they would need when they received that opportunity (Eph. 6:19). Although the emphasis is on believers praying for themselves and others who are evangelizing, they also interceded before God on behalf of the lost (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
Pray and keep praying. As you do, expect God to answer. Praying in faith is believing not only that He can, but also expecting that He will. A homemaker, after many years of praying, saw her alcoholic husband come to know the Lord. When asked how she prayed, she answered, "I prayed not only believing that God could save him, but also that He would." Should God in His sovereignty not answer such a prayer, we must respond appropriately, avoiding any kind of mental or verbal attacks on His character. But He wants us to pray knowing He can and expecting that He will.
No one would dispute the fact that Jesus Christ had an evangelistic lifestyle. The amount of time He spent with sinners attests to this. He was even known as their friend (Matt. 11:19). We cannot have personal evangelism without personal contact. How can we regularly have contact with the lost? Several suggestions might be helpful. Our homes can provide an evangelistic outreach. We can entertain non-Christians for dinner or a backyard cookout, invite them to watch the Super Bowl with us, or come over for some homemade ice cream. Occasions such as these sometimes lead to informal discussions about spiritual things.
We can also take the opportunity to include them in things which interest us and may interest them. That might be a Friday night football game or an evening at the fair. It could be a fishing trip or a picnic by the shore. Events such as these convey to them that not only do we enjoy the Lord, we also enjoy life.
We should also do business with them. Believers can easily get into a rut. By that I mean we get our hair cut by Christian barbers, our cars repaired by Christian mechanics, and our homes built by Christian carpenters. There are times when that may be the wisest thing to do. But there are times when we don't give a non-Christian consideration simply because he or she is a non-Christian. As there are dishonest and unreliable Christians, there are honest and reliable unbelievers. Giving unbelievers our business can provide good contact for sharing the Gospel. The point is, make contact. Personal evangelism demands personal contact.
In the New Testament, those who shared Christ with others were not people who never knew fear. Instead, they were individuals who allowed courage to overcome fear. Even in the face of persecution, they did not let fear stand in their way. In 1 Thessalonians 2:2, Paul says, "But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict."
We will talk about the devastating problem of fear in a future chapter, but when we are faced with the possibility of persecution, the New Testament encourages us to do several things. First, just as the disciples did, ask God for boldness (Acts 4:29). Not only does God have a generous supply of physical blessings for His children, He also has a generous supply of boldness. Second, concentrate on the message (1 Thess. 2:3-4). When you know you have the truth, just as the disciples discovered, you cannot keep from speaking the truth (Acts 4:20). Third, have the proper motivation (1 Thess. 2:5-8). When you care, you must share. Commitment to people should result in conversation about Christ.
For the most part, we are fortunate in not being persecuted as the disciples were. We are usually simply afraid of losing a friend, being thought less of because we are Christians, being less popular in the neighborhood, or having doors slammed in our faces. Although the ramifications of this kind of rejection are not as great, courage is required.
Regardless of what we fear, we must not let fear stand in our way. We must be in command of it, instead of it being in command of us.
When we study the book of Acts carefully, it becomes clear that the disciples knew how to lead someone to Christ. Starting where the person was, they knew how to lead that person to saving faith in Christ as the Holy Spirit worked.
If we are going to have an evangelistic lifestyle, we, too, must know how to lead someone to Christ. In light of this, those who consistently evangelize have found it helpful to master a method. Obviously, one will have to adapt it to particular situations and people, but mastering a method makes most people more consistent in sharing Christ and more confident as they do so.
Whatever approach you use, make certain it makes the Gospel clear. The Gospel in its simplest terms is: Christ died for our sins; Christ arose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Therefore, a good approach in sharing the Gospel should cover the basic doctrine of sin (so they understand their need), the death and resurrection of Christ (so they understand God's way of salvation), and faith (so they know what they need to do). It should also give non-Christians ample opportunity to interact with you so you can be sure they are following you and understand what you are saying. Two chapters from now we will discuss such a method.
One other thing needs to be said about developing an evangelistic lifestyle — start now! Someone has said, "True obedience does not procrastinate nor question." To have an evangelistic lifestyle demands involvement, not mere intention. The only way to become a golfer is by golfing. The only way to become a fisher of men is by fishing for men.
Evangelism is for you! God has chosen not only to bring lost people to Himself — He has also chosen to let you in on the blessing. The message hasn't been committed to angels but to you. In obedience to Him as His disciple, and in appreciation for His gift, follow the example of Peter, who said, "Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net" (Luke 5:5). Start now!