In college I was required to take an evangelism class and after the class I was excited to share my faith. I learned that at its core, the word “evangelist” means a messenger of good news. This immediately gets rid of the ideas of techniques where we tell people to take certain action steps. Evangelism is about spreading good news. It should be exciting.
And I also realized that there are some misconceptions about evangelism that we need to rethink:
Misconception 1: The Goal is Just to Get People to Salvation
Many of us think that when we evangelize, our goal or task is to “save” the other person.
We can’t save people, only God can. And we need to keep a longer-term view of what happens after someone accepts Christ. While we often present people with the question: “Where would you go if you died tonight?” the real question: “what happens if you wake up tomorrow?”
Don’t get me wrong, salvation is important, but the evangelism process doesn’t just stop when people accept Christ. Our intent should be a proclamation of good news that allows us to progress along with them in a journey, not just a one-step process where we leave them once we achieved our goal of “saving them.”
Misconception 2: We Have to “Defend Jesus”
For the longest time, I thought Christianity required me to know all the answers. I have spent hours arguing with my atheist friends about all the big conceptual questions. I even remember one night “stocking up ammo,” or getting answers to questions to be able to fight back and “defend” Jesus.
While apologetics and knowing why you believe what you do is helpful, that is not what evangelism is about. “Defending your faith” will most likely just turn into an argument, because we are discussing beliefs and opinions instead of experiences. Jesus is much bigger than any of our answers we try and formulate, and He often is going to work through experiences rather than our walled-in beliefs.
Misconception 3: Beliefs Matter More Than Experiences
I had been focused on arguing the Jesus into people, and that doesn’t work, trust me. It creates an argument instead of an open conversation. It makes both parties involved less likely to listen.
While beliefs certainly matter, sometimes, the best way to truly understand what someone believes is to ask about their experiences. This often shapes the conversation in a much better way, because it allows for a personal story someone can take ownership of—and that provides them with a much more genuine feeling than just arguing theological points.
Try asking: “Have you had any big spiritual experiences in your life?” Instead of: “What do you believe about God, and why?” Beliefs access head knowledge, and will usually start arguments. We don’t want to argue Jesus; we want to show the love and hope of Jesus. To do that, experiences are key because they are emotional and from the heart. They are full of substance that isn’t about arguing, but feeling in an intimate way.
Misconception 4: Someone Must Believe Before We Can Invite Them Into Community
Often, we wait until someone accepts Christ before we really accept them into our Christian circles. But in Rick Richardson’s book Reimagining Evangelism, he argues that we should invite people into our community before they may even be a Christ-follower. He values the idea of us loving them and encouraging them, no matter what. It creates a better idea of a community rather than sides or teams.
Sometimes, belonging comes before belief. When someone feels like they belong in a community, it causes them to be much more receptive to what we believe/experience about Jesus. This is a great lens to see evangelism through because we don’t just see people as “projects” but as true friends—as another broken human being we can share our struggles and triumphs with.
Living in community with both believers and unbelievers encourages us to share our problems and brokenness, not just the facade we often present to the world. This tears down a lot of walls and allows us to just love people for who they are. Believing can come later.
Misconception 5: We Have to Simplify the Gospel
You should never truly be able to say, “Here’s the Gospel in four points.” The truth is, the Gospel is so expansive and has so much to it. It has the story of Jesus and everything that encompasses. You cannot just assume your four points to salvation will be everything someone needs to hear.
There aren’t bounds to what can be said about the Gospel. Plus, how you talk about it with someone can depend on the lens through which they see God. The main theme should be Jesus, but we shouldn’t try to cheapen or simplify the Gospel.
Approach the Gospel with a curious and childlike mindset where you never fully “know it all.” It’s a huge feeling of relief when you can tell yourself you don’t know it all—and that’s OK. It allows room for the Holy Spirit to work among your thoughts. Don’t ever become set on your formula of how you present the Gospel message, because it will look different depending on the situation. Allow Holy Spirit to work among you in the situations that may develop.
So go! Pursue evangelism in today’s society. You will be surprised and amazed by God’s ability to work through us and other people.