FIRST-PERSON: A witnessing community
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- Evangelizing unbelievers can be difficult for the same reason criminals struggle to find policemen -- most are not looking for one. Instead of pursuing others with the Gospel, we cocoon ourselves with those who already know it. A vortex pulls us into the Christian bubble and slowly we can be lulled toward indifference to those yet to repent.
Genuinely drawing near to Christ will rightly submerse us in fellowship with believers, but it will simultaneously thrust us toward others in Gospel ministry. Heavily evangelistic churches become that way as individual believers are passionate and proactive in daily life. They implement the faithful exposition of Scripture and are propelled out to reach sinners for Christ.
The Great Commission is an individual commission. It will not be fulfilled in silence, but in conversations that confront unrighteousness with the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Christians must cultivate evangelistic instincts, the humble tenacity to engage in Gospel conversations.
Here are a few encouragements to help in pursuing unbelievers with Christ's saving message.
Spring-load the Gospel
This isn't complicated -- if you're saved, you know enough of the Gospel to present it to someone else. However, it takes work to be clear and understandable. Memorize the foundational Gospel components and key verses. With those stamped in mind, work daily to recite it and role-play with others. You may not always have your Bible in hand when an evangelistic opportunity presents itself, so memorize the message. Be alert and stay ready!
Recruit a prayer team
The hard work of evangelism begins on our knees, petitioning God to work in the hearts of those we pursue. In humility and dependency, following the example of the apostle Paul in praying for others (Romans 10:1) and watch as God answers prayers in increased opportunities to proclaim His Gospel. As we join one another in evangelistic prayer, we invite accountability and can encourage one another, too.
Live with integrity. The apostle Peter wrote, "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation" (1 Peter 2:12). Live so that when our name crosses the mind of unbelievers they associate us with Jesus. The most clear and accurate Gospel presentation is muted if unbelievers identify us by patterns of sin instead of righteousness. In humility, repent when we sin, and use our failures to magnify God's mercy. Keep in mind that our example may be the first exposure many receive to the transforming power of the Gospel.
Engage your mission field
God in His sovereign grace chose to place you alongside unbelievers -- in your neighborhood, family and at work. It's not enough to talk about them; we must talk with them, using our points of connection to advance the Gospel conversation. Don't throw away the opportunity to proclaim His saving message. This is your first mission field. Every unbeliever in our life should both know our identity as a Christian and know our desire to see them come to believe in Christ as Savior and Lord.
Create new mission fields
Along the way, create new mission fields, finding new ways to interact with unbelievers. Volunteer at a local school; help in a community project; go out of your way to introduce yourself to others. These ideas and more help to create new networks that open up new mission fields for Gospel ministry.
Here's a place to start: Take a "two-minute challenge." Give yourself no more than two minutes to identify yourself with Christ when meeting someone new. As an ambassador of Christ, be quick to let others know Who you represent (2 Corinthians 5:20). Say something that lets another know you belong to, have been forgiven by, are loved by, are trusting in God. That way, as your conversations develop, you've already identified with Christ right away. No procrastinating!
Relentlessly love other believers
Jesus says, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35). Christians biblically loving one another make the love of Christ visible for the world to see. How are the "one anothers" made visible in our relationships with other believers? Does your love for other believers lend credibility to your Gospel presentation?
Lead by example
No matter your age, level of responsibility or visibility within the church, you can lead by example. The heart of Paul's encouragement to Timothy is to lead by example despite his youth (1 Timothy 4:12). Some of the greatest evangelists are those whose names we won't ever know, yet they were relentlessly faithful to tell others about Jesus. Don't wait for someone else to lead by example; take initiative and set the pace as the Spirit works through you.
Never lose sight of the miracle that happens in new birth. If heaven explodes in celebration in response to the new birth, so should we. One way to do this is to share testimonies often. We can never hear enough of the work Christ has done in drawing someone to salvation. Incorporate the recounting of salvation wherever possible. Doing so reminds us of the many ways the Gospel penetrates hearts and how God chooses to use saved sinners in that process.
Paul told the Corinthians that he delivered to them "as of first importance what [he] also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3). For you to do faithful evangelism, the Gospel must be of first importance to you. Only then will you overcome the challenges that have prevented you from boldly sharing the Gospel with unbelievers.
Jim Stitzinger is director of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization in Louisville, Ky. This article has been adapted from A Guide to Evangelism (SBTS Press, 2013). Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).