- A Philosophy of Evangelism, Part 1: An Agricultural Process
- A Philosophy of Evangelism, Part 2: The Results Belong to God
- A Philosophy of Evangelism, Part 3: Taking a Long View
- A Philosophy of Evangelism, Part 4: Context & Motivations
- A Philosophy of Evangelism, Part 5: Lifestyle Evangelism & Integrating Discipleship
About this series: Developing a biblically rooted philosophy of evangelism can greatly enhance the effectiveness of outreach and evangelism ministries. In this second part of this series (see part 1 here), we talk about our participation in a process that God ultimately directs, along with two opposite errors people can easily fall into, depending on the outcome of their evangelism efforts.
In any area of life and ministry, we should understand that we contribute nothing to the purposes of God.He has no lack or deficiency, and for us to make a contribution would mean that we bring something to the table that He does not already possess.
God does, however, invite us to participate in his purposes by being a part of what his Spirit accomplishes in people’s lives. This means that in evangelism, as in other areas of life, we are called to be faithful to the process and to leave the results to God. When we abandon our attempts to control the outcome and seek to be obedient to the prompting of the Spirit, we can rest in that fact that God will use us as he sees fit in the lives of the outsiders that we encounter and for whom we pray.
The image of “outsiders” and “those who are outside” is used in Scripture to depict people who have not come to faith in Jesus (Mark 4:11; Colossians 4:5). Our desire in the evangelistic process is for outsiders to become insiders in the family of God.
“And He was saying to them, ‘To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables.’” (Mark 4:11)
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.” (Colossians 4:5)
‘In evangelism, as in other areas of life, we are called to be faithful to the process and to leave the results to God.’ —Ken Boa
The Process Begins and Ends with God
We are incapable of changing others, although we often make the mistake of trying. When we adopt the goal of changing people, we are actually committing ourselves to manipulating and coercing them. But when we realize that the whole process of evangelism begins and ends with God, we can take comfort that he is in control and that we are given the privilege of participation.
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:6–9)
It is God, not us, who causes the growth; we can no more lead a person to conviction and the new birth than we can cause a plant to grow by pulling it out of the ground. Even so, the Lord chooses to use his children in the process of evangelism. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility mysteriously mesh together in the evangelistic enterprise just as they do in other areas such as prayer. Just as a godly farmer patiently and diligently creates the right conditions through preparation, planting, and cultivation while looking to God for the growth of the crop, so we must see evangelism as a divine–human process.
If we overlook these truths, we can easily slip into one of two opposite errors.
‘We can no more lead a person to conviction and the new birth than we can cause a plant to grow by pulling it out of the ground.’ —Ken Boa
Error #1: Assuming Failure When Conversion Doesn’t Come
The first error is to think we have failed if a person we are working with does not come to faith in Christ. We may also take it as a personal rejection when people dismiss or ignore our message to them about Jesus. Understanding that evangelism is a process and that the results belong to God will help us avoid this wrong thinking.
Error #2: Taking Credit for Someone Coming to Jesus
The second error is to take the credit when we experience the joy of leading someone to Jesus. It typically takes multiple encounters and exposures to the gospel before people are ready to respond, and the believer who reaps the harvest is only one of several influences. When we hear about someone coming to Christ, we can reasonably assume that there was a history of intercession and exposure before the person came to faith.
Moreover, God gives us opportunities to proclaim the gospel, but our proclamation is impotent apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. When we realize that our task is to love, serve, and pray for outsiders, and to share the good news of Jesus when the opportunity arises, we can relax in the sovereignty of God and leave the outcome in His hands.
‘Divine sovereignty and human responsibility mysteriously mesh together in the evangelistic enterprise. . . . Our proclamation is impotent apart from the power of the Holy Spirit.’ —Ken Boa