Our evangelism, on the main, begs for a complete makeover, and leaders are tirelessly inventive in the ways they are attempting to do that. They are as frantically creative as cutting edge businesses, and not at all ashamed of comparing themselves to them. You will find the Bible way down on the list of books about evangelistic strategy, even in most seminaries. This is so not only in corporate evangelism, but sadly, this is true concerning personal evangelistic methods as well.
Granted, much of what demands re-thinking has to do with our view of the gospel itself. The focus of this article, however, is on becoming a biblical presenter. My conclusions are hopelessly out of vogue, I think, and perhaps even quaint, but this does not mean that I’m for a return to 50 year-old practices that are only the now worn out and irrelevant entrepreneurial tricks of another era. If anything, biblical evangelistic methods will prevent you from being calcified. Therefore, I’m interested in exploring methods found in the New Testament. So (tongue in cheek), I’ll ask forgiveness for using Paul as a model, and not church growth specialists. Paul’s extensive biographical portion in 1 Thessalonians provides an immensely valuable and comprehensive corrective for our evangelism that is much superior to any superficial tricks of the trade.
I’m asking you to take a close look at what a gospel presenter is and how he acts. This will have meaning for those who are “gifts” to the church as evangelists for the betterment of the whole (the way the noun, “evangelist,” is used in the Bible, Eph. 4:11), but also every believer who shares this burden for the souls of men and women. I am hopeful that you will make efforts to discuss these biblical points, perhaps even reading them aloud with those who care about evangelism.
Here then is a curative for shallow evangelism from Paul’s famous encounter with the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:1-12). I will list insights in the order they show up in the text.
Are we even close to being like Paul who said, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1)?
1. A biblical evangelist is bold and faces opposition in order to deliver his message:
“For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.”
Paul exuded courage. Stonings, scourgings, prisons and law courts repeatedly proved powerless to offset him. And we would have it no other way. We love such courage in our historic leaders, but do we emulate it?
In my travels all over the world, one characteristic of our evangelism (or sometimes lack of it) is sadly conspicuous: We are enormously cautious. Mission boards and local church leaders do not wish to say to their missionaries and members, “Go and die for the truth.” Yet blood is precisely what is needed for evangelism to be effective.
I don’t presume to know the full reason why anyone of us may on some specific occasion seek to hide the truth rather than speak out. Yet, in general, I have known many leaders who seem too calculating about protection to ever do much real good for the advancement of the kingdom. Their precious time (often provided at great cost to others) is more employed to shield their lives than lose them for Christ and the gospel. I have, without question, acted similarly on many occasions, and so have you. In contradistinction, Paul almost unthinkingly walked into the teeth of opposition ready to die if necessary for the cause of Christ. That disregard for his body made all the difference.
What would happen if missionaries and overseas nationals and everyday believers, wherever you find them, passionately faced the giants of Catholicism and Hinduism and animism and materialism with the boldness Paul exercised toward the Jews? Isn’t it so that we read books about those who were courageous, and admire their exploits, but are almost never inclined to undertake anything like their method? I’m glad there are exceptions. There are likely many bold presenters we will never hear of. Without them, what would happen to the progress of the gospel? Paul was let down in a basket once in order to escape, it is true. There is such a thing as wisdom and picking your battles. But in general, can we really doubt that Paul had more courage as one individual than many churches or mission teams have as a corporate whole?
Don’t assume that boldness translates into obnoxiousness. Not in the least. But without boldness, not much is done in evangelism. We would do well to start our evangelistic strategy right here. A handful of bold (but loving) presenters may well outdo all the entertainment evangelism of a thousand churches. Boldness is natural in those who love Christ and people passionately. You will do anything for them if you love them. That is part of the way boldness is produced.
Do you have boldness, and do you engender boldness? Truthfully, is it your aim to live boldly and to produce bold followers of Christ?
2. A biblical evangelist speaks the truth:
“For our exhortation does not come from error”
The approved gospel presenter is carrying “the truth” when he speaks of Christ. Sadly, many fail to do this adequately. No-one should know the nature of justification, regeneration, reconciliation, redemption, and substitution better than the evangelist. And he should know original sin, actual sin, degrees of sin, the beauties of heaven, and the realities of hell accurately. He should have a biblical theology.
I do not mean to imply that a person telling the simple story of Christ is not presenting a saving message, one that God may use for His glory. Nor do I believe we have to use difficult words or concepts to explain the gospel. But we must know the Scriptures better about these things this year than we did last. If we care about delivering the message of God, then we should labor to know our material exceptionally well. How sensible is it to train to be an excellent presenter, yet without laboring to know what we are presenting.
Many who present the gospel do not pursue such understanding. They learn clever methods and riveting stories, but not the gospel. They often get all of their views about the gospel from little booklets. And, among the leaders, many would much rather attend a meeting about how to increase their numbers, than a conference about the nature of the gospel itself. There is something wrong here.
Errors abound in presenting the gospel, such as Finney’s damaging dismissal of the sinful nature, or Sandeman’s overextension of grace in his non-lordship view of salvation. If we do not look deeper, we may also carry error in our message and do some long term damage. Mission agencies and evangelistic organizations must take note of this. You must not neglect rigorous training in the nature of the gospel itself. You must ask hard questions, and actually answer them. Many evangelistic organizations are like impressive missiles. Much money and organization provides a powerful thrust, but the warhead is rarely examined. There might be quite a display when the missile takes off, but no more actual effect than a pop-gun would deliver.
Do you labor, really labor, to know the truth? And, are you exhorting on the basis of the truth? Or do you get all your theology about the gospel from reductionistic evangelistic booklets and surface methodological conferences and books?
3. A biblical evangelist does not allow impurity:
Paul stresses his integrity in this passage, and here, in terms of sexual purity. Many presenters of our day (and his) have lives of hidden sexual sin. In fact, their message may actually be driven by impurity.
I have talked to more than one church member who spoke to me about the sexual tendencies found in a pastor or staff person, impurity that resulted in wrongful sexual advances toward them. Recently a friend told me of an impure leader of an evangelical church that has abused several members, yet nothing has been done about it. We all know of nationally known leaders, men known for their evangelism, whose sexual activity outside of marriage has been exposed. Paul asserts that he has had no such motives.
The emotions of physical intimacy are similar to those of religion. And a presenter may, in fact, speak the truth with an impure mind, seeking to win a convert for mixed motives. The sense of authority in the presenter may appeal to weaker people susceptible to sexual failure. Also, the intimacy that occurs in warm conversations about Christ, admission of private sins, confidence in the authority of a leader, all bathed in deep emotions, can provide a temptation to a weakened man or woman. Some presenters, in fact, know this and take advantage of it for their own ends.
As you listen to examples of the sinner’s conduct in your evangelism, do you have a prurient interest in some sexual details of his or her former life? Do you find yourself attracted physically to some persons you evangelize? Are you in any way sensual in your conduct? If you sing the gospel, are you seeking to attract people to yourself in a sensual manner?
4. A biblical evangelist does not deceive to attract people to his message:
“or by way of deceit;”
Surely you do not like to be tricked. If our gospel is carried to the unconverted person in some deceitful way, that is, by tricking the unsuspecting into reading something or attending a meeting, then this is shameful. We cheapen a glorious gospel by dressing it in deceit. Gospel literature has a long and fruitful history, but deceiving people into thinking they are receiving something other than the gospel in order for them to be enticed to read the actual gospel is unbecoming of the believer. It is also wrong to invite people to meetings under the pretense that they are there for some other reason, so that you can “spring” the gospel on them. It is saying, in essence, “What we have to say isn’t arresting in itself, therefore we must dress it up in a way that makes you listen.” It is a defeat before we even start. There may be rare exceptions, but I doubt seriously if much good is accomplished by doing this, and we may, in fact, give more reasons for non-believers to dismiss our message as trivial.
Enticing kids by magic or clowns or giveaways, for instance, is plainly deceitful. Luring in the public by sports heroes or rodeos is simply trickery. Dressing up a publication to look like something it is not is dishonest. The reason the gospel was foolishness and a stumblingblock to those to whom Paul preached was because he was straightforward about his message. That same message was the power of God to the called. If we present it as it is, and let God do the calling, it will be powerful to those He is drawing in our day as well. And “those whom He is drawing” are all that are going to respond anyway. I don’t doubt the sincerity of those who cloak the gospel in order to make people who hate God want to listen, but it is deceitful to do so. And that is below the dignity of the God we serve. He doesn’t need this help.
Are you deceiving people in your gospel work?
5. A biblical evangelist does not care about pleasing men, but God:
“but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.”
Paul will say much about his motivation of love for the lost, yet here he does not indicate that love for the lost is the primary motivation. He has been entrusted with the gospel and a commission to deliver it. God is the one who sent him and to God he will report. God knows his heart better than even he knows it himself. His job is to please God, not men. Extra care should be given by us to make sure we don’t become men-pleasers either, sculpting our message or even refusing to deliver our message, in order to make men like us. God sees us inside and out.
We have to deliver what he has given us to deliver, even if everybody around us thinks we are foolish. There is a kind of foolishness originating with our lack of wisdom that should cause non-believers to dismiss us, granted. We should remove all that causes offense unnecessarily. But we should not let the inherent offense of the gospel stop us from presenting it truthfully.
There are many pastors of churches who would do well to think this over. They think they have had a good ministry just because they do not ruffle anybody’s feathers. Think of it. There are lost people in their church who will be offended with the truth, therefore they cannot bring themselves to get them stirred up. They serve their years in their pastorate, move on to greener pastures, and leave the same old sinful people in the church causing trouble. They will not please God by lovingly telling the truth. They would rather please men and keep everyone happy. What are they trying to preserve? A haven for lost church members?
Do you seek to please men or God?
6. A biblical evangelist does not employ flattery to win people to Christ.
“For we never came with flattering speech, as you know,”
Flattery, as opposed to genuine praise, is deceitful and has an ulterior motive. There are good things to praise in the lives of lost men. They may be living on the wrong foundation, and sinful by nature and practice, but the residue of the imago dei exists in them. Though we know that men and women without Christ are under the domination of sin, and all that comes through them is tainted by sin, there is no reason not to acknowledge their ability, knowledge, art, persistence, talent and expertise. Yet we are not permitted to manipulate through flattery.
We are truth tellers. If we flatter, and the listener recognizes that, then we will lose ground with him. He knows that we are willing to compromise the truth. Eventually your conversation will require an honest appraisal of the listener’s attitudes and behavior. It will demand that he recognize that even his best aspects are infected with sin. It is a temptation to flatter the listener before this difficult news comes. Paul, a man prone to acknowledge good things, chose not to do this. Nor should we.
Are you a flatterer? Do you manipulate people by seeking to appeal to their vanity for the sake of the gospel?
7. A biblical evangelist does not have a secret desire for money:
“nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—”
Much gospel power has leaked out through greed. Though my intent is not to isolate these lessons to vocational evangelists, I have to admit I am sometimes embarrassed at what I detect in some of them. There are many good ones, of course. But in some I see a secret love of money. They have big mouths but rotten hearts. I have heard them talk covetously of offerings they received, or what they expect to receive at a certain church or conference. This is a huge offense to God. Jesus spoke to Pharisees “who were lovers of money” and said, “That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Lk. 16:15). How can we trust a man who will be bought by money. Who is his god, really? If money is important to you in such a way that you are covetous, how do we know you will not compromise the gospel when you are around a wealthy person?
But you say, “A laborer is worthy of his hire.” That’s right. But in the gospels where this was quoted, the intent was to say that the laborers were worthy of food and a place to sleep. Unless a man is willing to pay money to preach the gospel, I doubt his sincerity. I’m not saying that it has to work out that way all the time, but he should be willing. It is an inestimable privilege to bring the message of Christ to people. Let me remind my professional evangelist friends that if you have the right attitude about money, then your schedule is always going to be full. There will always be lost people to preach to if you don’t care about money first of all. You’ll keep working by going to the jails, the malls, the coffee shops, and retirement centers. That mindset is a far more accurate portrait of a biblical evangelist. A true gospel laborer is one who, because of gifting and/or desire, makes a way to present the gospel mostly outside of the church gatherings even when it has no connection with money.
I have leaned too heavily on the vocational evangelist. This has application to all of us. A greedy man is a man preoccupied with something other than the gospel. And that, in itself, is detrimental to the cause.
Are you greedy? Do you do what you do for financial gain? Are you slow to speak up when a wealthy person needs to hear the truth?
8. A biblical evangelist forsakes his pride and does not wrongly use authority:
“nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.”
You probably don’t know any men or women who are totally without pride. We all struggle here. If you do not have some difficulty with it, you do not understand yourself. But Paul felt it was worth saying that he purposed not to be driven by pride.
One particularly ugly manifestation of pride has to do with evangelism. Bragging about souls saved has to be among the worst of offenses. Yet I have heard it often especially from those who are “professional” evangelists and in those who are gaining some recognition for their zeal.
The question must be asked, “What does a presenter actually do to make a Christian?” The truth is that the presenter does nothing unless God chooses to use him. When Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (Jn. 6:44), He removed for all time the notion that any person who preaches the gospel can take credit for anyone’s salvation.
Humility is not thinking little of yourself, but just not thinking of yourself at all. Yet some people are seekers of praise. I’ve been there at times and so have you. Pride also shows itself in wrongful displays of authority. Paul could have exercised his authority for his own praise. God would not let him.
Are you a person of humility? A good understanding of your sin and your need of Christ should assure this necessary virtue.
9. A biblical evangelist treats sinners gently, motivated by true affection:
“But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.”
There may be some question as to whether Paul’s statement above was about his love for new believers in Thessalonica, or about his love for those who had not yet believed. The context appears to indicate that Paul exercised this love toward these citizens while they were hearing the gospel and were under its initial impressions as seekers.
Our greatest failures come from lack of love. This is true within the body of Christ as we live out our lives together, obviously, but is just as true in our relation to those outside. Love is a proper motivation for our evangelism, but it is not the only motivation. Remember that love is the fruit of the Spirit and the mark of genuine maturity in Christ.
In my view, a gospel presenter should be known by his love above all other traits. If he is duty bound to present the gospel, yet can do so without affection, I find his credentials suspect. One leader admitted to me once, concerning his church, “I honestly don’t love them.” For this one Christian leader’s admission, there should be a hundred more honest enough to say, “I just don’t love those outside the Body of Christ.”
If we care about a faithful witness, try loving those without Christ. When I was a young man, I used to pray in a small chapel prior to driving to my classes. I would pour out my heart to God for the answer to this one request: Lord give me love for unbelievers. Yet, the bigger part of that love was not experienced in that small chapel, but only as I began to encounter unbelievers and to look in their lost eyes, hear their empty words, and ponder in their presence their eternal destiny. He answered my prayers. And that love prompted unusual boldness to present the gospel over and over. I once was moved to talk with a woman about her soul in a restaurant. Love would not let me leave her alone. That woman was later seen in the parking lot weeping over her steering wheel. Love reached her.
Are you moved by the need of others? Do you really love those without Christ?
10. A biblical evangelist is sacrificial to the point of death because of his affection:
“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives because you had become very dear to us.”
This love goes to extremes. Jesus said that a true disciple lays down his life for others. There is no greater love than this, he claimed. How much like Jesus do you wish to be? If you really want to carry the message like He did, back it up with your life. Go the limit. If you are reading this, you have not done that yet. But how much more would the gospel be believed if we could live like this, and die like this, for others?
Don’t miss the way Paul spoke. Why was he “well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel, but also [my] own [life]?” His answer; “Because you had become very dear to us.”
If we cannot sacrifice a few moments time to know a neighbor or to sit down beside a friend in the coffee shop out of love for them, then we will hardly be willing to expend our lives to the point of death for their sakes. That kind of love only Jesus can give, but it is the kind that must be pursued by the gospel presenter.
What do you sacrifice for the sake of others? Could your love move you to sacrifice your life for them to hear the gospel if called on by God?
11. A biblical evangelist does not place financial burdens on those who are hearing his message:
“For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”
We should pay for the privilege of preaching Christ. This is true for all of us. It is costly to get the message out. It is costly for some who support others. Have you sacrificed for the gospel in any way? Really? Do not lay the cost of the gospel presentation on the lost man; it is not his, but the Church’s and the laborer’s expense to bring the gospel. And don’t complain about the evangelistic booklets you buy or the gas expense. What is the worth of a soul?
Do you pay for the privilege of preaching Christ?
12. A biblical evangelist places an emphasis on living with integrity before new believers:
“You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers;”
The biblical evangelist knows that he preaches his message in two ways—by words and by behavior. Paul is now speaking of the influence the presenter has on those who are converted through his labors. What is the best follow-up for a new Christian? I can say, unequivocally, that it is the pure and holy life of the one who brought the gospel to him. There is a certain relationship between those converted and the ones who bring the gospel to them. Paul talked of it in a very human way. He said he was a father to them. Now God is the real Father, we know. Paul understands that. But he also knows that there is a bond between the evangelist and the converted man or woman that is vital and even necessary. God wishes for the new believer to see a model of Christian living. If you have brought the gospel to your friend or child, for instance, there is little more helpful to him than living out a good life before him. It will do more than a thousand verbal teaching lessons. But do it well. Be devout, upright, and blameless in your behavior. Their understanding of what it means to be a Christian is being shaped by watching you.
Are you being watched? Likely you are. Are you living before new believers in a way that grows them up in Christ?
13. A biblical evangelist is intentional, verbal and very intense in helping the new believer walk with God as he should:
“just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”
Starting a new believer out is an evangelist’s job, but thankfully the rest of the church should be able to help. Living out a life of integrity is essential, but “exhorting and encouraging and imploring” is also necessary. A biblical evangelist will spend time with a new believer talking over the new life he is going to be living. You have to get the new believer grounded quickly, because the enemy is lurking about ready to devour him. The enemy is mature in his deceptions, but the new believer is immature in his righteousness. He needs instruction. If you fail to give it to him, he may be set back for some time, or make colossal mistakes that will cost him. Rather than let that happen, use your new and natural relationship with him to help him grow into a mature believer. A true evangelist wishes to “present every man mature in Christ.”
Are you intense in your care for new believers?
It goes without saying that there is such a thing as a good evangelistic idea, a method that can be shared with others that may help us make progress in reaching people. But Paul’s evangelistic methods just surveyed above provide a straightedge to set beside those ideas. It will reveal if they are imbalanced or even errant and destructive to the life of the church. Not every evangelistic plan is helpful to the growth of the Kingdom. It was the ideas of many sincere evangelistic leaders before us that got us into the difficulties we now face. An honest appraisal of our methods in the light of Paul’s will bring some shame, but also much good, and will serve, in itself, to equip any gospel presenter with clear direction and motive for telling other people about Christ.
Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”
(Copyright Jim Elliff, April 9, 2021; revised May 7, 2021)