by Jon D. Payne ~
Evangelism is more than a task or a method—it is a lifestyle. More than a project or a system, it is a way of life.
Viewing evangelism from this perspective is not only biblical, but it also broadens our understanding and vision for winning souls to Christ. It liberates and challenges us to reach out to our particular spheres of influence, even if we are not especially skilled in the art of persuasion or apologetics. This approach to evangelism encourages a lifestyle of consistent Christian witness and is specifically tailored to a believer’s unique gifts, location, and calling. It views life with all of its twists and turns as an ongoing opportunity to point friends and neighbors to the unsearchable riches of Christ.
All Christians are called to evangelize the lost in this way. Indeed, a life of Christian witness is compulsory for every sincere follower of Christ (Matt. 5:13–16). Charles Spurgeon boldly asserts that “soul winning should be the main pursuit of every true believer.” Whether across the street or across the planet, Christians are commissioned to evangelize and to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15; see Matt. 28:18–20).
Soul winning is of the very essence of the Christian life. However, if we are honest, our zeal for evangelism often wanes. We lack purposefulness in reaching out to our unchurched coworkers, family, and friends. We find ourselves more affected by the score of the big game or the price of gas than the eternal welfare of our neighbors. Moreover, our deficiency of prayer for the lost reveals evangelistic anemia in our lives and churches.
Dear Christian, it’s time to rekindle our zeal for soul winning and to cultivate an evangelistic lifestyle that is wonderfully ordinary, consistently prayerful, and unyieldingly committed to communicating the truth of the gospel.
The best and most effective kind of outreach is a consistent witness in word and deed within the contours of ordinary life.
Most instances of evangelistic activity in Scripture are found in the extraordinary public ministries of Christ and the Apostles. The four Gospels and the book of Acts include a litany of their remarkable soul-winning endeavors. Moreover, the New Testament Epistles are sprinkled with autobiographical accounts of Apostolic courage in soul winning, recounting evangelistic outreach to unsaved Jews and Gentiles in settings that were often hostile. Due to Scripture’s emphasis upon the exceptional evangelistic ministries of Christ and His Apostles, sometimes soul winning is taught in a way that scares the Christian laity into thinking that they must evangelize in the same manner or not at all. While all Christians can certainly learn from the outreach activity of Jesus and the Apostles, we must distinguish their unique ministries from the more ordinary evangelism to which all Christians are called.
Rather than heap guilt on regular Christians for not soul winning on street corners or in market squares (which few believers are called or gifted to do), wouldn’t it be far better to foster a view of evangelism that naturally flows from the ordinary rhythms of daily life and weekly schedules? Shouldn’t we view gospel witness primarily as the overflow of a sincere walk with God in the particular sphere in which God has placed us?
God is sovereign, and in His sovereignty He has placed each one of us right where He wants us (Ps. 115:3; Acts 17:26–27). You may wish to be somewhere else, but right now you are exactly where God wants you to be. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:9; see Rom. 8:28). Therefore, God calls us to reach the lost right where we are. He has sovereignly placed us in a distinct sphere of influence, in part, to reach out to nonbelievers with the life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ.
Dear believer, God by His sovereign hand has put you in a specific community and planted you in a particular neighborhood or apartment building. He has also given you a distinct vocation. Why? In part, so that you would shine the light of the gospel to those around you in the ordinary course of your life.
To be sure, there will be occasions for more strategic forms of gospel outreach such as door-to-door evangelism or special outreach events. However, what has proven to be the best and most effective kind of outreach is a consistent witness in word and deed within the contours of ordinary life—a gospel conversation with an unbelieving coworker at the office, a word about God’s saving grace to an unchurched parent at your child’s soccer match, a discussion about gospel-driven parenting with a group of unsaved young mothers at the park, or a call from a lost family member who requests counsel during a crisis. These examples teach us that evangelism is less a task and more a way of life.
The point is underscored by the happy interruption I received while writing this article. The Lord orchestrated a surprise visit from an unbelieving friend, and we enjoyed a warm and candid conversation about the gospel. This kind of ordinary soul-winning activity may never be featured on the cover of a denominational magazine, but as it is manifested in the lives of countless Christians around the world, an activity like this one will be used of God to lead many to saving faith in Christ.
Soul winning is meant to be wonderfully ordinary, transpiring in the rhythms of everyday living. It overflows from a personal relationship with God that treasures Christ above all things. And those who know Christ want others to know Him as well. The question is, are we willing and ready to identify and act upon the evangelistic opportunities that God brings our way? Perhaps our lack of readiness partially stems from an absence of prayer.
Consistent and earnest prayer for the lost is the engine of steadfast evangelism. Without it, evangelistic fervor grows cold. We become indifferent to the miserable condition of perishing souls. Praying regularly for unbelievers, however, ignites and fuels a passion for soul winning. It cultivates a love and compassion for the lost. Furthermore, dependence upon God in prayer fosters confidence in God’s power to awaken the spiritually dead. Prayer reminds us that though we are the messengers of the good news, only the Holy Spirit can convince and convert sinners by supernaturally furnishing them with new hearts and turning them from “darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18; see Ezek. 36:26; Eph. 2:4–5; Col. 2:13).
Therefore, we must recover the daily practice of heaven-compelling, blood-earnest, throne-of-grace-gripping prayer for the unsaved. Additionally, we must revive prayer meetings that include supplication for the lost and not just endless petitions for physical health and well-being. Steadfast prayer is a nonnegotiable for those who are serious about soul winning. It is the evidence of a humble reliance upon God as we seek to lead people to Christ.
Evangelism without gospel truth is like a book without words.
Evangelism without gospel truth is like a book without words. Yet, so much of what passes for evangelism today is bereft of the propositional truths of the gospel. Reduced to little more than a personal testimony or a man-centered appeal to find one’s fulfillment in Jesus, evangelism becomes our story rather than God’s story. But people need to hear less about us and more about the Savior.
In his classic mid-nineteenth-century work Words to Winners of Souls, Horatius Bonar writes, “It is not opinions that man needs: it is Truth. . . . It is not religion: it is Christ. It is not literature and science; but the knowledge of the free love of God in the gift of his only-begotten Son.”
Faithful and effective evangelism, therefore, is constituted of biblical truth. Specifically, it should highlight key doctrines such as God’s holiness and the righteous requirements of His law (Lev. 11:45; Gal. 3:10–11); mankind’s fallen, miserable, and depraved condition (Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1–3); God’s love for sinners in the sending of His eternal Son to become a man in order to perfectly fulfill the requirements of God’s law (John 3:16; Rom. 5:18–19), satisfy divine justice on the cross (Ps. 22; 1 John 4:9–10), and rise from the dead on the third day (Rom. 4:22–25); all to reconcile us to God by grace through faith in Him (2 Cor. 5:19; Eph. 2:8–9). Finally, we must give attention to the coming judgment that all who are united to Christ will be ushered into the glories of heaven, and all who are still in their sins will be cast into hell with the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:31–46). This is the gospel that the whole world needs to hear—the good news that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
To be sure, evangelism can be intimidating. It can be uncomfortable to bring up matters of eternal consequence with friends and acquaintances. Perhaps it would be less so if we viewed soul winning not so much as a task, event, or method, but more as the overflow of a vibrant, prayerful walk with God in the context of life’s ordinary activities—an obedient and joyful response to divine appointments that God Himself creates. Dear Christian, it’s hard to be silent about that which we cherish most.
Dr. Jon D. Payne is senior pastor of Christ Church Presbyterian (PCA) in Charleston, S.C., visiting lecturer in practical theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta, and author of In the Splendor of Holiness.
By Permission of Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.