Modern Evangelicalism and its corollary the Church Growth Movement are distorting the Great Commission and the commission given us individually to be Christ’s witnesses. Witnessing is not a push to”get people saved.”
It is rather like a sowing grass seed in our yard. Some seed will not grow, some will die, the birds will eat some, and weeds will choke some out, but some will grow. The more seed we sow the more likely our grass will grow. Additionally, the more seed we plant in peoples’ minds, the more likely someone will receive Christ and believe in Him. As an evangelical minister myself, I would like expand of some of the things I have learned about witnessing.
Many of our pastors, who we dearly love and respect, are also often pushing us to go out and “spread the Gospel” by stopping people on the street, in stores, or in businesses, knocking on doors, going up and down the street and talking to our neighbors, starting a mail campaign, etc., and pushing Christ on them, or the least we should do is “invite them to church.” Those are commercial sales techniques and are inappropriate for witnessing; they turn people away from the faith. Some pastors even lay a guilt trip on us asking something like, “How many people did you lead to Christ this past week?” Leading people to Christ or “soul winning” is the job of the Holy Spirit and not our job as witnesses. (I admit that as a pastor, I wrongly did the same thing). See The Holy Spirit As The Soul Winner.
The idea according to the Bible is to witness to folks about what Jesus did for us. Our testimony is our personal experience with Christ. Most folks we witness to will not receive Christ and believe in Him as Savior because many are called but few are chosen for broad is the path that leads to destruction and narrow is the gate that leads to salvation (Mat 7:13-14; 20:16; 22:14). However, that does not relieve us from our duty to witness. It is our job to witness for Christ, not lead someone to Christ. As the Scripture says, (Paul speaking), “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
Our witness is both verbal and nonverbal and usually the nonverbal is the most accurate. Unfortunately, because of sin, sometimes our nonverbal witness is negative. People judge us by what we do, not what we say. When our verbals and nonverbals agree, people are more likely to respond to us. When we witness and a person believes in Christ and receives salvation then we are to make disciples of them.
Simply inviting people to church is OK, but church attendance and numbers of attenders is not the purpose of the church. The purpose of the church is to glorify God, to help us to hold on to our faith and hope without wavering, to be concerned about one another, to promote love and good works among ourselves, to be witnesses of the Gospel, and to disciple people, which is how we corporately carry out the Great Commission.”
Our purpose is not to create numbers of attenders for numbers’ sake. Inviting others to church should not be the first or only thing we do. It should happen as we witness to folks, but only if the Spirit has prepared the person we are witnessing to. If the Holy Spirit has prepared a person, that person will be willing to listen. If a person is unwilling to listen, the Spirit has not prepared that person, and we will have no trouble immediately realizing that. Then we should leave that person alone. If we continue to push the person who is unwilling to listen, it s a waste of time because without the leading of the Holy Spirit no can be saved. Not only that, but we may permanently turn that person away from the Gospel.
You cannot bludgeon someone with Christ and expect them to respond to our tactics. If the Holy Spirit is not leading them, then nothing we can say or do will get them saved. We cannot take someone aside and sit that person down and, using our very best practiced sales technique, argue that person into salvation. We can, however, argue someone into submission. They submit just to get rid of us because they tire of hearing us. At that point they may agree to say anything just to get rid of us. Such an approach has driven many away from Christ.
Many of our pastors are educated in an evangelical seminaries and many evangelicals tend to push, push, push numbers, numbers, numbers. It seems that such evangelicalism is too numbers oriented. That is why we usually have twice as many names on our membership roles as we have attenders. That should tell us that perhaps many of the people we bring in to our churches are not truly Christians because we so often push numbers over real salvation. That seems to be the prospect of many evangelical churches these days.
Not only does pushing for numbers turn many off to the Gospel, such church growth tactics also keep Christians from witnessing. Because of these tactics, Christians are afraid to go out and witness because they perceive the necessity to have a sales presentation ready. We also push people into “making the sale.” In other words we cause people to feel the need to get everyone they speak with to either commit to coming to church or to profess Christ as their Savior.
That is how commercial sales work—commercial sales reps are pushing to get immediate results. Rather than having to be a sales rep for Christ and have all the tools that the sales rep must have at his or her disposal, people just decide not to witness because they feel they are not qualified or that it is too complicated, or both.
That is not how witnessing works. Instead of mounting a sales presentation complete with the correct Bible verses and memorizing all the right things to say, or completing a church growth seminar, etc., all we must do is tell people what Jesus has done for us. But we are only to do that if people are prepared by the holy Spirit and are ready to listen.
I believe that we are to witness as we go about our daily routines. That is what I do. I am kind and friendly to everyone I meet in public and when given the opportunity, I will discuss salvation with them. People know we are different by our everyday actions.
Pushing gospel tracts at people, trying to sell them on Christ with a sales presentation, or bludgeoning them over the head with the gospel is what turns people away. There is nothing wrong with Gospel tracts. I carry them with me and if led to do so by the Spirit’s leading and their reception of me, I will give out a tract. But to push them on everyone is not what we should do.
Most Americans have had enough “churchianity” pushed at them by well-meaning Christians (who may have had a guilt trip laid on them by their evangelical pastors). Many try to avoid having those conversations with Christians at all costs. That is because of ineffective witnessing. Effective witnessing is one on one in friendly circumstances where the Spirit is leading us and the prospect has been prepared by the Spirit to listen.
Most door knocking is not witnessing; it is a numbers game. Door knocking is often just an attempt to get people to “come to church.” If they come to church but do not have the leading of the Holy Spirit, what is the point? In that case it is just another body or another number on the attendance records. It is also another sales tactic aimed at increasing church attendance.
If you are going to go door knocking, drop the sales pitch and be sensitive to those whom the Holy Spirit has prepared to hear the Gospel. Be kind and gentle and definitely to not be pushy. Remember that it is a technique to plant and water seeds and not a effort to increase attendance at your church. You may find that God gives the harvest to you and you get to lead someone to Christ.
Church attendance is not what the Great commission is all about. The Great commission tells us to make disciples as we go. That starts with our local community. For places outside of our local communities, we send missionaries. There are also evangelists (those with the Spiritual Gift of evangelism) that go out in a larger area to preach the Gospel. We already have “Judea, Samaria and the uttermost ends of the earth” covered with missionaries and evangelists. God calls some of us into those ministries. However, most of us are not missionaries or evangelists. Where we don’t have it covered is “Jerusalem” or our local area and that is where we, the lay people come into play.
Witnessing is talking to folks one by one in a friendly setting and telling them what Jesus Christ has done for us. Additionally, witnessing is what we do every day whether we know it or not. The way we live our daily lives is witnessing.
Let us exegete the scripture in context:
Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (19) “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The context is the disciples have traveled to Galilee to a mountain that Jesus told them about before His crucifixion; He said he would see them there, “Then Jesus said to them [Mary Madalene and the other Mary; Mat 28:1], ‘Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.'” (co-text, Mat 28:10). The scripture does not specify the mountain. But they were told to wait there because Jesus told them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I will strike down the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” (This is a co-text, Mat 26:31-32).
New Testament co-texts are found in Mark, Luke and Acts. Mark 16:15-16, “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.'”
Luke 24:46-49, “and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.'”
(Acts 1:6-9) “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’ And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”
Old Testament co-texts tell us that God would make known the Gospel to the entire world. Here are three:
Psalms 22:27-28, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations will worship before You. For the kingdom is the LORD’S And He rules over the nations.”
Psalms 98:2, “The LORD has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.”
Isaiah 52:10, “The LORD has bared His holy arm In the sight of all the nations, That all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God.”
These verses tell us the LORD, that is, Yahweh, will spread the Gospel to the nations and the world. However, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Mar 28:19). God the Father, gave Jesus, Who is God the Son, all authority, and Jesus gave His church the authority to go and disciple the nations. Jesus has the authority that was God the Father’s under the Old Covenant, but under the new, He has delegated that authority to His Church. The nations are the different ethnic groups in the world. There are several thousand different ethnicities in the world and the Great Commission is to reach them all.
This Great Commission is given to the church corporately, just as it was given to the Apostles corporately because one man alone cannot make disciples of all the nations in the world, thus it must be the church that corporately does this. We, the church, send missionaries and evangelists who have been called by God to accomplish this mammoth task.
One man or one woman cannot do this. That is why Jesus gave us this mandate: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
“You” is plural in this verse (KJV: ye). This mandate does apply to individuals. All of us, yes every Christian, can witness in his or her local area. Some of will go further and go into our local province, or county, or state, district, region, etc. Others will go even further into entire countries and even to the uttermost parts of the earth. Those going further than the local region are missionaries and evangelists called by God. Ours is a mobile society and witnessing is an individual mandate, thus all of us as individual Christians should be ready to individually witness to people wherever we travel.
Some Keys to Evangelizing
- The Message will never be popular.
- We don’t need to be successful in “Soul Winning”; just tell what Jesus has done for us and don’t worry about the outcome.
- Success is our belief in Christ, our spiritual growth, and our walk with Christ in doing His will.
- Don’t always expect a positive response; expect rejection and come to terms with it. Be kind when you don’t succeed and rejoice when you do. People are not rejecting you, but Jesus.
- Don’t expect immediate success or any success. That is up to the Holy Spirit. Just plant and/or water. (Paul planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the increase – 1 Cor 3:6) Our reward is just for planting and watering.
- We are not salespeople for Christ; we are heralds of the Good News.
Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior? He is going to return to the world soon. Are you ready? When He does if you do not know Him as your Savior, you will join all those who do not know Him in “Outer Darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat 22:13-14).
Mark Oaks, March 2, 2019