What does evangelism mean to you, and why do we do it? The simple default answer would be because Jesus told us to, so our job is to tell as many people about God as possible and get them saved. But if salvation is the only goal of our evangelistic efforts, we’ve completed missed the point of the Great Commission.
During a New Year’s parade, I watched in pain as a group of people marched down the street holding “Turn or Burn” signs. I cringe every time I see a person on the street corner with a megaphone shouting at people to inform them they’re going to hell. In my high school days, I was part of an evangelism team that walked the streets passing out tracts. I question effectiveness of what I did.
But why? Am I ashamed of the Gospel? Isn’t our purpose to preach about sin and salvation? Somehow we seem to have completely missed the emphasis of Jesus’ last words. Let’s look at this Great Commission again:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing 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.” – Matthew 28:19-20
There are several specific commands in this passage. Go into the world. Disciple people. Baptize them. Teach them to obey Jesus. Notice a trend? All of these are relational commandments. You cannot accomplish any of this in a 5-minute soapbox monologue, picket sign, or two-fold tract. Yet this is what we’ve reduced the Gospel and the Great Commission to.
Public evangelism may seem like a bold thing to do, but I think it may be too simplistic and easy. It’s easy to shout at people. It’s easy to hold a sign. It’s easy to pass out a piece of paper. This style of evangelism is easy because it does not require a holy life. It does not require you to love or invest in people. It does not require you to know the Bible. You just… stand there.
What Jesus calls us to do is much greater. Telling someone the message of salvation is only a small portion of Jesus’ commands. We are to disciple people, baptize them when they commit to follow Jesus, and teach them to obey Jesus’ commands… all of them. This requires a lot of time and relational investment on our part, and it’s something we can’t bang out in a single afternoon “evangelism ministry.”
To disciple and teach people is to invite them into your life. Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” This is discipleship. You spend time with people and become their friends. You serve them. You teach them through your lifestyle what it looks like to follow Jesus. You help answer their questions, which requires you to know the Bible yourself and actually have a relationship with God. You pray with them. You live life with them.
The scarier part is that they see your faults. They see your hypocrisy. They will know all the ways you are failing to live what you preach. And maybe that is why we prefer anonymous evangelism over personal discipleship. We hide our sin behind our picket signs of righteousness. But here’s the beauty – those who you disciple get to witness first-hand failure, confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation in Christ. They see that Christians fail, and they see the greatness of God’s love and mercy.
So the next time you get ready to hand out a tract, consider this – when was the last time you got to know your next-door neighbor, your co-worker, or the barista? Do you know what struggles they’re going through? Have you found a way to serve them?
Jesus does not call us solely to evangelism – that is only one small part of our purpose. Jesus calls us to make disciples.