When I was a newly ordained preacher, my hope was that once I preached on evangelism, my congregants would go out and share the good news with others, and that church membership would grow steadily from that point on. After many years of ministry, that hope has been disappointed time and again. As preachers, we might want to blame this state of affairs on parishioners, reasoning that they are slow to accept and listen, or that they are too unenthusiastic to act. Yet we all know that laying blame on others without exploring the root cause of the issue is futile. So how can we, as preachers, best encourage our people to share their faith with the many people whose lives intersect with their own?
After doing much listening, I came to discover the following three reasons for my congregants’ lack of passion for evangelism, and three passages of Scripture that, when preached well, could help address these challenges.
Not that excited about their belief or their community of faith.
“John 15:1 -17, “I am the Vine, you are the branches”, is a great place to start to counteract a lack of passion for the faith. It’s pointless to preach on evangelism if our church community lacks a deep connection with Jesus and with one another. If a newcomer walks into a church and finds it to be cold and unfriendly, it is very unlikely this person will return. Hence we must first work on building a loving community before asking our members to reach out to others.
Jesus asked us to abide in him as he abides in us (John 15:4). If we depart from him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Jesus’ commandment was ”Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). We must encourage church members to love one another by caring, listening, supporting, and praying for each other. With permission, we can give real-life examples in our sermons to congratulate some of their good works. I have found that when positive energy is instilled in the community from the pulpit, members feel acknowledged and recognize that their pastors appreciate their ministries. It is then more likely that they will do more and also feel great about their church.
Everyone needs encouragement and appreciation, and the Church is a good place for us to practice love. Building up a Christlike and loving community within our church is a key first step in encouraging evangelism. People in the world long to belong to this kind of community, and Christians who feel positive about their church are naturally inclined to invite people to ‘come and see’ for themselves.
No idea how to start off a conversation about their faith or what to say.
John 4:7-26, 26-42, “The Woman by the Well”. Jesus often spoke to strangers. He started a conversation with a stranger by asking for something, for a drink of water. He did not tell her that she needed to confess her sins and repent. Instead, Jesus asked her for something that he did not have.
If in trying to share our faith we try to sell something, or if our talk makes people feel bad about themselves, our dialogue will go nowhere. Asking for help is a way to empower others to trust us. It is often a good way to start a conversation. When the woman was curious about a Jew speaking to her, Jesus then invited her to ask him for living water. This time she was really interested in getting the living water, which would quench her thirst forever.
From verses 9-15, we notice how Jesus’ conversation was creating interest and finding common ground. Likewise, in our conversations with others we should create curiosity and find shared ground. Ultimately, we hope our conversation will lead to Jesus, the Messiah (John 4:26). The Samaritan woman, stigmatized by having been with so many different husbands, was changed from being isolated and ashamed to courageously telling others about Jesus and about her past (John 4:39). It was meeting Jesus that brought about this dramatic change. The rest of the encounter was the work of the Holy Spirit.
Hence, our preaching on this passage should remind our people that conversations should always ultimately point people to Jesus. When others meet Jesus, the Holy Spirit leads them into relationship with God.
Don’t know enough about the Bible to tell others about Jesus.
The irony here is that no one in the Bible knows the whole of Scripture. What made people become evangelists was not how much they knew, but rather how much they trusted the Holy Spirit. Hence, a third key text for preaching on evangelism is Acts 8:26-40, “Philip and the Ethiopian Official”.
Philip already had a successful ministry in Samaria (Acts 8:5-8) where crowds listened to his preaching, he cast out many evil spirits, and healed the sick. Nevertheless, the angel of the Lord sent him to minister to one man, an Ethiopian eunuch, on a road in the wilderness. A lot of the time we do not understand God’s will and direction to us as Christians. The key, however, is to trust in and submit to the Lord. We are God’s servants and we are Jesus’ witnesses. We should be ready to follow his lead, even if it is to talk to just one person in the wilderness. When the Spirit calls, we should be ready to follow, even when we are in the prime of our ministry.
Philip realized that he was part of Jesus’ sent community. Ministry is not about our success, but it is about the Missio Dei, the mission of God. When the Spirit sent Philip to the wilderness, he went. When the Spirit urged him to go over to the Ethiopian’s chariot, he did. He was no doubt surprised that an Ethiopian official was reading a passage about the suffering Messiah from the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 53). We have no idea why this Ethiopian was reading the book of Isaiah or why he became interested in the Saviour. We only know that the Holy Spirit worked beyond anything we could have imagined. This remains true today.
James Hunter would describe Philip’s action as “Faithful Presence.” It means that our presence with others represents God’s presence among us. We only need to be faithful to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit will show us what to do and what to say. As God is faithful to us, we are to be faithful to others too. Evangelism is not simply about telling others to believe in Jesus; it is about God’s Spirit working in us.
Take heart, preachers!
God has given us the privilege of growing the people of God in the faith so that they can faithfully share what they’ve come to know with the people all around them. May your preaching of these three texts, and many others, encourage the faithful witness of Christians in all our churches and right across our land.
 James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (New York: Oxford UP, 2010), 244.