The Book of Acts makes clear there is no single way to share the gospel. Peter preaches to a massive crowd during Pentecost (Acts 2). Philip discusses Isaiah privately with a royal eunuch from Ethiopia (Acts 8). Paul reasons with both Jew and Gentile in the synagogue and marketplace of Athens (Acts 17).
Also absent from the Book of Acts are the raising of hands, altar calls, signing of decision cards or repeating of prayers that often accompany evangelism today. In fact, the only outward pattern is that people were baptized shortly after professing faith in Christ.
If the Bible has no quick formula, no one-size-fits-all approach to evangelism, we should be careful not to either. That’s the main point of chapter one of Mack Stiles’ book Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus.
Last December, I said I’d read a chapter a week and blog through Stile’s book. Well, that lasted for about one week. But now I’m finally starting up again. And I promise I’ll finish this time! If you have a copy of the book, will you pick it up and read along with me?
In his Introduction, Mack Stiles championed the idea of a “culture of evangelism” where the church will see evangelism more as a way of life than a specific program or event in the church. Now, in chapter one, he tackles the meaning of evangelism itself.
“Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade” (p. 26).
I like short definitions, and they don’t get much shorter than this. Stile’s definition of evangelism has four key ingredients:
Teach. That is, use words. Building friendships with unbelievers and being an example to them is great, but it is not enough. We must also speak to them. Lost people need to hear the message of the gospel. This may happen on a Sunday morning at church. But often, it’s in everyday conversation over a cup of coffee, in the break room, on the golf coarse, in the McDonald’s playland, or even better, reading through a gospel together. This is one reason I’ve chosen to preach next through the Gospel of Mark. Because I want our people to own this book. I want us to know it backward and forward. To be so familiar with Mark and so in love with Jesus that we’ll feel comfortable leading other people through it.
The Gospel. This is what we are to teach. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 that the gospel — or good news — is “of first importance,” consisting of this simple message: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Do you believe this? Are you praying and looking for opportunities to share it? Mack gives a really helpful outline to use in our gospel conversations: God. Man. Christ. Response. I use this a lot in my own preaching and evangelism. But “the particular outline you use doesn’t matter as long as you teach the message people must know to be reconciled with God” (p. 34).
Aim. This part of the definition reminds us to share with urgency and compassion. People will spend eternity in heaven or hell, depending on how they respond to this message.
To Persuade. To “persuade” means to win over, to attract, to convince. We have a duty to use all the powers of truth, emotion, logic, image, and story, to move a person to a different point of view and subsequent action. We are not to argue. We are not to force. We are persuade. If the word persuade makes you fidgety, sounding just a little too Arminian, just remember it is a biblical word. Paul says, “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11). Stiles encourages us to adopt the word, with an important caveat: “I find the word persuade helpful, as it guards us from error: we persuade, but we do not manipulate; we persuade, but we are not the ones who bring about repentance or conversion. Of course, we long to see people converted because we understand that conversion is required for them to become Christians. But true conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit.” (p. 36). “Conversion,” he goes on, “isn’t merely a good feeling. It’s not just a change of mind…It’s born out of repentance and faith, and its fruit is a changed life” (p. 37).
This first chapter is a great reminder to differentiate between biblical evangelism and outward rituals, with a goal to persuade people of the truth of the gospel.
Question: How can we take measures so our persuasion will not turn into manipulation? Click here to leave a comment.