Give your church the multivitamin of evangelism
Evangelism has a way of nourishing the church in so many ways.
Diagnosis is never as simple as treatment. Not surprisingly, the Christian blogosphere swells every passing day with critical analysis or cutting satire of the church. Biblically illiterate, check. Self-centered, check. Hypocritical rather than holy, check. Stagnant in growth, double check. Quite frankly, a flawed church makes an easy target. But the real challenge is finding a solution.
Recently I’ve begun to wonder if personal evangelism isn’t the prescription for what ails us. No, I’m not talking about a cure-all. But what if evangelism was not simply the remedy for church growth but also for many other systemic problems in our congregations? Beyond making new converts, I believe that increasing our evangelism is crucial to supplement the health of our churches.
Many of us have witnessed it. For all the resources available to us, Western Christians know embarrassingly little about the religion they espouse and the Bible they believe. Discipleship rarely develops beyond the elementary. Rigorous study is only for those in ministry. Ignorance, especially among men, has become accepted and expected. Apathy toward Scripture, common.
But regular evangelism has a way of promoting biblical literacy. When Christians engage in dialogue with non-believers it naturally propels them to search the scriptures for ways to engage with the gospel. Not only that, but a questioning world forces believers to face difficult challenges head-on, perhaps ones they have never considered. If a believer rarely feels the need to open his Bible, it’s likely because he isn’t evangelizing his neighbor. But a faithfully witnessing Christian will inevitably be faced with questions and thereby incentivized to focused biblical study.
The petty squabbles that plague the church in the West are undeniable. Just listen to Christians poke fun at ourselves. We talk about deacons the same way we do lawyers. A committee deciding the shade of the sanctuary carpet has become a worn-out punchline only because it is an all-too-common experience of frustration. Then there are the theological squabbles. Beyond pragmatic and procedural issues, some minor doctrinal issues continue to unnecessarily fragment the church in the West.
But I believe a healthy emphasis on evangelism may help us here as well. Ask any politician, any business guru, even a military strategist. They know practical unity comes through shared vision and purpose. Which is why so many Christians who would never associate in the states end up linking arms on the mission field to reach the lost. The great need and unfinished task has a way of bringing us together. This doesn’t just happen across denominational differences but relational ones as well. People who wouldn’t otherwise work together suddenly can find deep unity when they collaborate to reach others with the gospel.
People say that fear is the main reason Christians don’t evangelize. I tend to believe a close second is a lack of personal holiness. We never want to be accused of talking where we’re not walking. Of being hypocrites. So we keep our mouths shut. And the longer we keep our mouths closed in evangelism, the less we have to worry about the way we live.
But the moment we start approaching others about our beliefs, the moment we would dare claim to know the truth, our personal lives come under scrutiny. Our marriage, our finances, our work ethic, our speech, our entertainment, it’s all on trial. Evangelism, then, is an incredible motivation—though not the primary or fundamental one—to growth in sanctification.
Christian parents know this, because we realize our kids are always watching. But so are the people at work and school. Thus, a commitment to speak openly and regularly about our faith can be a powerful encouragement to sincere piety and personal holiness, something we desperately lack in the church today.
Evangelism as multivitamin
Evangelism has a way of nourishing the church in so many ways. Of course, welcoming new converts addresses the obvious need of numeric growth. But seeing hearts transformed brings immeasurable joy to a church otherwise prone to discouragement and languor. Personal evangelism also provides Christians with the unique satisfaction that comes from a kind of occupational purpose. After all, it is for this that we were called, that we would bear much fruit.
Then there is the benefit to our faith. Our confidence in God flourishes when we see him answer prayers, intervene miraculously, and change lives. Evangelism also impacts the faith of the next generation. When children hear their parents witnessing to others, they realize that Christianity is more than a domestic experiment or family requirement. Children are impacted powerfully by parents who are active in reaching out to others with the gospel.
Of course, I’m not saying that proclaiming Christ should be so inward-focused that we do it only for our sakes. I’m also not suggesting it’s a wonder drug. That would be a snake oil scam. But I truly believe that personal evangelism can be a kind of multivitamin for the church, with benefits that are both tangible and corporate. For that reason, I have to think that active gospel proclamation could helpfully address much of what’s lacking in our churches, bringing the body health and growth to the glory of Christ.