Jesus spent over three years teaching his disciples how to engage in personal evangelism. He modeled it, explained it, sent them out to practice it, reviewed it, and then commissioned us to do it (Matt 28:18-20).
Jesus did evangelism perfect. We, however, do not. We will make mistakes along the way, and so we must continue growing. Part of growing is recognizing our errors and correcting them.
There are many things that could be pointed out, but in this article I want to focus on the gospel presentation itself. That said, here are six ways we sometimes do evangelism wrong.
1. We forget to include God
As Jake Blues said, “We’re on a mission from God.”
Evangelism is God’s divinely-given mission for his followers. Furthermore, it is the Holy Spirit that enables us to do ministry (1 Cor 12:4-11), empowers us to do evangelism (Acts 1:8), convicts the sinner (John 16:8-11), and brings people to salvation in Christ (Titus 3:5).
Without a doubt, we must include God when we do evangelism. When we don’t, things often fall apart (besides falling prey to numbers 2-6 below).
When we forget to include God in evangelism, we are stuck depending on our finite abilities and our own power of persuasion. Even worse, without God involved, evangelism becomes about us doing our work for our glory to grow our church.
2. We fail to listen to the other person
We’ve all been there.
You’re having a nice conversation, offering your thoughts and insights, when suddenly you realize that the other person isn’t really interested in what you have to say. Rather, they’re more interested in hearing the sound of their own voice.
Sadly, every single one of us has also been that person who failed to listen.
When doing evangelism, sometimes we don’t take time to listen to the other person. Instead, we focus more on what we have to say to them, turning the conversation into condescending sophistry.
Evangelism is about more than just telling others the gospel. It’s true that euangalizō (Greek for “evangelize”) means to proclaim or herald. However, there’s more to evangelism than merely pronouncing a truth. Evangelism is making the gospel known through our actions and our words.
When we fail to listen to the other person, our actions show a disinterest in them. When we fail to listen, we show disrespect toward the other person. When we fail to listen, we shouldn’t expect the other person to listen to us.
3. We presume the other person’s beliefs (and then proceed to say why those beliefs are wrong)
Movies and television often stereotype Christians in a certain negative light. Critics of Christian faith often like to refute Christian doctrines they say we hold.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being stereotyped and told what I do or do not believe. When a non-Christian presumes to know what I believe based on their presuppositions, I find it arrogant, offensive, and disrespectful.
Sadly, Christians can be just as guilty of this haughty attitude. Christian movie critic, Kevin McCreary, has rightly pointed out how, in their movies, Christians sometimes presume the beliefs of others, especially atheists, and how this is wrong.
In evangelism, sometimes we can approach the other person thinking we already know what they believe and why. We may begin to refute those beliefs that we’ve erroneously imputed to the other person.
Presuming the beliefs of another hinders conversation, shows disrespect, and negates any claim we might make about loving other people. A better approach is to ask the person what they believe and why.
4. We insult or attack the other person
By “attack,” I don’t mean to physically assault the other person (though I’m sure might have happened a time or two). Instead, I mean verbally condemning, judging, or assaulting them.
Rhetoric such as ad hominems, innuendo, mischaracterizations, and insults have no place in civil discourse and no place in evangelism. Rather, we should speak the truth boldly while ensuring our words are coated in love, grace, and mercy.
5. We don’t include the gospel
It’s quite possible to talk about Jesus or the Bible without sharing the gospel.
It’s easy to share a testimony without including the gospel.
It’s easy to seek justice or social reform without sharing the gospel.
It’s also very easy to promote one’s church or denomination without sharing the gospel.
Our sin is part of the message. God’s forgiveness is part of the message. His grace and judgment are part of the message. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to pay for man’s sin and his resurrection on the third day are part of the message.
To put it simply: evangelism isn’t evangelism without the gospel of Jesus.
6. We share a false gospel
Possibly more serious than failing to include the gospel in our evangelism is sharing a false, heretical gospel. I’m looking at you, Word of Faith prosperity gospel and karma good works gospel.
Despite what famous preachers and religious authors may say, the gospel is not about material, worldly gain and having your best life now. Scripture does not teach a gospel focused on financial security or physical well-being.
Despite what other religious systems and some Christians may say, the gospel is not about earning our way heaven. Scripture does not teach a gospel based on doing good works to earn a better existence after you die.
These are false gospels – heresies – that lead people away from the truth. They are lies that please man, but displease God. They are perversions of the gospel that change the message of God’s justice, grace, and glory into a message of man’s vindication, rewards, and happiness.
God commanded us to evangelize others. Jesus gave us the greatest example by evangelizing perfectly. We, however, will make mistakes and do things wrong. As part of our growth and improvement, we need to recognize the mistakes and errors we commit so we can stop making them.
I hope this short list helps you discover some areas where you can improve, and that you start improving. God blesses those who strive to serve him and be more like Jesus. As you go, go with the Holy Spirit. As you evangelize, share the gospel of Jesus boldly, honestly and in love and grace.
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The KJV version of this is somewhat different…
It does not indicate “make disciples of all nations”.
True, the KJV uses “teach” instead of “make disciples.” The beauty is that the message of the Great Commission is the same: evangelism and discipleship.