“How do we reach the world for Jesus?” is a question I hear quite often. This age-old question has plagued believers for centuries. In fact, the church has been looking for effective ways to share the gospel since its inception, found in the book of Acts. Evangelism has always been a challenge. It has always taken sacrifice on the part of believers.
Evangelism is not a stagnant practice. Evangelism has been ever-present as a core function of the local church for centuries, but its methodology has changed over time. Even in the last 10 years, churches have drastically changed the way they do evangelism. If you are blessed enough to have been involved in the local church for most of your life, think back to how your church practiced evangelism when you were a child. Maybe your church had weeknight visits to people in the community with the sole purpose of conversion. Maybe your church held revival services twice a year with a heavy emphasis on inviting unbelievers. Every church and generation has done evangelism differently, and that’s perfectly okay.
In 1964, Bob Dylan released a song entitled The Times They Are a-Changin’, in which Dylan describes an ever changing world. Dylan sings, “…you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin’.” Culture is something that changes over time. My culture is not the same as my parents’, and their culture is not the same as their parents’. For effective evangelism, though, the church must engage its culture, as dynamic as that culture might be. Note: I did not say that the church must become one and the same with the culture.
The essence of evangelism can be found in the Greek origin of the word, and its original definition, as a verb, is “bring about good news.” Evangelism is all about bringing good news to others. As believers, we have experienced the best news in history. We have experienced the grace of Jesus Christ over our sins, though it is much undeserved. Therefore, we must not keep that good news to ourselves. We cannot. In life, when you receive good news of any sort, it is a challenge to keep it to yourself. Good news makes us burst with excitement. We want tell good news to others. Therefore, with the good news of the gospel, we should be bursting at the seams to proclaim it to others. We should want to tell the world about this grace we’ve received.
But it’s hard. Evangelism is hard. It always has been, and it always will be.
One of the most difficult aspects of evangelism is to contextualize the gospel with the time and culture. The overall message of the gospel should never change, but we can change how we contextualize our presentation and methodology of preaching that never-changing gospel. Evangelism should be strategic, and it should require some thought. “Which methods of evangelism are working, and which are not?” “How can we most effectively reach our community with the good news?” These are questions that should be asked before the church embarks on any evangelistic outreach. These questions, and many more like them, are a necessary evaluation that can lead to the spreading of the gospel. If an evangelistic method is no longer effective, and has become more “in-reach” for the church rather than “outreach,” it either needs to be stopped, or reclassified and reevaluated as a discipleship method. If the good news is not being proclaimed to unbelievers, then the ministry is no longer evangelistic. In order to reach the culture, we must understand the culture. We cannot sit in the church building silently lamenting over the sin of the people outside if we have never made them aware of the gospel of grace. We cannot evangelize if we are using methods and practices that do not engage the people in need. We cannot evangelize if we are using methods and practices that are only for the purpose of edifying the saints, rather than proclaiming grace to the sinner. Evangelism should flow out of discipleship. The Christian who is being discipled should want to engage the culture around her, rather than complaining about it. The Christian who is being edified within the ministries of the church should love the people in his community so much that he actively engages them for the gospel, rather than waiting for the people to engage him.
In order to evangelize the culture, to bring good news, the church must be willing to get outside the walls and into the culture. The church must be willing to, like Paul, “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some (1 Cor 9:22).” In order to “reach the world for Jesus,” we must not be scared of the cultures of the world, but rather, embrace them, and share with them the love and grace we have received through Jesus. This is the challenge facing today’s church in the realm of evangelism: We have become scared. We are fearful of the communities and cultures around us. They are not like us. They don’t act or look like us. They sin. But we have become scared into traditions and age-old practices that do not work evangelistically, but make us comfortable.
Church, let us no longer be scared of the culture. We have the presence of Christ in us, and he continually empowers his believers to evangelize. We have no reason to fear; therefore, let us move forward with evangelistic zeal, engaging the culture around us for the glory of God.