Scripture offers no exemptions from the Great Commission or Great Commandment. Every believer saved by grace has a moral obligation to tell others about the opportunity to experience the same hope in Christ. Withholding the cure for a terminal illness would be considered criminal in the medical community. Yes, there are countless ways to convey the Gospel, but only one simple message, with no option to defer or deflect our evangelistic responsibilities to someone else.
Whether we use the Romans Road or analogies like the judge who volunteers to accept the sentence he just imposed on a convicted felon to illustrate what Jesus did for us on the cross, there’s no way to evangelize without addressing sin and repentance. Proclaiming salvation begs the question – “from what”? Offering forgiveness through Jesus begs the question – “for what”? Hence the discomfort with delivering the “good news” to lost loved ones who will perish without it, missing the chance for freedom from a hopeless existence.
Only God can fix what mankind broke. Throughout history, civilizations have sought ways to reconcile fallible creation with a flawless Creator. Of those 1,000s of attempted paths to make things “right”, only Christianity recognizes the insurmountable gap between our evil nature and God’s righteousness. We can’t ascend to Him (through good works or enlightenment), so Jesus descended. Christianity is the only “gift” religion, a humbling concept difficult to grasp for those confident in their “goodness” and accustomed to earning a fair “wage”. The fact remains Christ died and rose to pay a debt He didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t possibly pay. How must the Lord feel when we claim we’re so good or spiritual that we didn’t need Jesus to suffer and die in our place?
Modern Evangelism = Testimonies + Invitations
Today, Americanized, consumer-driven church growth models have essentially removed compassion, churchgoers, and the Gospel itself from personal evangelism. The evangelistic responsibilities of churchgoers have been reduced to testimonies and invitations to hear about Jesus from a “professional”. From the standpoint of attracting and retaining repeat “customers”, the logic behind pastors usurping evangelism is simple. No organization aiming for growth or concerned about survival would push its most loyal or newly acquired customers to repetitively do something most find extremely uncomfortable. However, disclosing the most awe-inspiring example of love and sacrifice in world history, and the only way to eternal life, shouldn’t be…
- Delayed, but our sense of urgency is undermined by the hesitation of churches to address the most unpalatable topic for members and visitors – Hell. Therefore, fewer churchgoers believe it exists or that it awaits their loved ones.
- Scary, but the longer we wait to bring Jesus up, the less important non-believers believe He is to them (or to us), and the more awkward the conversation becomes.
- Intimidating, but Christians aren’t prepared (through discipleship and training) to back up their presentations of what Jesus did with answers to tough questions like, “Then, why does God let bad things to happen to ‘good’ people”?
- Arduous, but we should barely be able to contain our excitement to pass on the good news of salvation. However, many new believers get quickly indoctrinated in churchdom, where they can lose touch with the joy of God’s grace after becoming less “sinful” and more “mature”. By then, the fire to do a job (evangelism) the church never prepared them for may have been contained or extinguished.
- Controversial, but perceptions of believers as more judgmental than compassionate have convinced the world that “sin” and “repentance” are outdated concepts conceived by Christians to control and oppress. Those words are rapidly leaving the vernacular of the “churched” too, yet they were the calling cards of history’s most effective evangelists – Jesus, Paul, Peter, and Billy Graham.
Christ-followers have made the most important and loving act we can perform in our lifetimes scary, intimidating, arduous, and controversial. Rather than risk member attrition by enforcing the Great Commission mandate, most churches have replaced it with more convenient alternatives (personal testimonies and invitations to a weekend church service).
Problems with Testimonies
Testimonies aren’t debatable because it’s hard to argue (particularly these days) with someone’s story, narrative, or version of personal “truth”. Testimonies also don’t open the door to as many hard questions that require theological acumen, discipleship, or evangelism training, which few churches provide. If testimonies aren’t quickly followed up with the real deal (a Gospel presentation and biblical counters to objections), they are usually inadequate, ineffective, and often even dangerous:
- Testimonies say what God did for “me” and how he changed “my” life, but that shouldn’t be our message. The Gospel is about Jesus – who He is, not who “I” am.
- Testimonies give the impression of superiority by aligning the first part of the story (“who I was”) with the unredeemed listener and implying in the latter part “how much better I am (than you) now”.
- Testimonies don’t directly address the core concept leading to most conversions, recognition of sin and regret over lives lived out of step with our loving Father.
- Testimonies position churchgoers as “customers” – referral marketers touting the familiar advertising pitch of how purchasing a product has “changed my life”.
- Testimonies do not require much training, knowledge, or discipleship, largely explaining why only 6% of American Christians possess a biblical worldview.
- Testimonies tend to be transactional when followed (as they typically are) by an invitation to church. Like “outreach” events that double as church advertising and perpetuate poverty by creating dependence, testimonies can do more harm than good – going through a “spiel” and offloading Gospel responsibility to pastors.
- Testimonies are inherently one-sided, possibly enticing the other person to discuss their perspectives on spirituality but not relationally digging into their lives to discover the real reasons they rejected God (beyond their boilerplate excuses).
- Testimonies can be damaging because cultural Christians who rely on testimonies and church invites to witness are most likely to be labeled hypocrites when the hearers observe how they live Monday through Saturday. Telling someone, “my life before finding Jesus was so sinful but now look at me”, subjects them to scrutiny to see if their story holds water. Rather than shine the spotlight on themselves, they should have elevated Jesus because His morality is unassailable.
Yes, Paul gave a long personal testimony but followed up immediately by speaking directly (twice) about the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is the essence of the Gospel (His divinity and substitutionary atonement) and the part that incites debate and ridicule.
Problems with Invitations
The only other “evangelistic” ask of churchgoers, emphasized far more than testimonies, is inviting those within their circles of influence to a church service. In addition to being easier and even less likely to stir up controversy (than testimonies), invitations support consumer-driven growth strategies centering “church” around buildings and pastors. However, inviting non-believers to hear the Gospel from a “professional” evangelist has its own disadvantages, downsides, and dangers:
- Churches pushing invitations hardest may be among those least likely to preach boldly from the pulpit for fear of ostracizing guests. In other words, the same concern about challenging and training members to lead people to Christ likely translates into a similar hesitancy on the part of those pastors to address sin and its cure directly with visitors.
- Churches advocating evangelism by talking about what God did for “me” (testimonies) may emphasize a similar message during services (what God will do for “you”). So if a church doesn’t teach members to share the Gospel, tells them to extend invitations to church, but then makes worship about what’s in it for “us”, when will non-believers ever hear the life-saving truth?
- Churches who fill worship services with those who don’t worship Jesus collectively lift up prayers without reverence, songs without passion, and messages without attentiveness. The Bible calls us to keep the church holy. The New Testament word for “church” (ekklesia) means the “assembly of called-out ones” and the English word for “church” (kirk) means “the fellowship of those belonging to the Lord”.
- Churches that engage and equip to invite, not to evangelize, won’t reach any members’ coworkers, neighbors, family, and friends who are unwilling to attend a church service. Invitations are based on addition whereas multiplication is the Lord’s math.
- Churches that don’t prepare congregations to answer tough questions or defend their faith, leaving those tasks to pastors, give the excuse to stop at a simple invitation without ever feeling pressure to dive into Scripture and develop cogent rebuttals. Many churchgoers today are happy not to have to defend Christianity because they see parts of the Bible as indefensible in our postmodern culture.
- Churches treat members as “customers”, not as the embodiment of church, when they presume an inability to ask for more than referrals (invitations). They would be more demanding if they understood members are actually (Kingdom) employees.
Christ-followers are expected to endure discomfort and take risks in carrying out the Great Commission. Yet testimonies and invitations avoid most social, employment, and physical consequences experienced by Jesus’ disciples and Christians around the world who are heavily persecuted for proclaiming Christ as Lord and Savior. We were never intended to let “professionals” bear those risks and responsibilities alone, compensated for assuming them as part of their official duties.
It’s Your Turn…
Why do you think fewer churches today are equipping and deploying disciples into evangelistic ministry within their spheres of influence? How would reverting to biblical discipleship and offering apologetics training transform our churches and our culture?