My first ever “convert” was a man in his mid-fifties who had been hospitalized for heart trouble. He had spent his entire adult life closing down one bar after another. I was so eager to notch my first conversion that I spent one minute literally reading and explaining John 3.16 and then one minute reading and explaining Acts 2.38 so that I could get my first baptism.
I got what I came looking for. The man was scared enough about his heart condition, about the prospect of dying sooner than later, that he was willing to be baptized if that meant he would now have the promise of eternal life. After having a pacemaker installed, the man was released from the hospital. With the fear of imminent death no longer a threat, he forgot his “conversion” to Christ and went right back to his old ways. So much for making a disciple!
Looking back, that was too much about me than it was about God. Yes I wanted to teach the man something about the Gospel but I also wanted a conversion so I could justify myself as a legitimate preacher to my peers.
As I’ve continued to grow in my own faith, I continued to try and evangelize people. I don’t consider myself any expert or guru on the ministry of evangelism but I have learned some things along the way. I’m still learning and have so much to learn. Yet between my own experience and what I’ve learned from others, I’d like to believe that I might have something useful to say.
After several years of making “converts” but failing to make many disciples, I decided that my approach to evangelism had to change if I was going to actually be faithful to Jesus. After all, the imperative of the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28.19-20 is to make disciples. The baptizing and teaching, while indispensable as well, is the response to disciple making.
If we take the imperative of Matthew 28.19-20 seriously, it means the question of evangelism is “are we making disciples of Jesus Christ?” No matter how many conversions and baptisms we can report, if we cannot answer this question affirmatively then we have a problem. And let’s not be fooled, the fruit produced will tell whether we are making disciples of Jesus or something else.
I’ve also come to realize that the ministry of evangelism is also misunderstood by many churches. Some think evangelism means inviting a person to a church service, some think its trying to convert a person to a set of doctrines, others think that evangelism involves nothing more than teaching or leading a person in a Bible study. Evangelism is more, it’s bigger, and yet it is not as difficult as some might believe.
Consequently, I want to write some posts on evangelism because it is an indispensable ministry if we are to be participants in God’s mission. I’m not sure how many posts this will be but stay tuned for more to follow if you want to think a little more critical about evangelism.