Evangelism Isn’t Easy
Evangelism isn’t easy. It can be a laborious task. Jesus told His disciples to pray for workers, laborers who would enter the harvest (Matthew 9:37-38). He didn’t tell them to pray for vacationers or hobbyists. And the people Jesus told to pray for workers were the same people He expected to be the workers to enter, live and, if necessary, die in the fields white for spiritual harvest.
Evangelism is made more difficult when discouragemnent comes. Discouragement comes when the Christian weighs his or her evangelistic efforts against an unbiblical, worldy, American Evangelical definition of effectiveness. Intensifying the discouragement is the sense of being utterly alone in the effort. For many evangelistically minded Christian it’s more than a mere sense of loneliness. They are very much alone. No one else in their churches, including leadership, will join them on the streets. Every Sunday morning as he leaves the church after the worship service, the Christian (who actually cares that lost people are dying and going to hell every day) looks at the interior wall, above the main doors of the church. He sees the statement written in large block letters above the door: “YOU ARE ENTERING THE MISSION FIELD.” All he can do is drop and shake his head. “Am I the only one who actually believes this?” he asks himself.
And if the evangelistically minded Christian isn’t discouraged enough already, he or she adds this to his or her thinking. “I’m not seeing people come to genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. I’ve yet to see a single person converted. I’ve given my contact information to lots of people after what I thought were wonderful gospel conversations. Not a single one of those people have called. None of them have come to church. And my pastor just told me he doesn’t believe gospel tracts are effective or a good investment because he hasn’t ever seen anyone come to our church as a result.”
A Case in Point: A Discouraged Christian
I recently received the following email from a Christian, in Florida.
“Thank you for your boldness for the gospel and your love for Christ. I hope one day to have the boldness to get on a soapbox here in Orlando, FL.
“I don’t want to distract you from your ministry affairs, however, I did want to ask you about how often you see genuine repentance.
“I started a door-to-door ministry at my church to practically train people in how to share the gospel, before that I did it by myself. As you can imagine, it’s not too popular. Most disheartening is that I have not seen anyone genuinely saved. I lose sleep over this and begin to question whether or not I’m missing it somewhere. I’m totally convinced of monergistic salvation, and that this faith will be marked by a love for Christ and a hate for sin, and that God uses the means of the gospel call to bring about regeneration.
“Since I’ve been a Christian, I’ve never seen a single person come to Christ through my preaching and it isn’t because of my lack of trying. I can only guess that I don’t have realistic ideas of what results should look like, as I’m comparing it to those who preach decisional regeneration. How do you deal with this, if in fact you do deal with this?
“Any advice or correction would be gladly received.”
I do have advice for this brother in Christ. The advice stems from mistakes I’ve made and are lessons I’ve learned–lessons of which I must intentionally remind myself, almost daily.
For Many Years I Had It All Wrong
I had a Chip on My Shoulder
I was a very angry evangelist. I wasn’t mad at the world. It wasn’t lost people who made me angry, although I certainly angrily, sinfully lashed out at lost people, from time-to-time. I was angry with God’s people–the Church–the Bride of Christ.
It was very easy for me to grumble and complain about the Church. After all, American Evangelicalism is a mess. I still hold that, as a religious system, American Evangelicalism is not Christian. There are genuine Christians and genuine churches that are placed in the category of American Evangelicalism, but they are the minority in an ever-deteriorating religious system. However, even though some of my complaints had merit, my incessant grumbling (often public) wasn’t loving toward Christ or His authentic bride.
As a result, I often took to the streets with a huge chip on my shoulder. I was bitter toward Christians who, according to my arbitrary standards, didn’t engage in enough evangelism. That people from my church wouldn’t join me on the streets really bothered me. I looked down at pastors who didn’t share my passion for street evangelism. And don’t get me started on those pastors who spoke negatively about street evangelism.
To be clear: I maintain that “Friendship Evangelism,” an unbiblical creation of American Evangelicalism, is an enemy of Christ and His gospel. While there are many different forms of biblical evangelism, “Friendship Evangelism” isn’t one of them. While I was plenty angry with people who promoted such a man-centered, gospel-less methodology, I also managed to maintain a chip on my shoulder with Christian brethren who agreed with me, but weren’t out doing the work. Oh, I affirmed the truth that there are many ways to engage in biblical evangelism. However, if I was honest, I held the way I was engaged in evangelism to be a higher form of the discipline.
I Misunderstood Effectiveness
My anger and bitterness was compounded by allowing other Christians’ questions about effectiveness get to me. The reason the questions got to me was because I didn’t have a good answer for them. After all, isn’t the primary goal of evangelism to see people saved?
I played a number of sports in my youth. None was I more passionate about than baseball. When it came to the greatest game ever invented, my identity was found in my personal statistics: batting average, ERA, winning percentage, etc. The better my stats, the better ballplayer I was–the more effective I was. I brought this mentality into my evangelism.
I used to keep close track of how many tracts I distributed, how many conversations I had, and how many times I open-air preached. Then it hit me. “I’m not seeing anyone getting saved. I’m handing out tens-of-thousands of gospel tracts. I’m talking to lots of people. Hundreds, if not thousands, have heard me open-air preach. Statistically, however, I’ve got a pretty low batting average. I’m well below the Mendoza Line. Well below.
Bitterness toward other Christians and a fundamental misunderstanding of evangelistic effectiveness had my thinking about the Church and evangelism out of whack. My thinking about evangelism was out of whack. I wasn’t thinking biblically. I had it all wrong. I look back on those days with not a few tears. The reason: I taught many other Christians to think just as bad as I was thinking.
But He Didn’t Leave Me There!
But thanks be to God that sanctification is for a lifetime! Thanks be to God for changing my thinking, for renewing my mind, for bringing me to repentance.
To My Christian Brother: Let Me Encourage You
Returning now to the Christian brother who emailed me, here is an open letter to him, which I hope will encourage him and others as well.
Thank you so very much for taking the time to write me. That anyone would think I have anything by way of counsel or encouragement to offer is a precious blessing–one that continues to humble me. Thank you.
That being said, make sure you weigh everything you’ve already read in this article, and everything that follows, against the perfect truth of Scripture. I am but a man–a very fallible one at that. And keep in mind, I am not your pastor. I have no spiritual authority in your life. That authority has been given by God to your elders. Respect them. Honor them. Listen to them. Submit to their God-given authority. Follow them as they follow Christ.
“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith . . . Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:7, 17).
I rarely see what I believe is genuine repentance in the people with whom I share the gospel. And that’s okay!
Certainly, my desire is for everyone with whom I share the gospel to come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. I want everyone, everywhere to be saved! However, you and I both know that’s not going to happen. The fact that hell is a real place is all the information we need to know, with certainty, that not eveyone will spend eternity in heaven with us and the Lord Jesus Christ. And God is good.
Brother, those whom God has blessed with amazingly abundant fruit as a result of their evangelistic ministries have books written about them. We should rejoice and be glad; we should thank the Lord our God our Maker for the work He has accomplished in the population of His Kingdom, through the harvest work of these remarkable people. If we read their stories and come away with the thought, “I wish that were me,” we miss the point entirely. Their stories are not and never were about them. Every story is HIS story. Every testimony is a testimony of God’s goodness, grace, mercy, love, faithfulness, and power. The people who appear in His stories are merely conduits of His grace–ambassadors and heralds of His Good News.
However, the vast majority of faithful, evangelistic gospel communicators will never be known to anyone but the Lord, their local churches, and those with whom they share the gospel. Books will not be written about them, about us. I can think of one exception: Jeremiah.
The prophet Jeremiah had more than years of faithful, prophetic and evangelistic ministry. Unlike you and me, God told him that people would not listen to him.
“‘I will pronounce My judgments on them concerning all their wickedness, whereby they have forsaken Me and have offered sacrifices to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands. Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them. Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land, to the kings of Judah, to its princes, to its priests and to the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 1:16-19).
By the end of his ministry, Jeremiah saw two people, just two, come to genuine repentance–one was his scribe, Baruch, and possibly Ebed-Melech, an Ethiopian eunuch. Some, like Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee, question whether Jeremiah saw any converts at all.
Think about that, my brother. God told Jeremiah the people wouldn’t listen to him. And, according to the unscriptural standards of American Evangelicalism, Jeremiah was an utter evangelistic failure. Come on; I mean, really; two converts? That’s it? Not very effective, was he?
Brother, I think we can agree, Jeremiah has likely been in the Lord’s presence for more than 2,400 years, worshiping at His feet.
The lens through which to observe and evaluate Jeremiah’s ministry, as well as your own, isn’t the man-centered and myopic lens of effectiveness. It should be viewed through the biblical lenses of obedience and love.
Obedience and Love
Dear brother, the effectiveness of your evangelistic ministry has nothing to do with how many gospel tracts you distribute or how many doors upon which you bruise and bloody your knuckles knocking. It has nothing to do with how many times you open-air preach or how big the crowds are when you publicly make a fool of yourself, for Christ’s sake.
The effectiveness of your evangelistic ministry has nothing to do with how many followers you have on social media, or how many likes and shares you have on your posts and videos. It has nothing to do with how many people look up to you or down at you because you are an evangelist. It has nothing to do with how many churches or conferences at which you are asked to preach. All of this is vanity. And I’ve learned this the hard way.
The effectiveness of your evangelistic ministry has nothing to do with how many converted lives to which you can point. Again, the prophet Jeremiah is proof of this.
There are two biblical tests for the effectiveness of your ministry, my brother; two barometers, if you will: obedience and love. If these two biblical elements are present and growing in your life and your evangelism, then your ministry is and will be effective, regardless of how the world or a worldly Christianity defines the term.
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments . . . He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him . . . If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him . . . He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me” (John 14:15, 21, 23-24).
“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).
And Jesus has commanded us to proclaim the gospel to lost people dead in their sin (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8, see also John 17:20-21 and Acts 4:23-31).
My brother, your evangelism has been, is, and will be effective if it is the byproduct of a heart’s desire to lovingly obey our Lord. This is true even if no one accepts a gospel tract, no one opens a door, and yes, even if no one gets saved.
Your evangelism will also be effective if it is a fulfillment of the two greatest commandments.
“But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets'” (Matthew 22:34-40).
The two greatest commandments are to love God and to love people. There is no greater expression of love toward God than making Him known to others through the faithful and, if necessary, sacrificial proclamation of the gospel. Likewise, there is no greater expression of love toward people than to warn them of the wrath of God that abides upon them (John 3:36) and to point them to the same God–the only one who can save them–calling them to repent and believe the gospel.
My brother, the validity of your love for God and love for people is not determined by how lost people respond to your love. It is not determined by how people respond to the gospel. The validity of your love for both is determined by the God who took your heart of stone and gave you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). It is determined by the One who caused you to be born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). The validity of your love for God and love for people has already been determined; it has already been settled by the Sovereign One who gave you the ability to love Him and others and who, before the foundation of the world, determined every evanglelistic step you would take and the motivation behind each one.
God IS Sovereign
The greatest gift God has given me in the area of evangelism is the understanding and application of His sovereignty to the task of evangelism.
You mentioned, brother, in your email that you subscribe to doctrine of monergism–the biblical reality that God alone is the working agent in the salvation of sinners. Salvation is not a cooperative effort between God and man (synergism). As Jonathan Edwards rightly said, “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”
Before I came to truly understand God’s sovereignty in salvation, my soteriology was askewed. Since I believed I had a hand in my salvation (in that it was my decision that led to me receiving the free gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ), I naturally believed everyone else’s salvation was based, in part, on their decision to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This thinking naturally led to believing that evangelism involved convincing people to make a decision to follow Jesus.
So, how did I feel when I failed to convince people to “accept” Jesus? Terrible. I felt like a failure. Worse still were the times when I did convince someone to pray a prayer and ask Jesus into his heart, only to see him never bear any fruit and quickly “fall away” from the faith altogether. I either failed to get someone to make a decision for Christ, or I failed to convince the person to continue to walk with Christ, after they made the decision. As a result, I stopped doing evangelism. I convinced myself it just wasn’t my “gift.”
This is why I believe most professing Christians have no real desire to engage in evangelism–fear of failure and fear of man.
Thanks be to God that He did’t leave me in the mire of such unbiblical thinking! Glory to God for opening my eyes to the true nature of my own salvation, which opened my eyes to the true nature of everyone else’s salvation. And I praise Him for forever changing evangelism from a chore to a joy, from work to worship!
Since coming to understand God’s sovereignty in salvation, I have never once failed in evangelism. Now, let me qualify that remarkable statement with this: I have failed, sadly many times, as a result of sinful behavior–a harsh word, bitterness harbored, reviling when reviled, seeking glory of men instead of seeking glory for God, etc. But, I have never failed in evangelism, when I’ve biblically engaged in evangelism. The only time I have failed in evangelism is when I have failed to evangelize. Why? It’s not up to me whether or not a person is saved. An unsaved sinner’s salvation is not at all contingent upon my abilities as an evangelist.
The gospel is the power of God for salvation, not my abilities in communicating it. The gospel is the power of God for salvation, not my chosen methods for communicating it. While God certainly can and does use the abilities He has given me and the methodologies over which He has sovereign control, God doesn’t need me. God doesn’t need me to be a better evangelist or even a good one, for that matter.
Now, the fact that God doesn’t need me doesn’t give me license to be lazy in my biblical studies. This reality doesn’t give me license not to be well-versed in apologetics (1 Peter 3:15). And this reality certainly doesn’t give me license to behave sinfully in my interactions with people–saved or unsaved.
What does this reality give me? Freedom.
Because God is sovereign in salvation and I know it I am free to enjoy evangelism. I am free to worship the Lord my God through the work of evangelsim. Today, when I engage in evangelism I not only communicate the gospel to lost people, but I also commune with my God as I communicate the gospel to lost people. Gone are the fears of failure. Gone is the need to perform.
Brother, you asked me in your email how I deal with not seeing people come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. This is how I deal with it. Again, I want everyone with whom I speak to repent and believe the gospel. I plead with sinners. I call them to repent and believe the gospel. And, by God’s grace, I have seen the Lord perform this greatest of miracles at time or two. But I don’t have to see this grand miracle happen before my eyes to keep me going–to keep me motivated and engaged in evangelism.
Whether or not I ever see anyone saved, I am still commanded by God to love Him and to love people. The greatest way, in my estimation, to accomplish both is to proclaim the gospel to lost sinners.
Dear brother, you may never see a lost sinner saved. Or, the Lord may allow you to see many come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Whether He does or doesn’t should have no bearing on your evangelism. You are a Christian. You don’t engage in evangelism for your pleasure, but rather for His glory. And bringing Him glory should always bring you pleasure.
Be encouraged, my brother! Press on! Don’t quit!
Love God and love people through the proclamation of the gospel.