In my role in ministry, I have a lot of people confide in me that they feel they are failing in the area of personal evangelism. You may be one of those people. Honestly, I feel I am at times.
Truth is, I am afraid too many believers (here in the US that is) are failing at this. The New Testament is crystal clear on the importance of personal gospel proclamation. It is all over the place in the Bible. Evangelism, or verbally sharing the gospel with people, is an every-member ministry. That means I need to be doing it as a minister. You need to be doing it as a member, and so does everyone in between who confesses Christ.
Who's Your One?
This is one reason I'm so excited about a new initiative by the Southern Baptist Convention called “Who's Your One?” J.D. Greear, the current SBC president, launched this initiative to call all Southern Baptists (and really any evangelical Christian) to the task of intentional evangelism by identifying their "one"—that specific person God has placed on their heart who needs to hear the gospel.
In an article J.D. wrote last year on the topic, he rightly claims,
"...evangelism is the primary tool by which we fulfill the Great Commission. Everything else Southern Baptists do is ultimately in support of evangelistic disciple-making. The criteria upon which our churches should measure their success is by how many Christians are actively winning souls and training them to win the multitudes. Apart from that, all the money we raise, buildings we build, ministries we organize, sermons we preach, and songs we write don’t move the mission forward. Without this one thing, we fail."
An intentional focus on personal evangelism is something I will happily cooperate with others to accomplish. So to that end, let me ask the question: Who's your one? When was the last time you asked God to reveal your opportunities to share the gospel? Have you ever asked God, "Who's my one, Lord?"
Personal Evangelism is a Spiritual Discipline
We often discuss evangelism as a spiritual gift. Though the New Testament does speak of evangelism in that way, the conversation becomes unhelpful if we take that to mean only those with some specific gift are called to verbally share the gospel. Instead, we must realize the New Testament clearly commands all believers to share the news of salvation in Christ.
I use the term spiritual discipline intentionally. Rather than excusing ourselves by claiming we do not have the gift of evangelism, we should place it alongside other aspects of our Christian life—such as prayer and regular Bible reading. Evangelism should be a discipline that grows us in godliness and develops obedient lifestyles of worship. Refusing to regularly share the gospel is as detrimental to your spiritual formation as refusing to pray or refusing to read your Bible.
When people come to me confessing a failure in this regard, I usually suggest three practical things to help develop the discipline of personal evangelism.
1. Pray for the desire instead of waiting on the desire to start praying.
Many who have not developed a discipline of evangelism view it as an intimidating process, and they do all kinds of things to motivate themselves. Some guilt themselves. Others attempt to employ some form of emotional hype. Whatever the case, evangelism that is self-motivated will be legalistic at best or will have a failure to launch at worst.
Instead, we must pray to the Lord of the harvest. In that passage, Jesus is saying we pray that he raise up laborers, and that is exactly what I am suggesting you do. Pray that God will give you a desire for evangelism. Begin now making it a regular point of prayer, and don't wait. Plead with God that he will make you sensitive to lostness. Instead of waiting for your heart to change, begin praying that God will soften your heart to the world’s great need for the gospel.
2. Start with your own circles.
This sounds obvious, but it is very often overlooked. Honestly, I think a number of people have a hard time sharing with people they already know for two main reasons. First, I think many are embarrassed to bring it up or afraid friends will disagree. They do not want conflict in their relationships, so they pass over gospel conversations with people who are already friends, family, or acquaintances.
Second, many of these relationships have gone for a long time with no mention of the gospel, and it would be really hard to insert it into conversation now. If you have known a coworker for years and are just now trying to tell them about the most important thing in your life, that gets awkward pretty quick.
Nevertheless, a lifestyle of evangelism should begin with those closest to you. In fact, people already have a built-in network for sharing the gospel. Your first action step should be to do an inventory on all of your existing circles of influence. Most of us have families, neighborhoods, and jobs with people—social circles, to which we already belong. Have you ever made a list of the lost people in your office? How about your neighborhood?
Make a list of all of your social circles, then make a list of unbelievers in each of those categories. Now, you have a prayer list and a share list. If you have trouble knowing where to start in conversations with people you already know, you can start by asking these four questions.
3. Make some new friends.
A lifestyle of evangelism cannot stop with our current social circles, though. The spiritual discipline of evangelism is going to require us to make some new friends. You may have analyzed your circles only to discover there are not many lost people. This is not uncommon. It just reveals a need to meet some new people so that we can be obedient. Perhaps you could commit to spending an hour per week trying to meet new people. The results are predictable. If you spend enough time trying to find lost people who are interested in talking about the gospel, then you eventually will.
So, get out, and make some new friends. Relationship evangelism is, in fact, the kind we love to talk about nowadays. However, make sure to do it well. I alluded to some of the awkwardness that comes when we wait to share the gospel until after relationships have been established above, but you can read some cautions in “relationship evangelism” here as well.
Pastor, get your church involved in Who's Your One?
As a last word, I want to challenge pastors and ministry leaders in our local churches to participate in "Who's Your One?" Encourage your congregation to ask the question. In the coming weeks, the North American Mission Board will be creating and supplying kits to help local churches develop a multi-week emphasis on intentional, personal evangelism that challenges church members to identify their one.
If your church wants to participate, feel free to email me or anyone at our association as we all partner together for the growth of the gospel in Houston and beyond.
Keelan Cook serves as Senior Church Consultant for Union Baptist Association and Instructor of North American Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His primary areas of ministry focus include urban missiology, church planting, church revitalization, and unreached people groups.