Evangelism & Discipleship

Evangelism is both the lifeblood of the church and one part of the mission of the church. As you explore the various articles and resources on evangelism and discipleship on this site, keep in mind that before we can share the good news, we must be the good news.  


Evangelism and the PC(USA)

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Sharing the Gospel may not come easy but it is an essential part of the Christian lifestyle. Here is an overview on the denomination's perspectives on evangelism.

Reclaiming Evangelism

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Evangelism is a word that makes a lot of Presbyterians squirm. We have a big need for evangelism, however, whether we like the word or not. As a denomination, we are losing members. So we must think how we  can reclaim evangelism. It is our lifeblood as well as the core mission  of the church. 

A Call to Evangelism in Jesus Christ's Way

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The 203rd General Assembly (1991) gave evangelism continued high emphasis in the life of the church. One of the actions taken by the assembly was the adoption of Turn to the Living God: A Call to Evangelism in Jesus Christ’s Way, a statement that articulates our commitment to global evangelization. Download the 25th anniversary edition of this important document and be refreshed, renewed and inspired to reach people as Jesus did.

How to Explain the Gospel

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It is every Christian's responsibility to share the Gospel:


"Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect."
- 1 Peter 3:15-16

Learn to share the good news with one Bible verse.

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Evangelism and the PC(USA)

Excerpted from an article originally appearing in the April 2002 issue of Presbyterians Today by Sherron Kay George. The full article is available at https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/evangelism-2/


Do Presbyterians still believe in evangelism? I quickly discovered in the required class on mission and evangelism I taught at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary that many students had little interest in or even an aversion to evangelism. Isn’t that something Baptists, Pentecostals, megachurches, and TV evangelists do?


We Presbyterians station smiling greeters at the front door, and we may take bread to visitors. We may invite someone to our church. But we generally do not feel comfortable speaking publicly about our personal faith.


Presbyterian pastors do not often preach evangelistic sermons or give altar calls, and door-to-door evangelism is rare among Presbyterians. Is there a way to practice evangelism without emotional manipulation and aggressive marketing techniques that lead to superficial decisions? Can Presbyterians reclaim with integrity our historical commitment to evangelism?


Evangelism is one part of God’s mission

Many Presbyterians are confused about the relation between mission and evangelism. The word mission comes from the Greek for “sending,” and evangelism from “good news” or “public messenger of good news.” God is at work in our troubled and broken world. This is good news!


What is God doing in this world where many forms of devastating evil are rampant? God sent the Son and the Holy Spirit and now sends the church into the world as instruments of redemptive mission. God is bringing to fruition the new reality that was manifested in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ — God’s reign of life, love, justice and peace. While this reign seems hidden, it is present like yeast, light, salt and a small seed.


Jesus defined the mission of God’s reign: “The Spirit of the Lord … anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).


God’s “holistic” or total mission activity includes three essential areas, all high priorities for the PC(USA): evangelism, compassionate service and social justice (see table above). Jesus practiced and intermingled all three. Each is a distinct and necessary part of God’s mission. If any area is neglected, the church’s mission is truncated.


Lives speak louder than words

All evangelism is mission, but not all mission is evangelism. Evangelism, compassionate service and social justice are integral to the Christian’s lifestyle. Our lives speak louder than our words and are the first Bible many people will read. The attitudes of respect, compassion and humility should characterize our evangelism and all other participation in God’s mission. While words are necessary at some point in evangelism, our deeds, attitudes and lifestyle help or hinder evangelism.


The specific intention of evangelism, compassionate service and social justice is an important distinctive of each. Building the church through conversion and discipleship is the intention of evangelism, while service and justice seek primarily to promote the values of God’s reign — although there are many overlaps. With integrity we can consider responding to human need, building sustainable community, and social transformation as intentions of mission. However, the ultimate end of every kind of mission activity is the consummation of God’s reign, where Jesus Christ is Lord of all forever.


Evangelism in an interfaith context

Sometimes we engage in social service and justice without speaking about Jesus or the church, and this is advisable in interfaith cooperation endeavors. For example, when people of diverse faith communities who belong to Austin Area Interfaith Ministries cooperate in ministry to the homeless or advocacy in public places on behalf of justice issues, they do not practice verbal evangelism. On the other hand, when members of a congregation help a family renovate their home or take food to flood victims, they should spell out who they are and why they are doing it, and evangelism is intertwined.


Words are helpful to explain why we practice compassionate service and social justice. When people ask us questions about the Christian faith or our view on ethical issues, we must be ready to answer with bold humility and in clear non-technical language.


Presbyterians believe both in cooperation or dialogue with and in evangelism or witness to people of other faiths. Mission workers in Muslim countries practice mission through compassionate service and community cooperation, but must be reticent in relation to evangelism because of government prohibitions. Christians in China testify that a major reason for the amazing growth of the church during the repressive Cultural Revolution was the “silent witness” of compassionate and honest Christians in daily life.


Dialogue presupposes the faith commitment of all parties, so we need not hide or compromise what we believe. We can openly share our belief in Jesus and respectfully listen while others share their beliefs in order to learn from one another. We witness evangelistically and invitationally only as we discern that the Spirit is opening doors and preparing hearts to respond to God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.


Sharing good news — every Christian’s responsibility

Every person in the world has the right to hear and respond to God’s universal offer of grace in Christ. And sharing this good news is the responsibility of every Christian and the church as a whole. Christians in every country around the globe have the privilege of joyfully sharing the good news of the whole gospel with their friends, relatives, acquaintances, neighbors and colleagues.


Salvation is a gift of grace that God freely gives, but God chooses to communicate and offer this gift through human agents. We simply take advantage of opportunities to articulate and explain our personal faith in Jesus Christ and our life as his disciples, and leave the results to God’s Spirit.


Only God calls, elects, sends and saves people. Asking who is “saved” or “lost” are inappropriate questions for Presbyterians. We leave that to God’s sovereign love and justice. The important question is: Are we faithful witnesses?


When a young Brazilian, Rodrigo Cardoso, made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord he started sharing his faith every day in the post office where he worked. He simply allowed the love and peace of Christ which filled him to spontaneously overflow to others. He shared his faith with his mother and his siblings. When he was taken to São Paulo for open-heart surgery, he asked permission before the anesthesia to witness to the medical team, which he did with joy and confidence. He told them that in life and death he belonged to Christ. Later he became a lay evangelist and started a new church development in Dourados in south Brazil. His heart finally failed fatally while witnessing to Christ in a vacation Bible school.


No room for arrogance

Evangelism is invitational. Jesus came into the world as a gift of God’s grace. Some people “did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:11-12, italics added). God offers gifts, but never forces people to accept them. God invites a response. When we share our faith and invite others to accept Christ, pray, read literature, or attend a Bible study or church service, we must allow them to accept or reject God’s loving grace.


Repentance is the response that recognizes mistaken attitudes, words, actions or priorities and determines to change. Such recognition and change can come in a moment, as it did for the crowd at Pentecost (Acts 2) and for the Philippian jailer (Acts 16), but it lasts a lifetime. Presbyterians understand evangelism as a process that calls people to conversion, discipleship, incorporation into Christian communities, and participation in God’s mission.


Not only do we evangelize as we share and invite others to respond to the good news, but we too are continually evangelized as we hear afresh and respond to the gospel challenges. This humble approach leaves no room for arrogance. Darrell Guder offers Presbyterians a relevant theology of evangelism in The Continuing Conversion of the Church. He says, “Evangelizing churches are churches that are being evangelized. For the sake of its evangelistic vocation, the continuing conversion of the church is essential.”


How Presbyterians evangelize

Lifestyle evangelism is a matter of speaking, inviting and receiving. We learn to speak about our Christian faith to others, to share what difference the presence of God and the support of the Christian community make in our lives, especially in times of suffering and transition. We tell others of the spiritual resources and guidance we find through prayer, Bible reading, worship and service.


An example: Ernie, a seminary student, mobilized colleagues to make and distribute peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (PBJ mission) to hungry people in Austin. Ernie looked each recipient in the eye and said, “Jesus loves you.”


The most mature articulation of the Christian faith I have ever seen was my mother’s during the 66 days between the discovery of her cancer and her death. Her love, joy, peace and confidence in God’s plan in life and in death were a powerful testimony that touched many lives.


Many people around us are searching and hurting. After we articulate our faith to them, or if we simply cannot yet do that, we can invite people to attend a Bible study, a support group appropriate to their need, or a church service. While not all will accept our invitations, we will find that people are more spiritually hungry and open to receive them than we are to extend them.


Most people go to a church initially because they are invited, and many are simply waiting to receive an invitation. When people respond to our invitations or come to our churches on their own initiative, we must receive them in Jesus’ name and way. From the moment visitors enter the church property, their ease in navigating the facilities, the way they are greeted, the understandability of the service, the relevance of the message, the response of people to them after the service, the follow-up calls, letters or visits — each is a positive or negative witness to the gospel.


First impressions are determinative. Do visitors feel welcomed? Do they feel that we are a warm, inclusive community or a closed, exclusive clique? Especially when people are different in any way from the majority, do they feel accepted? After all, when we receive the “least of these,” we receive Jesus Christ.


Reclaiming Evangelism

Evangelism is a word that makes a lot of Presbyterians squirm. We have a big need for evangelism, however, whether we like the word or not. As a denomination, we are losing members. So we must think how we  can reclaim evangelism. It is our lifeblood as well as the core mission  of the church.


Conference attendees offered many definitions of evangelism. One  struck me by its simplicity and clarity. Evangelism, this person said,  is “telling good news joyfully.” Only four words. Yet each conveys an  essential ingredient in authentic evangelism.


First, the word “telling.” 

In Romans 10:14 (NRSV),  Paul asks: But how are they to call on one  in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of  whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone to  proclaim him? 


Telling the message of Christianity is an essential ingredient in  inviting others to join us in Christian discipleship. But public  preaching is not the only way to tell. Christians need to reclaim an  understanding of evangelism as personal sharing between two people in  conversation, friends talking with friends, co-workers over lunch,  parents with children.


In these situations, effective evangelism does not begin with  Christians asserting the initiative, but with Christians responding to a  question another person asks. 


The conversation may start with a friend asking, “Why do you make it  habit to attend church every Sunday when there are so many other things  to do on a Sunday morning?” Or it may start with a child asking, “Daddy,  why do we say prayer before we eat?” 


These “why” questions open the door to share the gospel. That’s the  pattern in Acts 2. On Pentecost Day, the Lord pours out the Holy Spirit  on his disciples. They begin to tell the mighty deeds of God.  By-standers ask, “What does this mean?” Peter responds by preaching his  Pentecost sermon.

 

Telling is an important part of evangelism, but we need to be  sensitive to our audience. Have we been invited to tell our story or are  we forcing ourselves on others against their wishes?


The second essential ingredient is those two words, “good news.” At  the heart of the gospel is the idea that it is a message that makes  people excited and hopeful. We can’t help sharing the news because it’s  so good.


The Christian gospel tells of something exciting and good that has  happened in our world and in our own lives as a result of what God has  done on our behalf through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus  Christ. 


D.T. Niles described evangelism vividly as one beggar telling another  beggar where to find bread. In evangelism, we share what we’ve  experienced in the Christian life that has made a difference in how we  think of God, how we feel about ourselves, and how we live our lives.


No one, however, will be able to share the good news of the Christian  gospel if they do not experience it as good news for themselves. For  too many Christians, the Christian life is all about grim duty, guilt  feelings, and a deadening of the spirit. Who is excited about sharing  something as negative as that? This is why I believe a lot of Christians  today need to discover the gospel as good news for themselves before  they can evangelize others. 


The third essential ingredient in the definition is the word  “joyfully.” This word says the spirit in which we tell the good news  equals in importance what we say. 


Think of how a spouse or a child may hear something we say as  criticism even though we did not mean it that way. “But it’s what the  tone of your voice communicated,” they say.


There may be times when it is appropriate to evangelize by preaching  hellfire and brimstone, but I have come to feel that ought to be the  exception rather than the rule. The spirit of fear works against the  spirit of good news that the gospel conveys.


The word “joyfully” also indicates the absolute necessity that our  behavior backs up our preaching. In advertising, it’s a principle that a  good ad can get a shopper to walk into a store and buy the product. But  if the product does not live up to its billing, the customer will not  buy again. 


The same is true in evangelism. Our evangelistic efforts may draw  visitors into our church, but if what they experience is something  negative and unappealing, they will not be back. 


The Barna Group last year issued a report that the reputation of  Christianity among young people in America, ages 16 to 29, has taken a  sharp turn downwards. When asked to describe Christians, American youth  used terms like judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, and too  involved in politics. One frequent complaint was that “Christianity in  today’s society no longer looks like Jesus.”1 


When I hear comments like that, I feel we are paying the price for  the contentious way Christians have participated in politics over the  last 30 years. Too often we have communicated to the public that  Christianity is all about opposition to sex, abortion, and  homosexuality. When we narrow down Christianity to an obsession with  only these things, we communicate that Christianity is all about  negativity, not about living life abundantly.


When Christians fail to live out a lifestyle that reflects the spirit  of Jesus, we show the gospel has — after all — made no difference in  the way we live, unless we are humble enough to admit openly that we  fall short.


So, how can Presbyterians do evangelism in an authentic way? By  telling good news joyfully, keeping in mind that before we can share the  good news, we must be good news. To paraphrase a line from the TV show  “Mission Impossible,” that is our mission as a church, if we choose to  accept it.


Gordon Lindsey is pastor of Scottsville Church in Scottsville, Va.,  and a part-time staff associate with the Presbytery of the James.


1“A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with  Christianity,” an update on a report issued by The Barna Group.  Published on September 24, 2007 on the group’s website (www.barna.org).


Presbyterian Outlook, July 14, 2008 by Gordon Lindsey 

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Explaining the Gospel in one verse: John 3:16

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"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." 

- John 3:16 


We can use this verse by itself to explain, in very simple terms, what we believe and why we do what we do.


1. God's Love - For God so loved the world

God's love is awesome! It's not because He loves us for who we are, it's because He loves us in spite of who we are! Despite our very best efforts, we have all broken God's Commandments and thus committed sin. If we only sin 3 times a day and live until we are 75 then that's around 75,000 sins! We deserve God's anger and punishment not His love and mercy. Rather than turn His back on us, God provided us with a free gift.


2. God's Gift - that he gave his only Son

Our sins have separated us from God but rather than turn His back on us, He have us a gift only He could give us - Jesus the Christ, God's only son. Jesus lived the perfect life yet willingly sacrificed Himself by a horrible death on a cross two thousand years ago as payment for the penalty of our sins. As both fully human and fully God, Jesus was raised from the dead proving He had conquered sin and death. The way back to God is now clear.


3. God's Offer - so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life

This free offer is given to all. Like any free gift it has to be accepted. In order to accept this gift we have to believe. This is not simply agreeing with an idea. This is not simple temporal belief - like when people only pray in times of great need. The belief needed is to be willing to turn from our sins, repent and place our complete trust in Jesus. This means we place Jesus at the center of our lives and build our lives around Him. This means we build our lives around loving God and loving our neighbor. 


Our purpose is to carry on Jesus' earthly ministry. We live to address human needs, to build sustainable community, to transform society and to help reconcile the world with God and with each other through living and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.