I have learned that there is one word that shouldn’t be used in modern Christianity. If I use it now, I’m taking a risk that you won’t even finish reading this article. It’s a turnoff for so many Christians, even though it’s the very reason the Church exists.
It’s the word “evangelism.” That’s the “dirty” word. It’s because of its connotations that I don’t even call myself an evangelist.
There’s a reason much of Christendom doesn’t like it. It makes people feel guilty, and that’s a continual problem for us at Living Waters, because we are an evangelism ministry.
If you could define the word, how would you describe it? What does the word “evangelism” mean to you? For me, it is the proclaiming of the good news that sinners need not be swallowed by death and end up in Hell. It is pulling them from the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. It’s the preaching of Christ on the cross, suffering for the sin of the world—the incredibly good news that Jesus destroyed the power of death by rising from its grip, that it was not possible that death could hold Him.
“It’s not really evangelism that’s the problem. We recoil because of what comes with it: rejection. We are afraid of what people will think of us if we talk to them about sin and its promised consequences.”
With that as the case, every Christian should love evangelism. But they don’t. So, over the many years I’ve been speaking to Christians, I have had to resort to putting makeup on the pig, to make it more attractive.
But it’s not really evangelism that’s the problem. We recoil because of what comes with it: rejection. We are afraid of what people will think of us if we talk to them about sin and its promised consequences. We want the world’s approval. And so as a ministry that still has to address the subject, Living Waters uses words as “makeup”—words with more appeal, like “share the gospel” (or “good news”), “share your faith,” “apologetics,” or some other word that doesn’t have connotations of rejection.
Over the years, I have received correspondence from people who have been set on fire for the lost by our teaching. They want their church to also catch the vision of a perishing world. They tell me excitedly how they plan to show our Basic Training Course to their whole church. See if you can guess what word I tell them not to use when promoting the course? That’s right: “evangelism.” I explain that if they put that word in their promotion for people to attend, it will be like pitching to cats to come to a hungry pit bull convention. They will avoid it like the plague.
How then do you get a complacent body of believers excited about evangelism? The answer isn’t a pleasant one. It’s one that at first doesn’t even sound right. It’s the use of guilt and fear. These are motivations that I have used for years, and here’s how they work:
“People are going to Hell, and if you call yourself a Christian and don’t care, how can you say that God’s love is in you? Could you let a child drown in your swimming pool while you polish your car? How do you know that you’re even saved if you don’t have the fruit of love in your life? If you’re not concerned for your neighbor’s salvation, then I’m concerned for yours. If I’m feeding on bread and children are at my feet, dying of starvation, I should feel guilty if I won’t even give them a few crumbs.”
“If we ignore the obligation of evangelism, we are guilty of gross neglect. We should be fearful as to whether or not we are playing the hypocrite, by having a form of godliness but refusing to obey the command of Jesus to reach the lost.”
If we ignore the obligation of evangelism, we are guilty of gross neglect. We should be fearful as to whether or not we are playing the hypocrite, by having a form of godliness but refusing to obey the command of Jesus to reach the lost. In such a case, guilt and fear are not my enemies; they are my friends.
I throw myself into the obligatory task of reaching out to the lost because I don’t want to feel guilt and fear. It’s my catalyst. God forbid that I do nothing to reach them.
Like Paul, we should all be saying, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Can you see the task of evangelism hiding in that verse? It’s to persuade men. Yet we offer all sorts of excuses, from not knowing what to say, to not having the time, to not being gifted. The child is drowning and we offer excuses as to why we do nothing.
If these thoughts don’t stir up your zeal for evangelism, perhaps the following amazing email will:
Dear Living Waters gang,
Thank you all for all that you do. You have lit a fire under me through your online sermons and videos. My wife and I are homebound. She is paralyzed from her neck down and I am paralyzed from my armpits down. We have witnessed to our caregivers and family for years (but have been on a pity party for what we can’t do). You have taken away our excuses. We do have a wheelchair van and are able to go to the bank, drug store, gas station, and local places. I have to recline in my wheelchair every 15 to 20 minutes which complicates and limits what I can do, but no more excuses. We bought your textbook The School of Biblical Evangelism. I’m on Lesson 5. No one will come in our home without hearing the Law and the gospel. I will also give tracts and talk to the bank tellers and store cashiers.
—Kevin & Kerry