Tue, 01/01/2008 – 20:00 — David Watson
The focus of evangelism in the West is individuals. We have developed an entire industry around personal evangelism. There are techniques that teach us how to lead individuals to Christ in every imaginable situation. After an individual comes to Christ we have materials that help us to disciple individuals. But, when we take a closer look at the Word of God we do not find any instructions regarding the evangelization of individuals, and we find only two examples of individuals coming to Christ in the Book of Acts, and both of these examples are extraordinary situations.
I have taken every evangelism course that has been offered since I was a new Christian in high school 40 years ago. As I matured I became an instructor of every known evangelism method devised. I was convinced in my heart and by my mentors that I was to be an evangelist. I learned mass evangelism techniques and did quite well by some accounts. And I was constantly sharing my faith in every situation.
As I graduated from seminary I began to teach my congregation the necessity for personal evangelism. When my wife and I were called to overseas service I was confident that my skills in personal evangelism would serve me well on the mission field.
It wasn’t long, however, that the reality of cross-cultural evangelism began to dull my enthusiasm. I was forced to admit that I was not very good at evangelism in an overseas environment. As per my personality, I began to evaluate the process and made some interesting personal discoveries.
I discovered that I was just as effective in the overseas environment as I was in the US, only I was witnessing to fewer people because of language and cultural barriers. I was winning about the same percentage of people to Christ in the cross-cultural context as I did in the US, except in the US I witnessed to so many people that the results seemed really good.
The truth is that I was winning about 1 in 50 people I engaged in personal evangelism. This meant I would win 1 person every week or two to Christ in the US. I was baptizing around 50 people a year. This seemed like a lot until I was faced with a situation where there were no churches in a community and one new church per year would not make much difference. And often, those I won to Christ were expelled from their families and communities, effectively closing the door to any further evangelism efforts in that community.
It took the martyrdom of friends I had led to Christ to force me back to the Word of God to reevaluate my understanding of evangelism and church planting. Persecution and martyrdom are taught in the Bible. But the passage that caught my attention, as I studied the Bible looking for answers to effective evangelism, was found in Matthew 10:16 where Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
The snake is a symbol of Satan. Christ was telling his disciples to be as shrewd as Satan. I think this means we anticipate Satan’s plans and avoid them. In the case of evangelism Satan wants to limit our effectiveness. He gets us focused on what appears to be good in order to keep us from what is best. It is absolutely true that it is good for individuals to come to Christ. But do our personal evangelism styles fall into the schemes of Satan instead of the commands of Christ?
This was a difficult thought for me. How could winning someone to Christ fall into the plans of Satan? How could the most important decision a person can make become a part of what Satan would have us do? These are the questions I began to explore.
The quick answer is: Satan will give us one person in order to keep ten for himself. This is a pretty good trade for Satan. Let’s explore what this means.
Every soul won to Christ is done so in the midst of spiritual warfare. Satan is in the defensive position. We must rescue the lost from him! The non-Christian religions of the world are often a part of the battle as they resist, sometimes violently, anyone leaving his or her religion for any reason. These religions are often especially reactive when one family member decides to leave. This describes the situation in most of the unreached world.
Personal evangelism plays right into this situation. Most Christians target individuals for evangelism, usually young family members, and the result is a huge pushback from family and community. We may win the one, but the result is ten other family and/or community members become militantly against Christianity. The result – the situation becomes more difficult for evangelism, perhaps even impossible.
We know this is the situation. We have witnessed it time after time. Satan uses this situation to make it almost impossible for church planting to take place. Yet, we continue to use personal evangelism as the main tool for church planting. This is, quite frankly, stupid! If one knows a tactic is going to make the battle harder, one avoids using the tactic unless there is no choice.
We do not see personal evangelism taught in the New Testament. We do see individual responsibility to receive Christ. This does not mean we have to individually win people to Christ, especially when personal evangelism will make it more difficult in the future to win the remainder of the family or community.
We must begin using methods that thwart Satan’s plans and schemes. We must focus on winning whole families to Christ, or even whole communities. We see Jesus moving from an individual, the Woman at the Well, to an entire community (John 4:1-26). We see Peter move from an individual, Cornelius, to a whole household (Acts 10). We see Paul move from an individual, Lydia, to a household (Acts 16:11-15). So, even though it is the responsibility of the individual to receive Christ as Savior, the method of evangelism in the New Testament is family and/or group evangelism. It appears that the minimum focus of evangelism is a whole family or household. It was only in extraordinary situations that individuals became the focus, such as the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), who was traveling; or Paul (Acts 9:1-31), who was being actively sought for the purpose of murder by his enemies.
In Western Christianity we have taken what was unusual and extraordinary in the Bible, personal evangelism, and tried to make it the norm for how people enter the Kingdom of God. Each time Jesus sent out His disciples in Matthew 10, Luke 9, and Luke 10, He instructed them to stay with households and to tell the household and/or the community about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven.
We are told in the Bible that each person is responsible to receive Christ personally. But, we are also instructed as evangelists to go to households. When we win households to Christ we do not allow Satan’s scheme to thwart evangelism. We avoid his scheme and the result is more people coming to Christ and churches being planted more quickly. Also, when we teach obedience to the Bible as a normal part of being a Christian, we see churches rapidly multiplying themselves.
So, don’t play into Satan’s hand. Focus on families and affinity groups for your evangelism and church planting.