Personal evangelism is one of the greatest challenges to face the Lord’s church today. It is a subject that we all need to improve on, and one that will never go away. Will we ever reach a day when this church does not need to grow anymore? Will we ever evangelize every lost soul within our sphere of influence? Will we ever feel no compulsion by the Bible to keep striving for church growth? “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). That is a sad condition that Christ says will always exist as long we fail to heed His call to personal evangelism. The really tough question to face is how much evangelism we each have done in the last year, five years, or ten years. How often have any of us actually actively pursued a soul for conversion? Do we love the people of this world enough to even try anymore?
Unfortunately, there is a “give up” attitude that exists in many congregations. Having tried personal evangelism and failed, many Christians feel like it is time to consolidate what we have and go in to hiding. We seem content to just hold our own in a world of very fast-growing false religions. At one point in the first half of the twentieth century, the church of Christ was the fastest growing religion in the United States. At one point, according to the statistician Gerald Paden, the church grew 171%, as opposed to the 33% growth in the 1960’s, and the .5% growth of today (“The Challenge of Evangelism”, McCray, Back to the Bible Evangelism Workshop CD-ROM, 1990). On average, in a church of around 100 members, only 2-3 Christians are actively seeking converts to the faith of Christ. But does this line up with the Bible’s take on church growth?
· Acts 2:41 – 3,000 added in one day
· Acts 2:47 – People saved daily
· Acts 4:4 – 5,000 new believers
· Acts 5:14 – Multitudes were added
· Acts 6:7 – Numbers multiplied greatly
Admittedly, the religious environment of today is much different than it was in the city of Jerusalem during those early days of the Way, but that does not mean cannot try to change the religious environment. Most people in this country do not even know what the church of Christ is, let alone “Restoration Principles.” We must work very hard to change that, realizing that if we allow ourselves to fade away into the background too much more, we may not have any ground left in the work of personal evangelism. What I would like to do in this lesson is examine some of the excuses people make for not practicing personal evangelism. Even though you may not be able to preach, teach, or knock on doors, there are ways that you can lead others to Christ. God does not care how much success you have as long as you are trying (Matthew 25:14-30). But if you are even trying, then you have a problem!
“I’m just too afraid”
In some ways, this is a legitimate concern – approaching people with the Gospel is a very stressful activity for some, especially those who are younger in the faith and might not have easy access to quick answers. But fear should not stop us, no matter how paralyzing we might think it is. Just ignore the possibility that somebody might say “no” because they are not rejecting you. You are not the one who needs to feel frustrated when nobody listens to the Gospel. You are not the one being offended. It is God. People reject the Bible, not the people offering it, unless you give them a reason to reject you (rudeness, haughtiness, impatience, etc.). We need to consider some of the examples of rejection in the Bible and realize that we are in good company when unbelievers turn us away.
· Paul was rejected to the point of being stoned in Acts 14:19. Surely none of us has ever been stoned in somebody front yard!
· Jesus Christ Himself was rejected by his own friends in Nazareth (Luke 4:28-31).
· It must have been terribly discouraging for Paul to work with Felix for two years and make little progress (Acts 24:24-27).
· The disciples were warned of rejection (Matthew 10:14, 22-23), as if that is just a part of being a believer.
· We are not failures when we teach the Gospel – rather, it is a victory against Satan every time we speak a word on God’s behalf, regardless of what the outcome is.
· You do not know if somebody will accept the Gospel or not, so do not decide for them. What a shame that so many Christians let their fragile egos be the reason they refuse to go out and get their hands dirty with the work of the Gospel!
· “But the fearful… shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone” (Revelation 21:8). Are you too afraid? We should be more afraid of Hell than being turned down by a neighbor.
“Sorry, too busy”
If we feel like we have too much going on in our lives to preach the Gospel, then perhaps it should be secular activities that are sacrificed, not God. Missing church, skipping Bible class, never attending house singings, and being too busy for personal work every now and then are all shameful. There are only a few good excuses for going AWOL on God (sickness is one of them), and we need to be careful about where we are placing God in our list of priorities. After all, He puts you first in His work, so why can you not do the same? “But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33).
“I don’t know anybody who is interested”
Maybe that is only because many of us do not even try to offer the Gospel to those we know. Do not forget what Christ states, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest” (John 4:35). All we need to do is lift up our eyes and see a world that is lost. The opportunities for evangelism are abundant, if we just show a willingness to lift up rocks every now and then and look.
“We pay preachers to do that”
While it is true that preachers are paid to evangelize the lost, there is also a great need for all church members to reach out to the world and offer the Gospel. There are some valuable practical lessons on this point:
· While preachers are paid to do evangelism as a job, they do not have the social interaction that many members do. They do not have jobs in which they are surrounded by unbelievers, for example. Preachers need church members to bring them unbelievers!
· There are many more church members than preachers, so the sheer number of untapped contacts is immense in the congregation.
· Church members may also seem more credible with unbelievers because they are not paid to teach certain doctrines. Unbelievers may relate to non-preachers easier.
· A church will only grow so much if the preacher is the only one evangelizing. But if everybody is working hard, the sky is the limit. “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word” (Acts 8:4).
“I have poor health that distracts me from evangelizing”
This is an important concern for members of the church: We need to make sure that we who are healthy are working hard enough at evangelism that we do not depend on the informed members for all of our church growth! Why would we burden a physically afflicted member with a large workload when younger, healthier members have the physical capability to do much more. It is very sad to see congregation in which the only people working are the oldest members. However, if there are church members with health concerns who believe they are exempt from service, they are mistaken. While a great degree of compassion must go into our brethren who are stricken with infirmities, those members also need to be careful about wallowing in self pity, or becoming busybodies (1 Timothy 5:13). Even Paul had to deal with physical distractions, yet this did not cause him to feel sorry for himself and become idle (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Perhaps infirmed members have a different kind of responsibility in the matter of personal evangelism, but they have work to do nonetheless. I have often heard of members who keep on preaching the Gospel while in the hospital to nurses, doctors, and other patients.
In the same way, some Christians believe their age gives them exemption from service. This could be no further from the truth, dear friends! If you believe you are too old to be of service to God, consider Titus 2:2-3, “Older men are to be sober, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance. Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior… teaching what is good.” Does it seem like older members are supposed to be idle? Maybe they do not have the physical ability to go door to door on a regular basis, but they can teach younger members what to say when they go to door to door!
If you believe you are too young to preach the Gospel, think again. “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe… Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching…” (1 Timothy 4:12,16). The power that young people have when it comes to personal evangelism is vast. They have energy, enthusiasm, and quick minds. Though not always tempered by wisdom from years of experience, young evangelizers can achieve great things.
“People these days just don’t want the Gospel”
This argument is assuming that the needs of mankind have changed somehow since the first century when Christ commanded His followers to “Go into all the world” with the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20). It does not matter if our society rejects the Gospel, because an unbeliever’s response does not change the fact that we must preach. Why does it matter if our postmodern world, in general, has failed to live by the Bible? We are commanded to teach, and let God do the rest. If we fail to teach, then the souls of every person we ignore will be held to our account (Ezekiel 3:18).
Notice the parable of the soil in Luke 8:5-15. The one who sows does not judge the soil upon which he throws the seed. He offers the seed to everybody, without deciding for them what they will do. In the same way, have you just unilaterally made the decision over salvation for everybody in the world?