Guest Author: Robert Hatfield
I was on fire as I returned from my first-ever foreign mission trip this past summer. A group of eight brothers and sisters from the congregation where I preach had flown from Nashville, TN to Santa Elena, Usulutan, El Salvador. As the landing gear reached the runway back in the States, all eight of us admitted that the people who returned from El Salvador were far different from the people who journeyed there.
None of us could believe how calloused our hearts were before this life-changing trip. We were touched by the poverty we observed – and by the contentment of the people who lived in it. Our outlook changed about excuse-making and complaining. Most of all, our hearts were pricked by the fact that we hadn’t been the evangelistic people that we should have been all along. For seven days, we met throngs of people who knew nothing of the true God, of His Only Begotten Son, or of the church for which His Son died.
From my airplane seat, thirty thousand feet above the southeast United States, I listed these raw observations in a notebook: “We accept way too many excuses. False teaching is terrible. The simple truth and hope of the gospel appeals to anyone with an honest heart. We must say what needs to be said.”
For years, I neglected to say the things that needed to be said. Sure, I would get behind a pulpit and boldly preach the gospel. I would spend hours in Bible studies on special church campaigns. I’ve written countless articles and blog posts in which I have said things that needed to be said. But, when it came to speaking up and taking the saving message to individual people in my circle of influence, I had come up short.
My first mission trip brought me face to face with a serious problem: when it came to foreign evangelism I was ready to go, but I was less than motivated to go to my family, friends, and neighbors with the saving gospel message. As I have shared these observations with others, I have found that I am not alone. Too many Christians (not all of us, but too many of us) have a fire for foreign evangelism to the neglect of local, domestic evangelism. Far too many pulpit preachers, youth and family ministers, and others in ministry spend countless hours in our offices while lost souls in our communities are slipping from this life into eternity without any hope of salvation.
How will we repent of this sin and correct this evil in our lives? I think it begins with a re-examination of the New Testament doctrine of evangelism. Prayerfully reconsider these words of Christ:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen (Mat. 28:18-20, NKJV).
Evangelism is simply spreading the gospel, proclaiming the good news. Obviously, this is accomplished in a variety of ways, but none of them are more effective than through personal conversations. This is the idea of “backyard” evangelism – getting to know my neighbors, going to my friends and family, and teaching them about Jesus. Mark’s account records that Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). “All the world” begins with my back yard! “Every creature” includes those whom I love the most!
Why aren’t we gospel sharers? Thanks to the internet, we live in a sharing (and over-sharing) culture. Yet, the one thing we aren’t sharing as much as we ought to be is the message that matters the most. Here are seven questions that I am asking myself:s
First, do we believe that the lost will really be lost in hell? I don’t like to think about it any more than you do, but we cannot deny the existence of hell. Paul said that, on the judgment day, Christ will come with his angels “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thes. 1:7). Do we really believe that? Jesus Himself said that only those who obey God will enter heaven (Mat. 7:21). If we believe the Bible, then we will urgently become evangelistic.
Second, do we not evangelize because are we afraid of rejection? I want people to like me. I certainly do not enjoy confrontation or controversy. Not everything about the Bible is controversial, but much of it is. The message, by its very nature, counters our culture (Rom. 12:1-2). Some hearts will reject the seed (Mat. 13:1-9, 18-23; Luke 8:4-15). Our responsibility is not to force people to accept the truth. No one can do that. Instead, our job is to sow the seed.
Third, do we neglect personal evangelism because we fear persecution? All Christians will be met with some resistance (2 Tim. 3:12). Some will even face death (Rev. 2:10). Many Christians in America, however, do not risk physical harm by sharing the gospel message. Instead, we are afraid of verbal persecution. Will someone make fun of me? Will I lose a friendship because of the truth (Gal. 4:16)? Here’s a tough pill to swallow: I cannot let my Christian duty be hindered by personal worries, feelings, or emotions. Christ now lives in me (Gal. 2:20). I relinquished control of my life when I gave my life to Him in baptism (1 Cor. 6:20). I must get to work (Mat. 9:37-38)!
Fourth, are we afraid that we will flop? Some Christians are hesitant to ask someone to study the Bible with them because of the unknown factor. Will they ask me a question that I cannot answer? Will I teach something doctrinally wrong? Will I get tongue-tied and communicate something I never intended to communicate? That these are all worthy considerations is not disputed. Remember Peter’s words:
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear (1 Pet. 3:15).
Fifth, are we just looking for excuses? Some readers may get defensive about this one. I admit, it wasn’t easy for me to type. It is difficult to look into the mirror of God’s Word and be faced with our spiritual flaws (James 1:21-25). Remember that God would not take “no” for an answer with Moses (Exo. 3). What does He expect from us?
Sixth, do we believe that a monetary contribution is a substitute for evangelism? I realize that not everyone can go into all parts of the world. I fully believe that Christians should use their monetary blessings to give to good efforts that will further the gospel in foreign lands. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that writing a check to a good work will stamp my personal evangelism requirement. By all means, write the check. Give liberally to support men and women who will give up all the normalcy in their lives to preach the gospel on a global level. Then, put down the check book and go seek the lost.
Seventh, prayerfully answer this question: can I be saved without evangelizing the lost? Which command may we exclude from the New Testament and still be saved in heaven? The rich, young ruler lacked just one thing (Mark 10:21). Could evangelism be the one area in our lives in which we are lacking?
For some, evangelism seems to come naturally. They have a passion for souls that drives them to overcome their excuses and their comfort zones and to obey God. I submit to you that their passion did not come as naturally as it seems. It is the result of hard work, training, and study from God’s Word. How can I cultivate that kind of passion to teach lost souls about Jesus? First, realize who the lost are (according to Scripture) and understand that they are doomed to hell (Luke 19:10). Second, realize that the gospel is the only means of salvation (Rom. 1:16). Third, understand that the gospel has been entrusted to the care of those who are saved (2 Cor. 4:7). Christians: that’s us (Acts 2:47)! Fourth, walk in their shoes. Reflect on what Christ’s influence on your life has done for you and remember where you were before you obeyed Him (Rom. 5:8-10; Eph. 2:11-13). Fifth, understand that God is concerned for the lost (1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Sixth, know that He wants you to be a profitable servant (Mat. 25:14-30). Seventh, obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9; Mat. 7:21).
I went to El Salvador to teach, but I think I was the one who was taught the most. At dinner on the last night of the trip, Phil Waggoner shared this observation: “You can measure the number of seeds in an apple, but you can’t measure the number of apples in a seed.” Our job is to sow the seed. Be a gospel sharer. Make disciples. Begin in your back yard. Pray for strength, and trust God to help you. Study God’s Word so that you, too, can be ready to give an answer (1 Pet. 3:15). If you do these things, are you ready for what will happen next? God gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:7). He’ll do it every time.