Evangelism in the Beginning
You don’t expect a man the size of a bear, with a low, rumbling growl to match, to look you straight in the eye and say, “George, I love you, and I want you to know my Jesus,” but that’s what he does every day. It won’t surprise you to know that he frequently leads people to love the Jesus he knows so well.
I thought of this friend when reading Michael Green’s classic work, Evangelism in the Early Church. Widely regarded as the best book on the subject, I thought it helpful to highlight some of his conclusions for those who desire to lead others to the feet of Jesus.
Green’s primary conclusion is that neither the strategy nor the tactics of the first Christians were particularly remarkable. “What was remarkable was their conviction, their passion and their determination to act as Christ’s embassy to a rebel world, whatever the consequences.” It was the personal transformation of their character, as they welcomed the Holy Spirit into their lives, which was most stunning. This is what made me think of my friend – personal passion, born of the Spirit of God and infused with deep gratitude to Jesus, overflowing into personal witness.
Passionate conviction and personal witness characterized those who founded the Christian movement. Still, Green notes five approaches which the Early Church adopted and from which we could profit. First, most of their evangelism took place on what we would call “secular ground.” You find them in the laundries, street corners and markets. Evangelism did not happen in church buildings, of which they had none. In my own experience I have seen and done this, particularly in places where there are no church buildings. I would also note that in the places where Christianity is growing most rapidly, they have few church buildings. It makes me wonder if the presence of many steeples has led us to rely upon the building as the place of evangelism. The pattern of the early church, and even the contemporary church in areas where the Church is growing, suggests that we must evangelize on “secular ground.”
Second, Green notes that “the priority of early Christians seems to have been personal conversations with individuals.” You see this in the way Jesus evangelized. Read John’s Gospel , for example, and the stories that strike you most are Jesus’ personal conversations with Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the lame man at the pool, the adulterous woman, the man born blind, Lazarus, not to mention Jesus’ conversations with the Twelve. Some of the earliest Christian writings, following the New Testament era, recount personal one-on-one witnessing experiences. If your church wants to reach people for Christ, you must consistently train members in the skills of talking to others about Jesus. The MY316 evangelism resources provided by the Northwest Baptist Convention helps believers know how to share Jesus using their own personal testimonies and John 3:16. In March of 2016 we will have one-day “Story Witnessing Workshops” throughout the Northwest which will focus on helping Christians to listen well and connect Bible stories to people’s lives.
Third, Green says that “the home provided the most natural context for gossiping the gospel.” This is clear from the Book of Acts, and is also prevalent in Second Century Christian literature. In many regions of the world we continue to see believers meeting in homes and practicing household hospitality as a means to share Jesus. But we do not see this much in America any more. It seems that we view our homes as a private retreat more than a place for entertaining strangers and sharing Christ with neighbors. I would encourage you reach out to internationals and immigrants. Most immigrants are never invited into the home of an American. And most Americans never invite someone from another country, culture and ethnic group into their home. The Northwest has many immigrant peoples. I have found immigrants are most honored when we invite them into our homes.
A fourth method of the Early Church was church planting. Indeed, we can say that the Church grew as new churches were planted. Green says that church planting was “the most effective” method of evangelism. What we know is that in every place where Christianity is growing, the number of churches is growing. This has always been true. Is your church involved in planting other churches? It can be.
Finally, Green notes the emphasis those first Christians put on the work of the Holy Spirit. They understood that the Holy Spirit worked within them to produce the character of Jesus. Green says, “The Western Church has grown too dependent on words, and not nearly dependent enough on the power of the Holy Spirit,”
There has been no significant change when it comes to effective evangelism. It’s always been about sharing Christ personally, where people live and work, and doing so in the power of the Spirit. We just need more of it.
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