This semester I would like to compare and contrast the different styles of evangelism. In so doing, I hope you can learn to understand and respect those who think and act differently than you and, more importantly, be challenged to broaden your style of evangelism. I hope to move you from “either/or” thinking to “both/and” thinking.
Those who emphasize actions find their support in verses like this one in Matthew where Jesus mentions nothing about words, but simply says our actions will lead others to see God and worship Him. The “light” we shine is clearly defined in this passage as our good deeds.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
When it comes to speaking the gospel with words, action-oriented people believe you have to earn the right to be heard and are ready to speak the words of the gospel but wait for others to ask. They like the following verses and quotations, and are convinced we must start with our actions and then move to words when asked to do so.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. I Peter 3:15,16
“Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” Francis of Assisi
“People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”
Missions trips led by action oriented people look like caring for orphans, medical missions, providing food and water, working with refugees, building homes, and the like. They lead with service, but sometimes can get stuck there.
Truth and Pitfalls
While there is no doubt that actions are a part of the way we share the gospel, those in the “action camp” are prone to stop there. While the verses above are true, action-oriented people sometimes hide behind them because in reality they are afraid to speak for fear of offense or for fear of not knowing what to say.
Often good deeds can be done but no conversations are really had. Good deeds do not always lead to gospel conversations. Caring for physical needs is important, but the eternal needs that are even more important are often neglected.
Those who emphasize words find their support in verses like these in Romans, which clearly says people cannot believe without hearing words. People must be sent, and be sent with words. Faith, the faith that saves, comes from hearing words.
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. Romans 10:14-17
When it comes to sharing the gospel through actions, words-oriented people believe spiritually transformed people will themselves do the much-needed good deeds of caring for people. They believe conversion and spiritual transformation leads to better care for the people to which they are serving.
For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. I Thessalonians 1:4-7
Missions trips led by words-oriented people look like door-to-door evangelism, large-group outreaches, public speaking, handing out literature, radio and TV broadcasts and the like. They lead with proclamation, but sometimes cause more damage than good.
Truth and Pitfalls
While there is no doubt that words are a part of the way we share the gospel, those in the “word camp” are prone to stop there. While the verses above are true, words-oriented people sometimes hide behind them because in reality they do not really care for people and their very real physical needs.
Often preaching and teaching can fall on deaf ears because the message and the medium are offensive. The gospel can be preached in offensive and inappropriate ways and people can be made to feel like projects. Peoples’ souls are important, but so too is their present need.
Justin Christopher is the National Campus Director for Campus Renewal Ministries and the author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.