I’m sorry, but I’ve had to temporarily unpublish this piece–the one about evangelizing. In the forthcoming week I’ll totally explain why. Much love! And, again, sorry for any inconvenience. I’ve really been enjoying the entirely excellent comments to this post. Really good stuff.

"The whole thing about wives submitting to husbands opens the door for these kind of ..."

Why Pastors Struggle With Confronting Domestic ..."
"I have a stupid question for you:If you are asking someone else what to say ..."

What should I tell my child ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • You love getting those emails, huh?

    I found his line, "Do your homework!" extremely funny.

    I thought, "Yeah, John!"

    I'm Ok is a very good read — even the appendix.

  • Colleen

    I appreciate your response regarding evangelizing. I too dreaded having to become a door knocker w/ pamphlets when I became a Christian. But I went along with the argument that you need to always be ready to talk the Good News to people lest they be consigned to the pits of Hell due to your failure to drill the salvation message, welcome or not, into their thick skulls. My husband and I alienated a lot of people this way…family, friend, co-workers, and some adorable trick or treaters one Halloween night who didn't understand the candy bar wrapped in a tract. We bought into the argument that the Lord needed us to convert people, as if such a transformation couldn't be accomplished through God alone. If anything, our efforts usually only helped delay the process.

    I now follow the advice of St. Francis who said "Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words' Translation: Live out your life of faith, that is the testimony, the results are not of our concern.

  • Thanks, Ric. That's kind of you to say. I wouldn't write that book today in the same style (or in the same freakishly short period of time), but … that's neither here nor there, I suppose. (I wish, in a way, that I had written it in a style better suited to its content. But it was my first book; whaddaya gonna do? And I had just come off of about five or so years writing for magazines. So. Conditioned in a certain way….)

  • Dennis Dawson

    I think a big part of the confusion comes from the definition of evangelize (which was so kind as to illustrate in two alternate definitions).


    –verb (used with object)

    1. to preach the gospel to.

    2. to convert to Christianity.

    I think we're all okay with the notion of people preaching the gospel, provided they do it in a place where it doesn't annoy people who would rather not be preached at.

    It's that thorny number 2. I get the impression from many Christians that they're not there to enlighten me to the choice of accepting Christ, but to pester me until I give in.

    Definition 1: okay. Definition 2: not so okay.


  • Hmm… a lot of tortured reasoning here to avoid speaking up it seems. Anyway, I want to address one point. I am always amazed at the number of people I speak with IN THIS COUNTRY (like down the block!) that have not heard the gospel message. Oh sure, they've heard about some guy Jesus (your italicized "knows"), and Mohammed, and Buddha, etc. but they have never heard/experienced the life-changing power of Jesus setting them free of addictions, pride, etc. (sin). Therefore, it seems to me that our work in this country is hardly done, never mind the rest of the world. And no, I'm not suggesting a door-to-door gospel sales call: live out your Godly life and look for opportunities to share the good news; people will ask why you're different…tell them.

  • "But here in America, where from sea to shining sea pretty much everyone already knows about Jesus, our Commission has already been largely accomplished. Here, it’s basically over. We’re done. At this point, our Good News is old news."


    I take strong exception with this statement. Many people in America, many people filling up churches in fact, have not heard the Good News. People have heard about how Jesus is a good moral example, or how he can give you strength to get through the day, or how he wants you to be rich and drive fancy cars, but many people do not hear that Jesus is our Savior from sin and death. Many people are just not aware of many of the basic tenets of Christianity. I know this sounds impossible in the USA, but when you take surveys of people, including many Christians, they display a remarkable lack of knowledge about even the most basic Christian claims (claims that would be shared across denominational lines and the conservative-liberal spectrum). The fault for this lies squarely on the church's doorstep.

    Day in and day out, I find myself trying to impress God with my prayers, my good works, my pleasant thoughts, living in the illusion that this is what will find favor with God. This means that I myself need reminded of the Good News, that despite my faltering attempts to please God he is already pleased with me in Jesus. I am a Christian, but even I still need evangelizing. And if Christians still need evangelizing, then non-Christians certainly do.

    Bottom line is this: you can't assume the Gospel. It must always be kept front and center, and proclaimed.

  • I'm not sure this directly addresses what you (and David below) are saying, but the below is an excerpt from another post of mine, "More on the Great Commandment vs. the Great Commission." It's apropos to what you're saying, insofar as it's a response to an argument I often get, which is that it's not so much that Christians haven't heard the Gospel, as it is that they've heard a faulty Gospel:

    People who are really dedicated to evangelism (some of whom, let me say, I count as dear friends) often say that the key to proper, effective evangelism lies in using the right words; they say that if a Christian attempting to evangelize a nonbeliever leaves that nonbeliever feeling offended or insulted, then it means that the Christian chose the wrong words to evangelize with, that they didn’t properly represent the gospel.

    That sounds good to me. I would love to hear the words we should be using to evangelize, so that I could use them myself. I’ve yet to actually hear the words about Christianity that don’t make nonbelievers throw up their internal spam filters, that don’t make them cringe as they realize that yet another Christian is trying to convert them. I would sincerely like to hear the evangelistic words that don’t trigger that response, if for no other reason than that I’m someone—a Christian someone—who has dedicated his whole life to discerning exactly the right words to express whatever I’m trying to express.

    I know I can’t think of the Non-Alienating Evangelism Words. And I’m absolutely positive I’ve never heard anyone else use them. But I’m certainly more than willing to learn what they are.

  • Don Whitt

    "That's why I'm saved I'm saved

    People let me tell you 'bout kingdom come

    You know I'm saved I'm saved

    Well I can preach until you're deaf and dumb

    I'm in that soul saving army beating on that big bass drum"

    "I'm Saved" – Elvis Presley

  • In my experience, people are open to hearing a message of salvation when they are OPEN to a message of salvation. If their hearts are at the moment closed, any amount of standing on them and trying to pry those doors open is only going to meet with resistance and eventually resentment. Christians who engage in guerilla evangelization, in my very humble opinion, do more to send people running the opposite way than they do to introduce people to the very real love of Christ.

    Many years ago I attended a church that had regular classes offering D. James Kennedy's Evangelism classes. We were "strongly encouraged" to attend – i.e., "you're not ONE OF US unless you take this class." Graduates were "requested" to sign up for at least one night a month to go street to street, knocking on doors and evangelizing people. I hated every second of it. Maybe there was a brief moment when I felt I was doing "God's Work" but mostly I felt like a telemarketer must feel at his job — calling up people who really don't want what he's selling. It just felt wrong. I recently had a Christian friend who is dying of cancer ask me what I thought was the best way for her to share the gospel with our friend who is agnostic. She wants to make sure our other friend is in heaven. I still haven't responded to the email, but I know my response is going to read something like, "I don't think evangelizing her is the answer. Love is."

    You can't sow infertile ground.

  • "which is that it’s not so much that Christians haven’t heard the Gospel, as it is that they’ve heard a faulty Gospel:"

    I see what you mean by this and agree with the need to find the right words to speak with (something we are not good at, at all, often) but if you follow Paul's train of logic in the early chapters of his letter to the Galatians a faulty Gospel is the same as no Gospel at all.

    But yes, agreed that what goes for "Gospel" these days often looks like a weapon to bludgeon people with. But it doesn't mean that there isn't a call to evangelize. You cannot argue against something on the basis of the fact that it's abused.

  • Actually, I think the funny thing is that you CAN sow on infertile ground. YOU can't grow or harvest, but you can cast your seed anyway. Story: our Pastor, Lon Solomon ( was "saved" by a street evangelist yelling the gospel in Chapel Hill, NC while he was there in college. Lon was a strung out college doper (check out his testimony at the site.) Anyway, Lon is now Pastor at the largest church in Washington DC that he started. He went back years later and found the street preacher and learned that he (Lon) was his only convert. Period! As a consequence thousands have heard and been saved. Check out Lon. He was as infertile as they come and initally rejected the call. As an "evangelist" you never know where you are in the process of positively affecting someone's life for eternity…some sow, some cultivate, some reap. We can't all be the reapers, but we can all be the sowers, and each person has their God-given evangelistic way of sowing.

  • If it bludgeons, it's not good news. If it's not good news, it's not the Gospel.

  • Sorry…but sometimes some people need a good knock in the head to wake them up and at least get them thinking.

  • westislander

    hmm, "Non-Alienating Evangelism Words", how about this John:

    "Hi, I'm [name] and I'm a Christian and unfortunately still a sinner, but I've learned from studying the Bible that even though I'm still a sinner, Jesus loves me and I'm saved by His Grace. I want to share this Good news with you. Would you be interested in looking at a few Bible verses with me."

    [Sharee not interested] "No you're not interested…well..have a Good day to you [sir/ma'am] , hopefully you'd be interested next time. Thanks for your time". [Walk away]"

    [Sharee intesrested] "That's great! Let's look at a passage that will really encourage you…"

    I was asked twice. First time I lied and said I was too busy. The 2nd time, i was more open and studied the Bible after a month. God definitely used the disciples around me to get me to turn around.

    You said you were an atheist. Have you heard about Jesus before you converted? I'm almost sure you have. Does having known the Christian deity all your adult life made you convert to Christianity, OR did it take a Christian sharing his faith to get you to convert?

    Isn't it a little selfish of you to not share this Good news now that you have it?

  • westislander

    it's just sometimes a good knock in the head is all it takes to kill them, Then it would be too late to save them 🙂

  • Frank D.


    How do you feel about "low key" mass evangelism, such as a Luis Palau festival? Lots of family activities and no one is forced to do or hear anything. Just wondering what you think.

  • Brian

    I ran a home group though my church. A couple in my home group has been sharing for quite some time about a friend of there's named Tom whom they've been getting to know. David has had a troubled life, and was in the habit of calling up Greg, usually when he was drunk, and asking him spiritual questions. Recently David came to church with Greg, prayed, accepted Christ, and has been attending my home group ever since.

    Suffice it to say, if Greg wasn't actively pursuing and encouraging a spiritual relationship with David, in other words, if he had shrunk from it at any point, David may not be in my home group today. Yes, the ultimate work is God's, but God uses us as his ambassadors. It's not about the word — "do not worry about what you will say" — It's about letting God work through you.

    John, I feel like rather than putting forth a practical example of living a Christian life, your simply reacting to and responding against the bad examples we've had to live with for quite some time. Evangelism certainly is not about bible bashing. But to say that we don't have to evangelize in America because everyone has ever heard excludes all of the Davids out there who have certainly heard, but have plenty of questions. How is that any less a form of evangelism? If you try to parse them and cool them two different things then you are also ignoring people like Paul himself, who had certainly heard the good news of Christ and yet had chosen to ignore it. And, by the way, Paul didn't come to Christ simply from his conversion experience. Remember this passage?

    "Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said 'Brother Saul, the Lord–Jesus who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here–has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength."

  • A lot of these comments are responding to something way outside the range of this post. ALL I'm saying here is that I personally don't see anything in the Bible that tells us we need to evangelize. That's all.

  • Amelia

    His sheep will recognize His voice and they'll come when the time is right. My mother tried to convert me for 32 years. Wasn't happenin.' It was by God's loving grace that I accepted Christ into my life. He became my life. Three scriptures that help me with all this talk about making someone feel totally uncomfortable with a chat about Christianity, or who they think Christ is, evangelizing, etc. :

    "Listen to me, you who know righteousness, you people who have my teaching in your hearts; do not fear the reproach of others and do not be dismayed when they revile you." Isaiah 51:7 (this reminds me that God is in all of our hearts to begin with, and when He's ready to reveal Himself to a person, that person will be given the opportunity to choose to continue on in relationship with Him, or not).

    "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me." John 10:27 (I didn't 'hear' Christ's voice until God knew I was ready for it. He flipped the switch in my heart and I haven't been the same person since).

    So have faith, people. Remember the fruits of the holy spirit when talking with someone about the deep stuff, you know: Kindness, Patience, Peace(fulness), Love, Generousity, Joy, Gentleness and Self-Control (don't jump down their throat for not "getting it"). And realize that Our Heavenly Father's timing is so much better than ours….

    "This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1st Timothy 2:3-4.

  • Hi John.

    You have forgotton the great commission at the end of Mathew..teaching them to do all I have commanded you…Also Ephesions about the 5 fold ministry gifts being to stir the church up to do the work of the ministry.

    I actually disagree with much of the way evangelism is done. Thats because of my pastoral gifting in that I would rather love people into the kingdom through building bridges and relationship. When we read through the Scriptures we tend to forget that is recorded in a few words often took many years to bring to fruit.

    We are all expected to play a part in bringing others to Christ. How we do that is different for all of us. Not all of us are called or gifted by God to be an actual evangelist, but we all are told to share our testimony when it is called for…. You can't berate someone into the accepting the Gospel message…but you can lovingly share the Gospel with them even if that does take many years building bridges and relationship with people.

  • Bri

    I agree. I think the argument is made fuzzy by the lack of a clear definition of 'evangelize.'

    I've got my reason to evangelize from the Book of Ezekiel 3:17-21, notably: When I say to a wicked man, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.

    And you did just post an article about how Christians should heed the Old Testament.

  • Mark Lattimore

    If I understand you correctly, Craig, you are pointing to a repeating command in the Great Commission; that is, in instructing his disciples to do all that he commanded them, Jesus intended for them to teach others to evangelize just as he had commanded the original disciples, thus setting up a continuous cycle of evangelization as part of the Christian life. I ask if that what you intended only because that is how I read this passage.

    John, I know that the person whose question sparked this post attributed to you the view that the Great Commission was aimed only at the original disciples, but I haven't read that from you (If it's in I'm OK You're Not, I apologize. I know you sent me a copy and all, but it's been hard to fit that in between Eusebius and Lactantius, though trust me, you are a much better writer than Eusebius). Do you read the Great Commission as a punctilinear command? I think I know your opinion of prevalent evangelization methods and, to a certain degree, agree with you. I also agree that many Christians alienate more people than they reach. In addition, I understand the reasoning which says that because we've reached everyone in the U.S., there's no evangelization to be done (though I disagree with the premise and, therefore, the conclusion). Since, however, you've grounded your remarks in a reading of the Bible ("If the Bible’s Telling Us to Evangelize, I Don’t See It"), I'm curious as to how you read the text — to whom did Jesus intend the command to apply?

  • Hi Mark. You have understood my position right. It is a circular command / instruction for us today and into the future.

    I disagree that America has been totally evangelised. There are many sub groups who are yet to hear the message. Here in Australia there are various religious groups that stand on street corners and speak the gospel. Yet they are not evangelising because they are not connecting with the passers by.

    I believe true evangelism means we have to make the effort to share it in a way that speaks the hearers language. This takes effort and it takes time. Even in sub cultures within our various societies, the way we present the message will have a effect on whether the hearer will actually hear what we are saying.

    As a chaplain one of the things I like doing is after hearing someones story is to pray with them. I don't tell them the gospel plan at that time, because they are not in a place to hear it. What they do hear though is that I have acknowledged where they are at at that moment in time… and heard them. from that place of bridge building trust can be developed and more discussion can take place.

  • “Tortured”?

  • You’re loved…you’re accepted…you’re forgiven…you have a life purpose. -Jesus

  • Diana

    Don't knock the style. The style is part of its charm–it's funny and yet still makes its point.

  • Andrew

    That's a beautiful story.

  • Diana

    Usually when I get "a good knock on the head" I say "Ow!" Then, if I find out somebody did it to me deliberately, I get really angry–and pretty much reject doing anything they want me to do afterwords.

  • Diana

    "I believe true evangelism means we have to make the effort to share it in a way that speaks the hearers language. This takes effort and it takes time. Even in sub cultures within our various societies, the way we present the message will have a effect on whether the hearer will actually hear what we are saying."

    This! Thank you, Craig. This is exactly how I feel. And what you said in (much of) the rest of your post, I agree with as well.

    Presentation is so important. And for people who have been badly evangelized (and are turned off by the gospel as a result) sometimes saying anything is saying too much–kind of like when a person has experienced food poisoning after eating a particular food–that person may not even want to smell that food, much less taste it, for a long time afterwords.

  • Candace

    It IS a beautiful story.

    The primary person who was the (earthly) spark for my own conversion said the same thing — that of in all the years he had been involved in public ministry, evangelizing through music and by his example, I'm the only person he knows of who attributes my conversion largely to (the Lord acting/speaking through) him.

    I suspect there were others, though. Unless they return to tell us, we may never know when or how we served as seed, water or fertilizer, because we aren't necessarily there when the fruit ripens.

    We tend to forget so easily that we are not in charge of, and do not get "credit" for, outcomes.

  • I spent my late teens traveling the country on a motor home, throwing Bibles at strangers and collaring folks at the grocery store. Most of them ran. Years later, I took a class in evangelism at my non-denom. church. The teacher was so loving and gentle in showing us how to engage in 'lifestyle evangelism'. The main idea was to listen to Jesus and speak when He asked you to, and shut up when it wasn't time. It changed my life. By looking around my office or neighborhood and asking the Lord who He had ready to hear the Gospel, So much more effective, and certainly more comfortable for me. I got to pray with about nine friends and co-workers when they accepted Him.

    Be ready with the preparation of the gospel of peace, but let the Holy Spirit pick the person and time.

  • Oldstuff

    For anyone with a mind of their own, it seems there is only one way to genuinely effective way to bring someone to ones belief system. Simply conduct yourself and live your life in an admirable way. Just lead by example.

  • Diana

    "We tend to forget so easily that we are not in charge of, and do not get “credit” for, outcomes."

    This is so true!

  • Diana

    Yes! I agree with this!

  • I think that these comments are precisely on target with respect to your post, with recent comments even specifically quoting scripture from both the Old and New Testaments. It is quite sad that "christians" have so watered down the Gospel that now it's not even acceptable to mention the word Jesus (except as profanity!) Are we clearly commanded to evangelize? Yes. Do we want to because the Holy Spirit in us is just busting out to tell other the good news? Yes. Do we each have our way of telling others about our Savior? Yes. Do different ocassions call for different styles or evangelism? Yes. I am reminded of Paul's admonition in 1 Corinthinans 2:22-23: "To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be a partaker of it with you."

  • "ALL I’m saying here is that I personally don’t see anything in the Bible that tells us we need to evangelize. That’s all."

    That means that alot of folks got it wrong for the last 2000+ years.

    Wish someone coulda told them that way back then!