God has blessed me in the ministry of reconciliation for the past six years; I look back at so many evangelists I’ve known in that time who started running strong but quickly fell aside; I hear stories of those who claim to have been zealous gospel preachers in their youth but who have settled down in their old age. This was one of my greatest fears for a long time, because I did not want to be a preacher only because it was an interesting hobby, I did not want to make evangelism my idol as I’ve seen so many do, and I most certainly did not want to shame Jesus Christ by falling aside and loving something else more than him, as he prayed for us so did I pray, “Let not those who trust in you be put to shame through me, O Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel!” (Psalm 69:6)
I am writing this article to share my scriptural basis for evangelism and why I feel so blessed that Christ has given me a solid understanding of how to sustain evangelism. It begins four years ago, at an evangelistic meeting as many of us were introducing ourselves, I realized that I wasn’t just an evangelist, I was a pastor who evangelized. In other words, I loved people more than preaching. This seemed completely out of place at the time, but this has never changed. Boasting only in Christ, I’ve watched this group one by one fall from being zealous evangelists; there but for the grace of God go I.
As I’ve continued to read my Bible, I’ve found that my statement of being a pastor first, and an evangelist second, is not just biblical, but extremely biblical. I have in front of me a list of seventeen passages which say exactly what this article is going to say, and I’m sure my list is not exhaustive. The call is not hidden in the Bible, in fact it’s seen in one of the most popular evangelistic verses quoted, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...teaching them…” (Matthew 28:19-20) The call is not just to preach the gospel, it’s not just to make converts, but the call is to make disciples, to train them, to see them obedient to Jesus Christ. Paul rephrases the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 this way, “Christ we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Colossians 1:28-29)
The biblical model is not just to love making converts, for anyone can make a convert (Philippians 1:15-18), but to love those converts and rejoice in their faith. My favorite Bible verse says, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20) This is not to imply that Paul’s converts here are perfect disciples, far from it, Paul quickly clarifies, “For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God? We pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith.” (1 Thessalonians 3:8-10) And to one of the worst churches in the Bible, Paul writes of his motives, “by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord…” (1 Corinthians 15:31) The joy and boasting that Paul has in his disciples is founded in the work that Christ has done in them and through them.
And are they Paul’s disciples? Paul takes a definite possession of his converts (Philemon 10, 1 Corinthians 4:14-15, Galatians 4:19, 2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, 2 Corinthians 11:28), he was the means by which the faith came to them, he taught them, he exhorts them, he corrects them, he worries about them, he prays for them; he forever recognizes that it is Christ working in him that brings this, but that does not diminish his joy one bit, in fact in another place, it increases his joy, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:5-8)
And by no means is this just the sentiment of the Apostle Paul, just in the 1 Thessalonians verse we see that this joy is shared by Paul, Silas, and Timothy. In another Epistle, John shares the sentiment, “I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 3-4)
Peter takes personal possession of Mark in 1 Peter 5:13, but he makes sure that we realize it's our responsibility and privilege to do the same for those under us, “I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:1-4)
The winner of souls, the maker of disciples, is lauded throughout scripture. Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.” “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3) Elsewhere this passage is pointed at an individual, Levi the priest, “He walked with me in peace and righteousness, and he turned many from iniquity.” (Malachi 2:6) Beloved, may these be verses which God is pleased to apply to you.
I hope it is not I who have convinced you, but the scriptures themselves, that loving others through discipleship is the goal of evangelism rather than simply making a convert. Making converts is wonderful, but are they worth boasting over? Paul doesn’t boast in numbers, he boasts in Christian fruit, “we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.” (2 Thessalonians 1:4) It is God the Father who calls Ephesians 2:8-10), it is Christ who died (1 Corinthians 1:13), and it is the Spirit who works (Philippians 2:12-13), we do nothing (John 3:27, 6:63), our boasting is confined to the work we see God doing in our disciples, but boast we do, and exhort them to walk all the more in the truth revealed to them, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Philippians 4:1)
My beloved, I pray you are working in such a way as to be able to boast in your disciples, that you have means to strive together with your brothers in the faith, that you see growth in them and are looking forward to giving an account of them on Judgment Day. (Hebrews 13:17) Beloved, far be it from me to tell you how to do this, my exhortation is only to do it. I could suggest youth ministry, college ministry, senior ministry, homeless ministry, Bible study, orphan ministry, widow ministry, hospital ministry, chaplaincy, street evangelism where you learn people's names and pray for them, etc etc, but beloved, do not let me stifle you, only find someone who needs Jesus and make them a disciple. And may they find such love in you that they cannot but boast in the work Christ has done through you in their lives, “that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.” (2 Corinthians 1:14)
Do the work of an evangelist, but love the church first and foremost. Do not boast in numbers, but in people. Charles Spurgeon, famous on earth and in Heaven, with much to boast over both on earth and in Heaven, said it this way, “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.”
“And because of God you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”(1 Corinthians 1:30-31)