The abbot of the monastery called the novice into his office and instructed him to give the homily at the next morning's chapel. Well, the novice was struck with fear.
(When there are surveys taken in the United States of greatest fears, the number one fear is to stand up in front of a group of people and give a speech. Things like nuclear explosion, terrible disease, unemployment, and come down the list after standing in front of a group.)
This young novice had apparently voted many times in the surveys, because there was no way that he was going to do it; but the abbot insisted.
So the next morning, chapel came. He stood in the pulpit. The brothers were there. His hands were trembling. His knees were knocking. His voice was quivering. There was a long pause before he first spoke, and he asked a question.
"Do you know what I'm going to say?" They had no idea, so all of their heads went back and forth almost in unison, as if it were choreographed. He said, "Neither do I. Let's stand for the benediction."
The abbot did not appreciate this. So he called the young novice into his office and said, "You must do this. It's for your own good. Tomorrow is your day again. Be prepared, and this time do it right."
The next day was almost an exact repeat of the day before. All the brothers sat there before him. His hands shook. His knees knocked. His voice trembled. Long pause. "Do you know what I'm going to say?" he asked.
Well, after the previous day's experience, they had a pretty good idea. All of their heads went, Yes, we know what you're going to say.
"Then there's no need for me to tell you. Let's stand for the benediction."
The abbot was angry beyond description. He brought the young man into his office and said, "If you do that again, you are going to be in solitary confinement, bread and water for thirty days and any other punishment that I can think of. Tomorrow morning give the homily; do it right."
The third day, chapel attendance hit an high. They were all there to see what he would say, and it was, again, almost an exact repeat. He stood, trembled, voice quivered; and after the long silence, he asked, "Do you know what I'm going to say?"
After three days of this, about half of them had a pretty good idea and they nodded their heads up and down. Yes, we know.
But the other half noticed the switch from day to day, and they really weren't sure what was going to happen; and so they shook their heads back and forth. No, we don't.
The novice observed this, then said, "Let those who know tell those who don't. Let us stand for the benediction."
The simple definition of evangelism: Those who know telling those who don't.
Here is the simplest definition of evangelism: those who know telling those who don't. A simple definition, but in some ways, not adequate. A fully biblical definition of evangelism is the making of more disciples for Jesus Christ.
The word "evangelism" is actually almost a transliteration from Greek. The Greek word was euangelion, but the pronunciation got blurred through the centuries and into English. The prefix eu means "good."
We've brought that over into English as well. We go to a funeral and you hear a eulogy, which is two Greek words—the words for good and word. It is a good word about the person who has died. Or we speak of a euphemism as sort of a good way of saying something about something that maybe isn't very good.
The rest of the word, angelion, we've also brought over into English because we speak about angels as messengers. The Greek word is the word for "message." So euangelion or "evangelism" is the good message or the Gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ.
Now, interestingly, the word "evangelism" is never used in the New Testament, at least not as people use it today. To many people, evangelism means telling about Jesus and that's it; but that was never it in the Bible. That was only the beginning of evangelism.
If you walk out into one of the parking lots this morning and someone says to you, "How do I get to Chicago?"
You say, "Well, get in your car." Well, that's good advice. That's the start of it. But you also need to say, "Start your car and head south and a little bit east ..." and give more detailed directions to see them through to the destination they have named.
The beginning of evangelism is the information about Jesus Christ, how to get into him and to him; but there is much more. Evangelism is persuading a person to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus defined it, in some of the last words he spoke. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me; therefore, go and make disciples of all nations (ethnic groups), baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
So, a disciple is someone who has been taught to obey all that Christ commands. A disciple isn't someone who does all that Christ commands, because it may take a lifetime to learn all the things that he's going to command us; but a disciple is someone who has made the commitment: "Whatever Jesus says I promise in advance that I will do."
Evangelism is convincing someone to be that kind of a follower of Jesus Christ. It's like being a salesperson. A salesperson is not just someone who shows the product, but someone who closes the sale, someone who gets a signature on the contract, a down payment, who gets the full payment, makes sure that the delivery is made. It's the whole process together.
An evangelist is a person who talks about Jesus and his good news; but he or she is also someone who closes the sale, who persuades the person to take delivery of Jesus Christ into her or his life, who makes a commitment to obey Jesus Christ as Lord. There are some who have made a distinction between evangelism and discipleship, and it's helpful to distinguish between them at times. It's sort of like the difference between obstetrics and pediatrics, or birthing a child and raising a child. But the distinction is really not a biblical one. It's a human way of thinking. In God's way of describing it, it's all connected together.
Evangelism is relating to someone who is not a Christian throughout the process, until that person is a maturing Christian who has made a commitment to obey Jesus Christ and all that he commands.
Wooddale Church recently adopted a new statement of purpose: "The purpose of Wooddale Church is to honor God by making more disciples for Jesus Christ." In other words, the reason that Wooddale Church exists is to persuade more people to be disciples of Jesus Christ, committed to him, believing in him, agreeing to do whatever he asks. It is the process of taking people who are not Christians through to maturity as Christians.
We don't do it for ourselves. We don't do it for the church, and really we don't do it for the people. We do it for Jesus Christ. And so, if Wooddale Church makes more disciples for Jesus Christ, we have fulfilled our purpose and reason for being; if we don't, then we haven't.
Christians and Christians place very different value on evangelism.
When we talk about the value of evangelism, we have one of the clearest clashes that we can have between Christians and Christians. If you don't think that's true, you just say the word "evangelism" to a Christian at work or in your neighborhood and see what kind of response you get.
There are many countries around the world where it's okay to be a Christian, but you can't persuade someone else to become a Christian. In fact, it's against the law.
I read a news story yesterday about two men from the Republic of the Philippines who were in a Middle Eastern nation, in a private home, and they were persuading people to become Christians. The religious police arrived, raided the house, arrested them. They were convicted and sentenced to death. So there are countries which say, "Sure, we have religious freedom to be whatever you want to be, but you cannot evangelize. You cannot persuade someone else."
In the People's Republic of China, the largest nation in the world and a billion people strong, is what is called the TSelf Church. That is the church. Several of us from Wooddale, a couple of years ago, were in Beijing, and we went to one of the services of one of the TSelf Churches. It was an old building, built around the turn of the last century. We had a translator there. There were hymns sung, some of them were to western tunes which we knew. They read the Bible. They had prayers. There was a sermon, a Bible teaching, that I thought was fine.
But they're not allowed to evangelize. That's part of the deal with the state. "You can do your thing as long as your thing doesn't include persuading somebody else."
There are about 50 million Christians in the People's Republic of China who have chosen not to be part of the TSelf Church, and meet in house churches, because they're convinced you can't be a Christian unless you evangelize. They say that the two go together; and if you don't evangelize, you're not a Christian. They would say that those who are in the TSelf church are really not Christians, as far as the New Testament definition is concerned.
That's a completely different valuing of evangelism. Evangelism really makes no sense at all to many Christians.
"You believe what you believe; I believe what I believe. We're all okay. Let's just leave each other alone. It's a private thing. You don't mess with somebody else's religion. Just back off. I mean, who do you think you are anyway?"
You see, as Christians we're convinced that evangelism has great value, and that to be a biblical Christian is to have a set of values that are very different. Not just in evangelism, but with money and jobs and marriage and relationships. Christian values often are very distinctive from the values of others.
A Christian values evangelism for many reasons.
To be a Christian is to value evangelism for a lot of different reasons.
Number one is because God values evangelism. A Christian is someone who adopts God's values. So, in a sense, God puts a price tag on everything; and there are some things he puts a very high price tag on and some things he says are worthless. We adopt the values of God. And God has set a high value on evangelism.
He gave his Son's life for this good news. He has ordered us to make disciples. So, you can't read the Bible and come to any other conclusion but that this is a big deal to God, that God counts evangelism to be really important. And what is important to God is important to somebody who's a Christian. If for no other reason, we would say we value evangelism because God values evangelism. But there are other reasons.
We also value evangelism because we've been evangelized. Somewhere, from someone, we heard about Jesus Christ. We discovered for ourselves that receiving Jesus Christ changes life! It's great for the future, for heaven and eternity; but it's also great for the here and now. Big change came in our lives as a result of Jesus Christ. Out of that experience, we want to persuade others.
I suppose you might compare it to marketing, or advertising. Good things, but ultimately not as powerful in persuading people as the experience of those who already like the product.
A couple of years ago my nephew asked, "Have you read John Grisham's new book?"
I said, "I've never heard of John Grisham."
"Well, you ought to read his book called The Firm."
I had never heard of it. I had never seen it reviewed. It wasn't on any lists. So I went out and bought it to keep my nephew happy; at least I could tell him I bought it. I started to read it, and I read it straight through.
John Grisham had written an earlier book called A Time To Kill. It sold just five thousand copies in hard cover. I don't think it was advertised, ever made a list or was reviewed by anybody that I know of. It was sort of a flop.
Then he wrote The Firm, and it wasn't advertised either. It was hardly reviewed, and the reviews it got weren't very good. But people read it and liked it and told other people they liked it and The Firm sold seven million copies. (By the way, it's being made into a film starring Tom Cruise. You may not know who he is, but he and I were born in the same hospital. So you know he's really a pretty famous guy.)
John Grisham has written several other books, and today the paperback best seller in the United States is by John Grisham, as are and . And the hardcover best seller is by John Grisham. That has never happened before in history, and it's not because of advertising, not because of the publisher's clever marketing plan, but because somebody liked the book. I guess a lot of people liked the book and told other people, until millions of these books have been sold.
Christians are people who like Jesus. They've experienced him, and so they tell somebody else. It doesn't take a newspaper ad. It doesn't take a review in a magazine. Evangelism is people who like Jesus and have experienced him, telling other people, until it has spread to thousands and millions and tens of millions and hundreds of million and more.
I suppose you should add a third reason for valuing evangelism. As Christians, we value other people. We don't want them to be ignorant of God. We don't want them to be isolated from God's best. We don't want them to be lost. We want them to get the good of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Maybe you've seen T that say "Friends don't let friends go to hell." You may not want to wear that to work tomorrow morning, but you get the idea. When you care about other people, you value evangelism. You value their knowing about Jesus Christ—friends and family and neighbors and . We believe that the best they can get is Jesus, so we try to persuade them. It's evangelism.
A few suggestions for those who don't know where to start with evangelism:
What do you think a Christian who values evangelism, but doesn't know how to do it, should do? Let me give you a few suggestions.
One is to pray. Just pick three people whom you think are not Christians and pray for them every day. Pray that they become Christians, but also pray for their families, for their jobs, for finance and health and cars and house and apartment or whatever the issues of their lives may be. Pray for them for a year.
There was a fascinating study based in Los Angeles County during the Olympics, where thousands of people committed to praying for others within Los Angeles County. They never dreamed that one of the correlations made was that, during that period, there was a drop in the crime rate in Los Angeles County—by more than 50 percent! Out of that has come a group in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that is doing this rather sophisticated correlation. They recruit people in counties all over the United States, and those people sign on to pray for three people for a period who live in their county. They ask that it be somebody else in the county, so that they can follow up a statistical correlation between the number of people who are praying and evaluating the crime rate within that particular county.
What if 3,000 of us here at Wooddale Church this Sunday morning were each to decide privately to pray for three other people in our county? We would be praying for upwards of 10,000 people whom we think not to be disciples of Jesus Christ. That's something we could all do.
We wouldn't even have to tell them. Although, it would be nice if, three or four months into this we say, "They suggested at my church that I pray for other people. So I put you on my list. I pray for you every day. What would you like me to pray for?" Use that as the beginning. Maybe that's all that's necessary in terms of praying that they be persuaded to become disciples of Jesus Christ.
Maybe you will just pick some people and try persuading them. Do it over a period of time.
Or if you like to learn more, buy a book. Go to the church library downstairs and take out a book on how to share Christ. There's an old classic called How To Give Away Your Faith by Paul Little. Or Joel Johnson teaches a course offered here periodically on, "How to share your faith." Take that class. Just learn to do it.
Another possibility is hitchhiking on special opportunities. There are all kinds of them. A few weeks ago we showed the film "Eye of the Storm." About 2,000 people came to see it. As part of that film, set in the Persian Gulf during the Gulf War, there were clips from one of the Billy Graham crusades about how to become a Christian. At the end of the film, we provided evaluation cards, and asked people to fill them out regarding what they thought of the movie.
About 500 people filled out those cards, 14 of whom indicated that they had decided, watching that film that night, to become Christians. You could have participated in that.
Easter is coming up. I suppose if there are two times of the year when people who aren't connected or don't know much about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, are open to church, Easter would be one of them. So invite them here or to some other church where you know that the truths of Jesus' message will be communicated.
There are lots of other examples. We can find them all over the place if we're looking for them, and we can plan ahead, think it through and say, Here is a way that I could connect with somebody else in beginning the process of evangelism, of persuading them to become disciples of Jesus Christ.
It's looking for as many ideas and opportunities as possible for evangelism to be valued and for evangelism to be practiced, each of us in our own lives but all of us connected together as the church of Jesus Christ. So let us be truly Christian in the way we value evangelism, but also in the way we do evangelism.
Leith Anderson is senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn. His books include Dying for Change and A Church for the 21st Century.