This is the second part in a series on evangelism. For better understanding, please read the previous post first.
Biblical Strategy of Evangelism
What is the Biblical strategy for evangelism? Is evangelism a spiritual discipline that we practice for its own sake, or is it part of a greater purpose? A clear universal mandate for relational evangelism, or even personal evangelism, may be missing in scriptures, but the Bible is heavily focused on the spread of the gospel. A strategy focused only on using friendships may be absent, but the Bible is actually full of evangelistic strategy. The book of Acts certainly contains the most examples and direction for strategic evangelism.
So what is this strategy? In Acts, we see God strategically moving people over and over to reach out to those who had not heard, those who had previously been cutoff from God’s Kingdom, and those in different cultures. This strategy could be “going” as an ambassador. The great commission uses “go” as an imperative participle, “making disciples” is the central mandate, and “go” is the evangelistic strategy component of this mission. However, it is certainly not always a geographic “going”. No one boarded ships, carriages (or plains or trains) at Pentecost, it was a breakthrough of the gospel, right in their midst. The “going” was about reaching people that previously had no access to God.
We see this continuing theme of Acts, from Pentecost where the Holy Spirit is miraculously and emphatically revealed in all languages. It is the reason behind the persecution-driven scatterings, leading Christians to outreach in Samaria, where people who had previously been despised, driven away, marginalized, were welcomed to hear about Christ. It is the driving force behind the missionary work of the church of Antioch, who continued to push the gospel into places where they had not heard.
Continuing into the epistles, Paul states his desire for evangelism and his strategy clearly, when he says that it is his “ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known” (Romans 15:20). The dissemination of the gospel through existing relational connections was assumed to be a natural consequence of discovering Christ. This didn’t require an intentional strategy, the focused strategy was on reaching those who would not naturally hear and find Christ, those in different ethnic groups, and social groups. This strategy was not just expanding our circle of friends, but intentionally looking to see who was in need of hearing of the hope of Christ, who had been marginalized from the existing connections to God’s kingdom.
This is not only the strategy for evangelism, but it also shapes the impetus for evangelism. While there is a tendency for evangelism to be motivated by saving people from hell, so they can go to heaven, as far as I can tell, this motivation is never actually used in the Bible. When the threat of hell is used as a warning, it is always directed towards individuals, pushing them to repentance, not to go evangelize. Instead evangelism is driven by a vision of all people knowing the greatness of God and His ways (Psalms 145:12), and all tribes and tongues worshiping God together (Rev 5:9, 7:9).
In terms of passages that guide our evangelism, the Great Commission has to rank at the top. Christians rightly regard this as central, due to its summation of Christ’s goals, his parting, conclusive words, and the disciples passion for pursuing this mission. This passage also echos this strategy. First, the great commission is not a mandate to engage in relational evangelism, in fact it doesn’t mention evangelism at all. The universal call of the Great Commission on Christians is for discipleship. Evangelism is often a component of discipleship (depending on who you are discipling), as the first part in the discipleship process. Second, the Great Commission is clearly stated in terms of the strategy above: a distinct focus on intentionally reaching all the nations, or to more precisely translate the Greek word “ethne”, all the ethnic groups of the world. This is is the Biblical strategy of evangelism.
This mission stretches back to the beginning of scriptures as well. From early in Genesis, God declares to Abraham that his descendants would not be the sole recipients of His blessing, but rather that through him “all peoples of earth will be blessed” (“peoples” here is similar to ethne, although a bit more granular, and could point to smaller subcultures and groupings). This promise is repeated three times, and is further specified that the blessing will be through Abraham’s seed (Jesus). The prophets reiterate the mission of Christ to the nations, Isaiah declares that it is too small a thing for him to merely restore Israel, but rather He is a “light for the nations” and His “salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
And this direction is projected to God’s final vision for his people in Revelations, where again we see an overt focus on every ethnicity being in-gathered. In fact, Rev 5:9, declares this was the purpose behind Jesus sacrifice, that “by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation”. And the final vision of His church is described as “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages”, and this is defined as a central reason for Christ’s sacrifice.
There are several other passages that might be referenced in trying to suggest a universal call for evangelism. By far the most explicit, is the “secondary Great Commission”, Mark 16:15, where supposedly Jesus says to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” With more manuscripts discovered, all modern translations have to come to recognize that this passage was not actually in any of the original manuscripts.
Interestingly, Paul actually describes the work of “proclaiming the gospel” as a unique and distinctive calling, such that those who are called to do that should receive compensation from other Christians for their work (1 Cor 9:14). Of course Paul never suggested that those who are called to love others should be compensated, it is universal calling! Nor are those who are called to be grateful to be compensated from other Christians; we are all to be grateful! On the other hand, proclaiming the gospel deserves compensation precisely because it is unique calling, requiring extra attention beyond the universal mandates upon every Christian.
Evangelism then, is not just a spiritual discipline, a motion that we go through to please God, but rather it is a part of a great mission, a vision of God to create disciples from all nations. It is part of the greater, grand story of God’s purpose of His glory to be demonstrated revealed through the nations of the earth. And as part of the body that is called to this mission, we all have different roles to play.
Nikki and I have come to believe that understanding God’s purpose and our role in it, should be a goal of every Christian. This is why we have invested in helping to coordinate the Perspective class here in Utah. This class does such a fantastic job of truly exploring God’s global mission. We would encourage you to consider taking this class if you ever have the opportunity.
If evangelism is merely an obligatory duty to fulfill, this might be of no concern. But if we desire to fully embrace God’s heart and His mission, let us invest in that. And when we truly care about a goal, we look for strategy and vision to guide us. Likewise, let’s aim to understand God’s heart and his strategy into this with all our heart and mind.