On Evangelism

Why evangelize? Finding an answer to this question has become an urgent task since the Barna Group published findings that suggest that “almost half of practicing Christian millennials say evangelism is wrong.”

It seems odd that those who have been saved by Jesus would think it wrong to tell others about him. My guess is that it may have more to do with motivation than with moral reasoning. Moral reasoning might tell us what we ought to do, but it can’t tell us how to want to do it.

I recently became a foster parent. My wife and I have been talking about it for years and so about a year ago, we finally started the process.

Throughout the training and licensing, we kept talking about why we were doing it. We could come up with all sorts of reasons why fostering and adopting are good things to do. But we found it much harder to come up with reasons why we wanted to do it. I wondered what I might say if a friend or family member asked me “what makes you want to become foster parents?” I wanted to say more than “well, because it’s a good thing to do.”

The same is true for evangelism. It is easy to come up with reasons for why it ought to be done. But what is it that makes me want to do it?

A few months ago, a little boy was placed in our home. After only a couple of days, I had my answer to the question. I knew what I would say if someone asked me what makes me want to do this.

If someone asked me what made me want to do this, I would tell them that Jesus wants me to do this for him. Then I would say that Jesus heard this little boy’s cry and he wants me to look after him. Jesus wants me to do this on his behalf because Jesus wants to look after this boy. It turns out that it wasn’t really about what I wanted; it was about what Jesus wanted.

The same is true with evangelism. Jesus wants to save people; he has his eye on them. He has heard them cry out, and he wants to rescue them from their sin. We are going to tell people the good news about Jesus because Jesus wants to tell them. It is his desire that counts.

What’s amazing about this way of thinking is that you’ll care about telling people the gospel far more than you would if it was all down to what you want.

When I think of the little boy in my home, I am often thinking about Jesus’ love for him. Somehow doing so extends the reach of my heart. I often say to my foster child that Jesus hears him; Jesus is watching over him. The Lord then gives me a desire to be Jesus’ hands and feet, the means by which he can care for the little boy.

It’s the same with evangelism. If you know that Jesus wants to save someone and he wants you to do it for him, your heart will extend with his. In each conversation, you will begin to see the person as one for whom Jesus cares and one Jesus desires to save. Your heart will extend to that person not only because of a desire in you, but because of a desire in Jesus.

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.