Not Ashamed of the Gospel
We’ve heard and read it a thousand times - Jesus’ final words while He was still on Earth:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
If, like me, you’ve grown up in church and been around the things of God all your life, the word evangelism may not have a wholly positive connotation: you may associate it with awkwardness and failing PA systems; you may associate it with attempts to tell your school friends about Jesus, that seemed to fail; you may associate it with feelings of guilt and inadequacy or you may have even had a church leader pull you up in front of an ‘open air’ meeting to tell your story without giving you time to prepare.
This negative - and false - impression of what constitutes evangelism is sadly commonplace and even includes prominent Christian leaders today encouraging their people not to evangelise at all!
Surely, this is not what Jesus was commanding before He ascended to the Father? (For related reading, please click: HERE).
Redeeming the Word ‘Evangelism’
There’s almost always a semantic confusion lurking somewhere within our impassioned theological debates. What even is evangelism? Can’t we just do ‘relational evangelism’ gently with people in our everyday worlds? Doesn’t sharing Jesus with my neighbour over the fence count? Isn’t there a difference between the office of Evangelist and all of our evangelistic efforts, anyway?
The answer to all of these questions is, of course, “yes!’. But I would hope that all sensible, wise, Spirit-filled, Bible-literate believers - let alone leaders - would be keen to re-examine Jesus’ words concerning evangelism rather than dismissing it as a wholly negative or powerless reality. We renege on our most basic Christian callings as disciples when we relegate evangelism to the doldrums of seeker-sensitive “Church”.
Evangelism is not negotiable. God means our witness to be at the spearhead of all Christian ministry. That’s right, all Christian ministry and arguably all Christian living, regardless of whether or not you would call yourself an Evangelist. If we’re not witnessing to the miracle of knowing Him, what are we actually doing? How dare we not evangelise.
Why the Awkward?
It’s the awkwardness and embarrassment that I alluded to above (a childhood & adolescence witnessing spiritual impotences) that feeds this false notion of evangelism. It’s a wineskin that’s fashioned in unbelief.
Growing up in the seaside town in the South of England where I’m from, I have vivid weekend memories of being in town and being aware, every Saturday, of a small gathering of men from an exclusive brethren chapel. Three or four or maybe five of them would be huddled together outside Woolworths clutching their closed Bibles and, at a level of audibility that was barley above a whisper, they would proceed, every single week, to ‘share’ the good news of Jesus.
This was awkward. Why? Not just because no-one could physically hear them but because there was no demonstration of supernatural power.
I also recently recall seeing two guys from a Bible College in Edinburgh, where I now live, ‘witnessing’ on one of the busiest streets in the UK. Stood aloft on a plastic stool and with angry facial expressions, this time literally shouting at the top of their voices with flailing arms and legs and probably dribble, and nothing by way of personal testimony, they proceeded to ‘share’ the good news of Jesus.
This was awkward. Why? Not just because no-one liked them, not just because they weren’t communicating the love/whole counsel of of God, but because there was no demonstration of supernatural power.
Both in South West England in the 1980s and on Edinburgh’s Princes Street just last year, was anyone encountering the living Christ…really?
Apostolic Witness & Holy Jealousy
I’m not sure what kind of church you lead - or indeed if you lead any church at all - but I think we all read the same Bibles.
When I read the book of Acts, I experience something that I can only describe as a holy jealousy. I am jealous for the pneumatic explosion of Word and Spirit and mission - the full authority of Jesus that He commanded above in Matthew 28, outworked through humble, broken, obedient followers of the Way. Towns were turned upside down, the Apostles were imprisoned and flogged or chased away, persecution broke out like a virus and yet supernatural power was manifest. (Please read: Ancient Missional Adrenaline here).
Therefore, when in history has the need been more urgent for the Church, His bride, to get real and get honest? While we cower in fear and apathy and unbelief, thousands of people, thousands of souls, simply terminate here on Earth…and continue in the fires of hell. Forever.
Oh, how we need a intravenous drip-feed of missional adrenaline.
I believe that the disparities between the pages of Acts and the scenes I describe above are for at least three reasons:
1) The Apostles were themselves cut to the heart. As witnesses of Jesus, and of His ways (Matthew 28:20[a]), the men who’d walked with Him possessed an urgency in witness that flowed from the mercy they’d received. Romans 12:1 - in view of God’s mercy…offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. When we share our own grace-dowsed stories of mercy upon mercy - of our own personal sanity, salvation and rescue in Christ - we’re more inclined towards boldness from rooftops not furtive whispers in huddles. This doesn’t mean that all of us stand on houses and shout, but it does mean that wherever we are, and whenever, we’re ready and looking to witness to the Jesus who is The Author of our own lives and identity as sons, and who could appear at any moment as Thief.
2) Their Evangelism was rooted in lifestyles of fasting and prayer. I made this point recently concerning the flabby UK Church and was accused of being judgmental. Of course, it’s not for me to point a finger (but perhaps at myself) and unanimously judge on the temperature of people’s lifestyles of faith, but I think I can ask the question generally of the Church by saying, do we really take Jesus seriously when he commends a fasted lifestyle of prayer and intercession? I for one know that I struggle to pursue this lifestyle with faith, but I’m not pretending that I seek or love Him wholeheartedly as I really would like. When we witness and participate in evangelism without getting serious about our personal lives behind the scenes, you and I forfeit the very Power that breaks out (2 Samuel 5:20) in moments of faith when we advance and engage in evangelism. Jesus descended into the valley only when He’d climbed the mountain. Radical valley-activity requires radical mountain-dwelling.
3) The Apostles feared God more than man. It’s not true to say that there was no anxiety or nerves in the book of Acts but it is true to say that the fear of the Holy Ghost (the beginning of wisdom - Proverbs 9:10) was much greater. We are not compelled to proclaim Christ from anxious, selfish motivations (as Jehovah’s Witnesses do) but from the bold urgency of a ‘rich man’s longing’ (see Luke 16:19-31) - for people to know and be transformed by the love of God. This only really catalyses into fruit-bearing when we fear God above man.
So, may this blog be a challenge and, hopefully, provocation to the deeper things in God. Let’s not give up on evangelism as some kind of out-dated construct of man, but let’s fall to our knees - our weak, trembling, faltering knees - and plead with the Father so that our, “…message and… preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power.” (1 Corinthians 2:4).
Awkwardness in evangelism, and indeed no evangelism at all, is because we desperately need to re-examine how we do life as followers of Yeshua.
Nick Franks is a beloved son and married to the glorious Mairi. Learning to love as he should, he’s been running the Jesus-riveted blog - Firebrand Notes - since 2007. He’s also pioneering Counterfeit Vlog as a growing hub of films responding to the false teachings in the Church and fake cultures of society. His ambitions are to grow increasingly into wholeheartedness of love for God, rescuing the lost, speaking hard truths to the Church and, above all, longing for the return of Christ. Nick and Mairi Franks currently live in Edinburgh, UK.