The story is told of two soldiers huddled together in a foxhole, pinned down by enemy fire. During a lull in the shooting, one soldier peeked out to survey the situation. He exclaimed to his fellow soldier, “We are surrounded by the enemy!” to which the second soldier replied, “That’s great! Let’s not let any of them get away!” While we must never view unbelievers as the enemy (they are held captive by our true enemy, Satan), we certainly are surrounded by those who do not know Christ. How can we seek to not let any of them get away?
A pastor is called to equip believers for the work of ministry (Eph 4:11-12), which includes evangelism. How can we as pastors motivate, equip, and encourage our members to engage in personal witnessing?
Following are 10 key areas I have sought to cultivate in my own life and encourage in my church members. Each of these areas fosters personal evangelism in the local church.
1 Conviction: to believe people are lost and need Christ.
If we do not maintain a biblical view that people are lost and that trusting Christ in this life is their only hope, we will not witness. Why “risk” a conversation with someone if in the end it doesn’t really matter? The Bible makes clear that the gospel does matter: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). We are all called to be Christ’s ambassadors to share this message of hope (2 Cor 5:20).
2 Commitment: to be an evangelistic church.
In an attempt to overcome our natural tendency toward self-centeredness, our church adopted the motto: “It is so not about us!” It is about the Lord, first and foremost — then it is about others, especially those who don’t know Christ. We constantly talk about how the church is the only institution in the world that exists primarily for those not yet a part of it. Paul reminds us in Romans 10:14, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
3 Climate: to cultivate a friendly atmosphere.
I do not believe a lost person should feel comfortable at a worship service. For that matter, if we are truly preaching the Word, and the Lord’s holy presence is with us, believers should not feel comfortable either. Lost people should not feel comfortable in our churches, but they should feel welcome. Regardless of what they look like or how they are dressed, we should welcome them with open arms. It is not a sin for a church to be friendly to guests. We often talk about how the church should be “a safe place to hear a dangerous message.” Jesus declared he had not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Luke 5:32).
4 Connecting: to identify the lost persons God has placed around us.
We regularly highlight Oscar Thompson’s concept of “Concentric Circles of Concern.” God has placed people in our lives — family, friends, neighbors, work associates, classmates, and acquaintances. Acts 17:26 instructs us, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” We need to identify those whom God has placed in our concentric circles to receive the gospel message.
5 Caring: to display concern for others and serve them.
Based on Concentric Circles, we have church members submit the first names of people who need Christ so we can pray for those individuals as a church. Prayer meetings in our churches tend to focus on needs of members, typically health concerns. And we should pray for those concerns. My favorite definition of minor surgery is “that which is done on someone else.” When you or a loved one is experiencing a health crisis, you covet the prayers of others. But we must not let the physical dominate the spiritual. Jesus reminds us of the priority of the spiritual: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28).
In addition to praying, we encourage serving in tangible ways by meeting practical needs. We emphasize how unbelievers tend to be more open to the gospel message when they see it lived out.
6 Calendaring: to identify specific “harvest days” and “special events.”
I preach expository sermons verse by verse through books of the Bible. While I share the gospel each week as part of my message, some passages of Scripture focus on the gospel more directly than others. When I am about to preach one of those passages, I alert my church members that this Sunday would be a great time to invite an unbeliever to come (not that there is ever really a bad time).
We also seek to utilize special events as a “doorway” to the gospel and the church. LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer’s research among the unchurched shows that more than 80 percent of unchurched persons would respond positively to an invitation to attend church from someone they knew. Paul, in Ephesians 5:15-16, challenges us, “Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
7 Courage: to overcome the barrier of fear.
Perhaps the greatest single reason we do not witness more (or witness at all) is fear. It can be scary to talk about one’s faith with an unbeliever. We emphasize relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to give us boldness in sharing Christ with others: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
8 Coaching: to provide regular training in sharing the gospel.
We are blessed today with many wonderful witnessing helps. We try to provide regular training in the use of various methods to share the gospel. I liken these different approaches to different tools in one’s toolbox. Growing up on a farm, I have amassed an assortment of tools. Some are specialty tools I have only used once — but they are there if I ever need them. I encourage people to fill their witnessing toolbox with various approaches, so they have one they can pull out that fits their current witnessing opportunity.
We have trained people in “Three Circles,” the Romans Road, sharing one’s personal testimony, “Two Ways to Live,” “The Story,” and how to share a gospel booklet (we utilize the Experiencing God’s Grace booklet, produced by The Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at Southern Seminary). This past year we read together as a church Gateway Baptist Theological Seminary President Jeff Iorg’s wonderful book, Unscripted: Sharing the Gospel as Life Happens. We followed up with an one-and-a-half-hour brainstorming session on how we could apply basic evangelism principles in our personal lives and in the corporate life of our church.
9 Celebrating: to applaud those who are reaching out with Christ’s love.
We celebrate those who are being faithful to step outside their comfort zone to share Christ with others. We encourage one another with the reminder found in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
10 Christ: to seek to make knowing Christ and making him known consuming passions in our lives.
Witnessing is fueled by the overflow of our daily walk with Christ. Jesus testified, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34). Have you seen the late night infomercial promoting a DVD training course to help grandparents gain the confidence to talk about their grandchildren to others? No you haven’t, and you never will. Why not?
Grandparents do not need help when it comes to talking about their grandchildren. All a person needs to do is give them a moment of pause in the conversation and they will find a way to bring up the topic of their grandchildren. Why? Because their mouths are speaking out of that which fills their heart. Grandparents find it easy to talk about their grandchildren because their hearts are filled with love for them. When love for Christ fills our hearts on a daily basis, it will be natural to talk about him to others.
Evaluate your own personal life and your church context. Which of these 10 things are happening now? Which may need to begin? Which may need to be re-visited? None of these 10 areas will happen by accident. They must be emphasized, and re-emphasized, and then re-emphasized again. The church is the only institution in the world that exists primarily for those not yet a part of it. Pastors, let’s equip and encourage our people in personal witnessing. Let’s model that commitment in our own lives, where we don’t end up conveying, “Do as I say, but not as I do.” Finally, let’s constantly pray to the Lord of the harvest to “send out workers into his harvest” (Matt 9:28), all for his glory and honor and praise.
Timothy K. Beougher is Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Seminary, where he is also associate dean of The Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry.