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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How to Share the Good News without being Evangelistic

Billy Graham is probably one of the best evangelists of all time. He's certainly the best of the 20th century. And I'm not him. That fact has been drilled into me for about as long as I've been studying ministry. A good preacher is an evangelist, good sermons have an invitation and the mark of success is the people streaming to the front of the room as the invitation song starts. I've never experienced that in all the time that I've preached (and I'm always scared that it will happen, because I don't know what I would do).

I've always felt defective, somehow, because I haven't converted a lot of people. I've studied with a few and baptized even fewer. That marks me as a failure. At least according to the unspoken standards that marked my church and ministry training career. I've also felt like a bad Christian in general because I'm not inviting my friends to church all the time. I don't try to convert my non-Christian friends. That makes me a double-failure.

But what if Jesus never told me to evangelize? What if he never commanded anyone to evangelize? He didn't. I know you probably don't believe me, but it's true. The verb form of evangelism in Greek is εὐαγγελίζω and Jesus never tells us to do it. Neither do the Apostles or Paul, for that matter. In the New Testament, evangelism is a spiritual gift given by the Spirit to some of the leaders in the church (Eph. 4:11-12). Billy Graham had the gift, but most estimates are that only about 10% of Christians have the gift of evangelism. That means that it's probably not you.

What did Jesus command us to do, then? He told us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). Which is distinctly different from evangelizing. Just about everywhere in the New Testament, the verb-form of evangelism is taken to mean "preached the good news." But the word disciple relates to learning, being a student. Jesus wants us to be his students who teach other people to be his students. I'm not Billy Graham, neither are you, but we can still do what Jesus told us to do. We can make disciples, but first, we have to be disciples ourselves.

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