Jun 9, 2011

Stop telling your people to do evangelism (or at least not all of them)

At the ‘loving the lost’ conference yesterday, organised by Midlands Gospel Partnership, Andy Patterson shared with us six growing convictions borne out of years of fruitful gospel ministry.

Here they all are:

1) ‘evangelist’ is a multi-faceted office that should be identified and encouraged

2) God calls non-evangelists to reactive witnessing not driven by guilt but love

3) Social engagement should be a given for any church community

4) Multi-generational and multi-ethnic churches best reflect the gospel

5) ‘Attractional’ church should be a by-product not a strategy

6) Planting new churches rather than enlarging existing buildings is most blessed

The audio of the sessions should be available in the next few days at the MGP site.


Should we all be evangelists?

I want to pick up here Andy’s second point and expand on his conviction a little further.

I’m an evangelist. I’m not a great evangelist but I do look forward to opportunities to share my faith. Andy’s insight is that as church leaders we don’t help our congregations when we fail ‘to distinguish between the gifting of evangelists and the responsibility of believers who have not been gifted in this way.’

So the problem we create as ministers and evangelists is that ‘we seem to think others should be wired as we are’.

What is the result of pushing the evangelism agenda?

Because what we are asking people to be is unnatural to them it results in ‘guilt, inactivity and passing the buck’.

The biblical pattern is that all Christians are called to be witnesses but not all are gifted to be evangelists. So on Colossians  4:6, Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone,  Dick Lucas writes in the Bible Speaks Today commentary on Colossians;

Paul’s advice to the Christians is not along the lines of possessing oneself of better techniques with which to approach people. Rather he turns the problem right around so that the Christians can see their responsibilities in a much more promising light. Their privilege, simply put, is to answer everyone. That is to say they are to respond to the questions of others rather than initiate conversations on leading topics; they are to accept openings rather than make them.

This is emphatically, not to sound the retreat. Paul evidently believes that opportunities for response and explanation are to be found everywhere, for everyone is looking to discover answers about life and its meaning.  And Paul evidently things that believing Christians should be found everywhere too, ready to take up these frequent opportunities.


What is the result of encouraging witness rather than pushing evangelism?

Patterson suggests at least 8;

  • It recognises God’s sovereignty
  • It leads to prayer as we seek God given opportunities
  • It encourages holy living as we look to live lives that adorn the gospel
  • It removes strain and false guilt
  • It encourages excellence in our tasks
  • It develops genuine friendships
  • It allows effective, relaxed and open conversations
  • It embraces all personality types


Dick Lucas again;

It is obvious what strain this removes from conscientious Christians. The pressure to raise certain topics and reach certain people can make it difficult to live or talk normally. In any case, we go to the office to work, not evangelize. But by being ready and willing to respond the way is opened in a more serene, and successful, approach to each day’s opportunities. It opens the way, too, for a greater dependence on God’s leading as well as for a more relevant and sensitive witness, suited to each individual.




  • Amen!

    For most people who don’t have spiritual gifts of evangelism, witness is a by-product of discipleship. When they love the Lord, know his love in their hearts, delight in his grace and find him amazing, it is a huge surprise if they don’t talk winsomely about him. You scarcely have to do any evangelism training with folk like that.

    But when they don’t you can do all the training you like and it won’t make any difference. They may witness out of guilt or peer pressure, but if it isn’t coming from a joyful walk with God it won’t be good witness. And they will avoid it wherever possible.

    I think those of us with a UCCF background find it hard to remember this because much of what we were taught to do was evangelism training. An understanding of CU-as-mission-team, rather than CU-as-community-of-witnesses too easily led to certain methodological assumptions. I tended to direct people into certain models of evangelism regardless of whether those models fit their personality type or whether they were actually walking well with the Lord.

    Why did I wait so long to discover that it is receiving grace that fuels good witness?

    • Thanks Marcus. I feel something of the same when I think about CUs and training for evangelism. However I do think

      a) University is a place where people can be a little bit more bold and more direct and
      b) Students should be encouraged to give it a go just as we would perhaps encourage people to have a go at giving a talk or leading a Bible study

      CUs are a great place for spotting the gifted evangelists.

      But we need to find ways of saying ‘being gifted at ‘X” whether that be music, speaking, evangelising, leading is not to be confused with ‘being godly’.

  • Great post Neil, but I wonder if there is a bit of terminology blur here? Surely, “reactive witnessing” is a form of evangelism, it is just that we should not expect everyone to be gifted “proactive witnesses”. (If that is the definition of an Evangelist with a capital E). In which case, we should keep telling people to be ready to engage in evangelism.

    One comment, point 4) may well be right: multi-generational and multi-ethnic churches may best reflect the gospel. If that is the case, then perhaps there is another option worth exploring to the size problem that appears to be only solved by a church plant (point 6). It strikes me that early on in the life of a church the “multi-generational” and “multi-ethnic” character is often the thing that is missing. Perhaps a good option could be to replant, revitalise and strengthen existing congregations that would welcome it?

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