Methods of Evangelism in the New Testament

 A Christian university student shared a room with a Muslim.  As they became friends, their conversation turned to religion.  The believer asked the Muslim if he’d ever read the Bible.  He answered no, but then asked if the Christian had ever read the Koran.  The believer responded, “No, I haven’t, but I’m sure it would be interesting.  Why don’t we read both together, once a week, alternating books?”  The young man accepted the challenge, their friendship deepened, and during the second term the Muslim became a Christian.  One evening, late in the term, he burst into the Christian's room and shouted, “You deceived me!”  “What are you talking about?” the Christian asked.  The new believer opened his Bible and said, “I’ve been reading it through, like you told me, and just read that the Word is living and active!  You knew all along that the Bible contained God’s power, and that the Koran is a book like any other.  I never had a chance!”  “Now will you hate me for life?” asked the believer.  “No,” he said, “but it was an unfair contest!” 

We never really know what can happen when we attempt to convert others.  It was amazing to me to see how quickly that Muslim converted!  Sometimes we think that our times might even be some of the toughest in which to convert others.  Yet, the first century also had its difficulties.  Listen to how one author describe the situation which the early Christians faced: “They demanded repentance and [baptism] in response to the proclamation of the gospel.  They were very bold about it, despite the opposition encountered. ... This was flying in the face of all convention and social propriety. ... They lived in a world [with] more relatives[m] (or nothing matters) and [with] more pluralis[m] (or more ideologies) than our own.  And yet they would not make any compromise on the issue.  What was needed was not more religion, but a new life—and Jesus could provide it” (M. Green).  By the end of the second century, the Gospel had been presented all over the Roman Empire, and Persia and Egypt were also beginning to be evangelized (K. Latourete).  How did these early Christians reach so many despite the fact that they had no mass media?  Let's look at four methods, the basic methods, which they used.

 The first method might be called public evangelism.  One type of public evangelism was synagogue worship.  This was a readymade audience, especially for Jewish Christians who wanted to teach other Jews.  During a synagogue worship service, any male could be called on to read Scriptures and to give an exhortation.  Notice what Acts 13:14ff tells us: “But when they [Paul and Barnabas] departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisdia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down.  And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them saying, 'Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on!'  Then Paul stood up and motioning with his hand said, 'Men of Israel and you who fear God [that's the Gentiles in the audience who has become Jewish converts], listen: ...”  Then Paul proceeded to explain how Jesus was the promised Messiah.  Preaching in the synagogue was Paul primary strategy during his missionary travels, and the Gentile converts to Judaism often became Christians.  Here was a structure filled with an audience who already respected the Scriptures and knew something about the Messiah.  Perhaps the closest thing we have to synagogue preaching would be our Gospel Meetings.  We meet at a church building or a large arena and try to gather an audience so that they can hear a presentation of the gospel.  The more who attend, the more chances we have of converting someone.  They will work IF we will work!  Another type of public evangelism used by the early Christians was marketplace evangelism.  Paul used this approach as well in Athens.  Acts 17:17 states: “Therefore, he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the Gentiles worshipers, and in the marketplace daily who those who happened to be there.”  The Roman marketplace was a civic center where all kinds of people gathered.  Buyer and sellers were there, but many others were there as well: tax-collectors, philosophers, the unemployed, gossips.  Some people came for recreation, and the proud came to show off.   Usually, there was also a place for court hearings and a forum for public discussions and debates.  Paul took advantage of this situation to share the Gospel.  We don't have much open air preaching anymore, but our marketplace would probably be our workplace.  Just as the marketplace drew a wide variety of people, so the workplace does the same today.  Now, ideally, our workplaces are supposed to be neutral locations, where religions and ideologies have no place.  Ideally, maybe, but in reality, many workplaces promote an agenda and push an ideology.  Lunchtime is often a perfect hour for Christians to discuss religious issues and to share their faith and the Gospel.  A third type of public evangelism was the school.  Paul also used this approach in Ephesus.  Acts 19:9 informs us: “But when some [of the Jews] were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way [or of Christianity] before the multitude, Paul departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.  And this continued for two years, so that all those who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”  It is interesting that archaeologists have discovered this very place.  Paul worked out some agreement with the owner to use this facility, and Luke comments that it was very effective in teaching others!  Today, in our educational system, teachers are limited to a great degree as to what they can share openly with regards to religion, but they can still have a great influence.  Students can know their stance and their religious convictions.  I'm glad our brotherhood values Christian education.  Several congregations have begun academies (with students from kindergarten to High School), and private Christian colleges have had an important role in spiritual formation and in converting unbelievers.  Let's keep trying to use public evangelism to convert others!

 A second method might be called household evangelism.  In the Roman household, the father was the undisputed head, and he could try any household member in a family court, especially women and slaves.  In addition to his own relatives, there were three other groups associated with the household: the slaves who served the family, the clients who were freed people who determined to take the family name and remain with them, and the friends who enjoyed the family's trust and from whom the family expected devotion.  One writer observes: “The family, understood in this broad way as consisting of blood relations, slaves, clients, and friends was one of the [great strengths] of the Greco-Roman society.  Christian missionaries made a deliberate point of gaining whatever households they could as lighthouses, so to speak, from which the gospel could illuminate to the surrounding darkness” (M. Green).  If the household's father was converted, there was a good chance that many of the rest of household would be too.  Remember what Cornelius did when Peter came to him?  Acts 10:24 informs us that Cornelius “had called together his relatives and close friends” and verse 27 states that Peter had found “many who had come together.”  By the end of the story, we see that all of these in Cornelius's household were converted!  In some culture's, the father is still seen as the head of family, and if he is converted, others will often follow.  Sometimes, the same principle worked with a female.  Remember Lydia of Philippi?  Acts 16:15 reports: “And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us saying, 'If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.'”  In some cultures, the woman calls the shots for the family.  So it is wise to try to convert the mother first so that her influence can help to bring about other conversions.  Lastly, we must not underestimate the importance of sharing the Gospel with teens and children as well.  Timothy had the blessing of being raised by godly woman.  Paul recalls the genuine faith exhibited by Lois, Timothy's grandmother, and by Eunice, his mother (2 Tim. 1:5), and how these women had taught Timothy the Scriptures during his childhood (2 Tim. 3:15).  Parents, one our greatest duties is to bring up our children as well “in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).   Doesn't it stand to reason that parents who read the Bible and teach their children at home, and bring them to Bible classes, and take them to youth activities, send them to Bible camps and let them help in service projects are much more likely to strengthen their faith than if they do not do any of these things?  Listen, if we can push and support our children in sports, and gymnastics, choirs, bands, drama, pageants, and field trips, why can't we push and support them in spiritual matters?  Visiting in homes, another form of household evangelism, is still a great way to reach out to others.  One church growth specialist, who has written many books on this subject, made this interesting observation: “Despite this [variety] of creative ideas and programs, the best single approach is still the old-fashioned system of personal visitation.  This system affirms the value of face-to-face relationships and requires the [preacher] and [the members] to call, on a regular basis, on individuals and families [in their homes] who do not have an active relationship with any ... congregation” (L. Shaller).  In other words, going out and visiting people in their homes is still the best way to grow a church!  Let's keep practicing household evangelism to bring others to Jesus!

The third method could be called personal evangelism.  In the first chapter of John's gospel, we see this method used.  As soon as John the Baptizer pointed two of his disciples to Jesus, Andrew immediately seeks out his brother Peter and brings him to Jesus (John 1:35-42).  Andrew has this outstanding trait—whenever you read about him, he is usually bringing someone to Jesus.  The next part of chapter one shows Jesus finding Philip, and then Philip immediately finds Nathaniel and persuades him to come and to meet Christ.  Maybe we need to follow their lead.  Those who have studied patterns of church growth have determined through interviews that about 75% of the people say that they began coming to church because a relative or a close friend invited them!  Isn't that amazing?  If we'll just ask our relatives or a close friend to attend worship services, there is a pretty good chance that they can be persuaded!  If asking them face to face might be too nerve-wracking, why not mail them a nice written invitation?  Now let's consider another example.  Over in Acts 9, our Lord tells Ananias to go to the street called Straight to the house of Judas in order to share the Gospel with Saul of Tarsus.  God knew exactly where Saul was and exactly what he needed in order to be saved. What was Ananias' response?  “Yes, Lord, I'll get right on it!” No, no, he was really reluctant because of Saul's destructive reputation:“Lord, I have heard much from many about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.”  Notice something here that's important.  Was Ananias right?  Yes, from what he had heard others had said Saul was a mean fellow, but at the moment he talked with the Lord, what was Saul's disposition?  He was blind, fasting, repenting or having a complete change of heart for Jesus had stepped in and revealed Himself to Saul.  The point is that despite the reputation we may have heard about another, we do not know how that person might be changing until we go to visit and to talk with them.  Or to put it another way—we never know what's going on in the heart of that person whose door we knock.  What if Ananias hadn't gone to Judas' house to find Saul?  One of the world's greatest missionaries might never had left Damascus!  We won't know the fruit of our labors until we knock on someone's door and try to plant the seed of God's Word as we talk or study with them.  Personal evangelism is talking with relatives, friends, and those we try to reach by going out and knocking on their doors!  Finally, it's also talking with those who might come to us.  The book of Acts ends with this affirmation: “Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him” (Acts 2830-31).  Paul was under house arrest, but he was still able to welcome others to his home and teach them.  One brother I knew in York was looking for a home to buy.  When he saw this big den area in the basement of one house, I said, “Wow, this is great!  We can have small group Bible studies right here in this area!”  Now there's an evangelistic mindset!  Brothers and sisters, have we ever thought of using our homes as places of outreach?  You know, your home can be a little taste of heaven, a refuge from worldliness, and a place where people can discover the real meaning of life!  Did you know that having small groups over to learn about our Lord in homes has been one of the most effective strategies used in recent years by churches that are growing?  Some even say that it is THE MOST effective strategy to reach the present generation (J. W. Ellas)!  Personal evangelism still works, whether it be asking someone to attend a worship service or Gospel meeting, or going to their home, or inviting them to your home.  Let's be obedient like Andrew, Ananias, and Paul and keep utilizing the method of personal evangelism!

 The fourth method used by the early Christians was literary evangelism.  The early Christians would use the four Gospels to tell others about Jesus. Despite what critics claim, like those in the Jesus Seminar did, the four gospels in our New Testaments are still the most reliable sources that exist about Jesus' life!  They tell us about a historical Jesus, and not a legendary Jesus.  Sometimes when just the Gospels were distributed into difficult neighborhoods, their impact caused the crime rate to drop significantly (R. Shelley).  We can still distribute the Gospels, but we also are blessed to have many tracts on various topics that we can utilize as well.  Someone is doing a good job in keeping our tract rack in the foyer well stocked!  Hey, if you feel bashful about sharing the Gospel personally, why not pass along a tract to another person?  If there's not a tract in our rack that seems to be suitable for what you want to communicate, let me know and we'll start looking for another tract out there that just might fit the bill!  There was one sister who always had several tracts in her purse.  She was not the confrontational type, but she wasn't afraid to distribute tracts—the waitress or busboy would find one on the table where she had eaten, the pharmacist might find on his counter after her purchase, the garbage man might find one on top the trash can lid, etc.  You get the idea, so try it if you like it!  The apostles and other early defenders of the faith were fond of using letters to instruct both believers and non-believers.  Besides the Gospel and Acts, all the other books in the NT are letters or have references to letters in them!  Remember the old proverb: the pen is mightier than the sword!  We too can use letters and Bible Correspondence Courses to teach others.  There is still an excitement about getting a hand-written personalized letter!  Putting your thoughts on paper does take some time, but it's a great way to reach out to another!  Bro. John Reese is going to be with us next week to tell us about the World Bible School Correspondence program.  Right now, there are about 2 million people reading WBS materials.  Of that number, about 26,000 will complete the course and request baptism each year!  They also have their courses online for those who might like to teach using the computer.  It's a great program, and I'm glad that Bro. Reese will be challenging us to be a part of it!  To be a teacher will require about an hour to two hours of your time weekly.  Yes, I know that adds up, but what better investment of your time could you make than leading another to become a disciple of Jesus and a member of His church?  And like the DVDs on Sunday evening have shown, who knows how it might multiply from there as those converts seek to reach others?  One final way the early Christians taught others was through the Scriptures themselves.  Peter, Paul, and Stephen often used the scriptures in the Old Testament to point to Jesus, as their preaching in the book of Acts shows us.  Yes, the Word of God is still that living and active sword that cuts people to the heart, like that Muslim observed (Hebrews 4:12)!  I heard about one missionary who worked among a very warlike people.  They had no written language.  So he learned their language and then invented an alphabet for it.  Then he translated the Bible into their language, which is no small task (usually such a process takes about 10 years of steady work).  He translated the entire Bible except of the books of Kings; he thought they were warlike enough already and didn't want to give them any more ideas!  Just sharing a Bible or even portions of the scriptures with other people is still a powerful way to evangelize!  Let's continue to practice literary evangelism!

 We live in a day and age where we almost experience information overload—television, radio, billboards, newspapers, magazines, videos, CDs, DVDs, Internet, I-pods, Blackberries, and more.  But the early Christians still made an impact on their world by using the basics—public evangelism, household evangelism, personal evangelism, and literary evangelism.  Let's follow in their steps!  As we also think about our upcoming brainstorming session, let's continue to suggest ways that we can reach out to others.  You know, research shows that it takes about ten contacts (I mean intentional and personal efforts) to persuade an American to visit a church!  That's why using all these methods are so important.  Usually, using just one method alone won't cut it, but if people see a variety of appeals, through tracts, through phone calls, through door knocking, through articles in the newspaper, through small group home Bible studies, etc., then the odds are much higher that they will visit us and potentially be led to our Lord!  There was a man named Bruce who once called to a minister and asked him to pray for him since he would soon be going to have surgery done for an aneurysm in his brain and then he added, “Could I talk with someone from your church about getting my life in order?” The minister responded, “Sure!” and took down his address.  This church had a visitation program, and soon someone visited the man and his 11 year-old-son.  They shared their faith and the Gospel with them during their visit.  The surgery took place, and Bruce had complications.  The surgery led to heart problems, and that led to stroke, leaving half of Bruce's body paralyzed.  Bruce spent several weeks in rehabilitation.  Then one Sunday came, Bruce and his son slipped into a worship service.  When the invitation was sung, he shuffled down the aisle with his cane and with his son, and both made the good confession and were baptized!  What a joyful ending to that story! 

But here's another question to ponder: What would have happened to Bruce and his son if that church had not have had an active visitation program?

Are you ready this year to start fishing, for people that is?  Will you think seriously about how you can touch the lives of others?  Will you start an unfair contest?  Will you tell others that Jesus can give them a new life?  Will you share your faith on the job or at school?  Will you try to reach another family or to bless your own children?  Will you knock on someone's door or invite them to your home?  Will you write a letter, or grade correspondence courses, or pass a tract or a Bible along to someone else?  The fields are still white unto harvest!  If you want prayers to be a better reaper this year or to be more effective in reaching others, won't you come as we stand and sing  ...