In 1999 I returned to college as a Bible and Ministry major at Harding University because I had become a disciple of Jesus and I wanted to learn how to better help others become disciples too. That meant, in part, looking for opportunities to evangelize the lost. Although that desire has never changed in me, I do need to remind myself from time to time that evangelism is important.
The challenge for me stems from my conviction that the goal of evangelism is the making of disciples (cf. Matt 28.19-20). When I first started trying to evangelize, the goal was baptism. This had been engrained in me from the many gospel meeting sermons I heard as a child.
Don’t get me wrong, baptism is important. But the imperative of the Great Commission is not baptism, it is to make disciples. That means making disciples precedes baptism. Yet since at the time the goal was about baptism, that is what I aimed for. The many evangelistic tracts I tried enabled me in this goal since their goal too, was baptism. They were carefully worded questions designed to convince a person of the need for salvation in Jesus and baptism.
I had several successful experiences in achieving this goal. Just like those simply working to lead a person in the so-called “sinner’s prayer”, this goal was about getting people primarily “saved from their sins” (fire insurance from hell) and little more.
So I began to realize something was wrong with the picture. Eventually I threw away all of those tracts and decided that the next person I got to share Jesus with, I would simply invite to read the Bible with me. That opportunity eventually came with a young man who had a lot of baggage. We began meeting every Tuesday afternoon to read through the Gospel of Mark. Then we read some from the Gospel of John, Acts, and Romans. All the while, a friend and I had invited him to join our mid-week home Bible-study group which was a wonderful group of believers who modeled for this seeker the life of faith and discipleship.
It was amazing to watch as he learned about the good news of Jesus, God’s grace, what the Christian life was about, and so on. After about eight months of reading the Bible and walking in life together with myself and our Bible-study group, he asked if he could be baptized. He didn’t know everything there is to know about being a Christian but he knew enough to understand the confession he was making and the commitment his confession demanded. So he was baptized in the fountain pool outside the McInteer Bible and World Mission Center at Harding University.
Since then I have sought to take evangelism slow, inviting those seeking God into the church community I am part of while inviting them to simply read the Bible. This allows time for God to open the hearts of people, rather than me, just as God did with Lydia and her household (cf Acts 16.14). Sometimes, as a preacher, I have been asked to come along and help other Christians who have already been reading scripture and walking in life with a seeker. Evangelism is never the work of one person…we all are just tools being used for God’s glory and mission.
Any ways, the results have been mixed. Some people have surrendered their life to Jesus in confession and baptism. Others have decided at some point that they are no longer interested in becoming a disciple. That is frustrating but it is necessary because again, evangelism is not about us. Evangelism, from beginning to end, is about God. It is about participating with God in his mission, trusting him to work and to open the hearts of those seeking him rather than trying to force the outcome ourselves.
Still there is a great joy in walking along side of people in life as God begins opening their heart, as they decide to commit themselves to Jesus through confession and baptism.
I hope this post encourages those who are trying to share their faith with others. Evangelism is not always easy but the Jesus is with us and the Spirit strengthens us. May the name of God, our Lord, be exalted and may his will be done on earth as in heaven!