Session Two: What Is Evangelism?

In this second group session we can start to unpack the concept of evangelism, and what it means to be an evangelist. Bear in mind that being only the second meeting, there may be new people in the group who couldn’t attend the first session, and so a short reintroduction to the group vision might be helpful.

BACKGROUND

We explored the call to evangelism in the previous session, and a good place to start a broader discussion of evangelism itself is to remember that the call to evangelism is personal. Look at how Jesus calls Andrew and Peter to follow him at the start of Mark’s gospel (1:16-18). He calls to the young fisherman from the shore and asks them to lay down their nets (their trade) and follow him, for he will teach them how to fish for people. Does God call you the same way today? Unless you share the same career path as the brothers to whom Jesus called, it is unlikely. Jesus called out to Andrew and Peter personally, using the fishing metaphor as the hook (no pun intended) with which to connect them to what he was saying.

God calls each one of us to the evangelistic task personally, with a desire to use your gifting, to pique your interest, to help you connect the passions of your life and this world into an opportunity to make sense of who he is. Musicians, artists, scientists, nurses, business owners… whatever the vocation or gifting God can use it to create opportunity to proclaim the good news of who he is, for that is exactly what evangelism is – a proclamation of the good news.

The goal of evangelism is to connect people to the good news about Jesus Christ. More fully though, it must be understood that the message of evangelism is a call to obedience; that we would turn from our rejection of God to an acceptance of his Lordship, recognising him as the rightful and worthy King of our lives. When we recognise that we are created for him, then we can understand what worship is, and experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Humanity can know wholeness when we turn our lives into living expressions of worship through obedience, sacrifice, faith and love (Gal 5:13-26).

In Exodus 8:1, God instructs Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him to ‘Let my people go’. God desires to set the captives free and humanity is enslaved to sin. Like Moses, we are asked to go into the world and declare a message of freedom, there is no need to be enslaved any longer, God has made it possible for us to live in freedom through Jesus and by the power of his spirit (Rom 8:2). The endgame of evangelism then is as it was for Moses and the people of Israel – worship.

‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me’ Exodus 8:1

TEACHING

Read the following passage and open with a short discussion of how Paul views the task of evangelism.

Acts 20: 24

‘However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.’

Put simply, ‘to evangelise’ means to ‘proclaim good news’. The good news in question is the gospel of Jesus Christ, that sinful humanity has been reconciled to God through the saving work of Jesus. We can know life eternal, perfect relationship with God because Jesus took the death we deserved.

Look at the following two definitions of evangelism and discuss them as a group. What can we learn about the task of evangelism from these short sentences?

‘To evangelise is to present Christ Jesus to sinful people in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through him’ – JI Packer1

Evangelism is… ‘The proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God’ – Billy Graham2

So evangelism involves a proclaimed message, a presentation of the risen Jesus, and an attempt at persuasion of the listener that the good news shared is to be received and accepted. But as essential as words are to evangelism, there must be more than just verbal communication going on.

David Watson says that ‘Unless there is a demonstration of the power of the Spirit, the proclamation of the gospel will be in vain. It will not be evangelism.’3 Indeed, evangelism is a spiritual activity that requires God to move in power for it to ever be effective. If evangelism was just about changing people’s minds on an issue, we could rely on persuasion alone. But evangelism is about the salvation of souls through the bringing of the message (which the Spirit empowers us to do) whereupon the Spirit of God convicts, gifts faith to, and begins transformation in the heart of the hearer. Evangelism without God is not evangelism, just marketing. But we can be confident that any method of evangelism can work if God is in it.

Ultimately evangelism seeks to create disciples, worshippers who worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). Of course, if the message we preach is intended to move people from rejection of God to worship of him, we the message-bringers must be authentic worshippers ourselves. Worship and evangelism are two sides of the same coin – our witness into the world is an act of worship (obedience and adoration to the king) designed to create more worshippers. To be authentic evangelists we must be authentic worshippers.

What state is your personal worship life in? How does that shape you so that you are a messenger of integrity? Discuss.

Retreat is often helpful in the busy lives that we live. That means getting away for some alone time with God, where the electronic devices are switched off and we disconnect from the world for a time so that God has our full attention. Look at the example of Jesus retreating from ministry in Mark 1:35-39 to spend alone time with his father. It directly affects the next steps of his ministry.

This act of worship – the sacrifice of time, or comforts like food by choosing to fast during these times – equips us for service, and reveals the heart of the true evangelist, someone who knows that God must come first in all things.

Fill out accountability forms and feedback. Schedule the next meeting and pray to close.

 

DISCUSSION

Make use of these through the session or all together in one section, whatever works best for your group.

  • How would you define evangelism?
  • What does it mean to proclaim the gospel?
  • What is our role in evangelism and what is God’s role in evangelism?
  • What form should evangelism take?
  • How do we ensure we are authentic evangelists and authentic worshippers?

 

QUOTES

Integrate these quotes as part of your teaching or use them as discussion points if helpful.

‘If I thought I could win one more soul to the Lord by walking on my head and playing the tambourine with my toes, I’d learn how!’ – William Booth

‘If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.’ – Charles Spurgeon

‘Evangelism is more than simply encouraging decisions for Christ. It is urging people to become disciples—followers—of Jesus Christ. As such, the evangelist has a responsibility to make growth in discipleship possible for those who come to faith under his ministry.’ – Billy Graham

 

HOMEWORK

Both of the tasks below could be related to the call to take retreat time, with that being the perfect opportunity to do some reading and reflection.

The reading of a short chapter on evangelism from one of the recommended reading books towards the rear of this booklet could be a useful exercise. You could ask the group to make some notes and bring one or two key things they learned from this chapter with them to discuss next time. Chapter 2, ‘What is Evangelism’ in David Watson’s brilliant (but sadly now out of print) I Believe in Evangelism is highly recommended for this task, as is J. I. Packer’s discussion of evangelism in chapter 3 of his excellent book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.

Set the challenge of coming up with a biblically sound definition of evangelism to bring to the group next week for discussion and critique. The recommended reading on evangelism may be helpful to this task.


1  J.I. Packer’s rewording of the 1918 Archbishop’s Committee definition of evangelism found in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Nottingham: IVP, 1961, p 25.

2  Cited in The Work of an Evangelist, J. D. Douglas, ed., Minneapolis: Worldwide Publishers, 1984, p 5.

3 David Watson, I Believe in Evangelism (London: Hodder, 1976) p. 30.