Written by: Dr Anneke Viljoen
Article source: JOY! Magazine

Let’s be honest. Personal evangelism is difficult – very difficult. But followers of Jesus must not avoid things just because they are difficult.

An unwavering commitment
I recently attended a conference on personal evangelism. It dawned on me: an unwavering commitment to personal evangelism accompanied the staggering advancement of the Gospel in the early Church. Of course, the first Christians didn’t call it that. It was simply what they did as they went about their lives. Consider Philip’s example: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ” (Acts 8:4-5). Not even persecution made Philip’s commitment waver. I long for the same unwavering commitment. But I must confess; more often than not, proclaiming Christ fades into the background of my day. Maybe more so in spaces where the Name of Jesus isn’t welcome. How do we make proclaiming the Gospel part of our daily lives?

The fear of the Lord drives out our fear of man
1 Peter 3:13-17 gives us a clue, especially verse 15: “In your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Did you notice the word “always”? There is a connection here. The first prerequisite to personal evangelism is the right kind of heart, especially as we face slander and reviling because of our faith. The fear of the Lord will drive out our fear of man (see also 2 Cor 5:10-11). The first prerequisite leads to the second. For Christ’s sake always be prepared to make a defence of the Gospel. Here are three ways to be prepared:

1. Be prayerful
Personal evangelism is all about conversations, and not just with people. It starts in conversation with the Lord. Consider how Paul describes Epaphras’s efforts on behalf of his community in Colossians 4:12-13: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you.”

This is not the only time Paul mentions prayer on behalf of others. In Romans 15:30 he asks the church “to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf”. Who do you want to reach with the Good News about Jesus? Are you engaged in conversation with the Lord about them? Do this before you engage them in conversation about the Lord. On whose behalf are you striving in your prayers, working hard for them?

2. Be creative
It only takes a little creativity to transform your daily activities into evangelism opportunities. All sorts of daily activities are Gospel conversation starters, even grocery shopping or walking the dog. Think about your typical day. Who are you likely to meet? Pray. Ask the Lord for opportunities. Then start a conversation. A simple greeting can be the first step to sharing biblical truth.

But be warned! Personal evangelism will test the integrity of your Christian life. We cannot hide who we truly are. The depth of the renewal of your heart and mind – your whole life – is on display to those you regularly rub shoulders with. But that’s the beauty of personal evangelism. Anyone can impress from a distance. True influence happens when you get up close and personal. How you respond under the pressure of close relationships will either affirm or deny the integrity of your God-talk. I wonder if that’s why we tend to keep our faith commitments so private.

3. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable
When you engage others in Gospel conversations, you’re probably going to feel awkward, if not downright silly. As you think about your conversations after the fact, you are probably going to wonder: Why did I say that?! And in that way?! Or maybe you will have regrets: I’ve missed a perfect opportunity!

But you live and learn. Bring these experiences to the Lord in prayer. Learn wisdom from each conversation. Don’t give up. Hopefully next time you’ll be ready with a better response.

Now, if that’s the least of our discomfort for the sake of Jesus, we’re missing out on much grace. Both Peter and Paul remind us of the grace to suffer for Christ’s sake. Are you “prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Pet 3:15-17; cf. Phil 1:7, 28-30)?

Coworkers in God’s service 
The Father draws to Himself those whom He has given to Jesus (John 6:37, 44). Even at this very moment. Also, in your community. The work is His. When we make a Gospel presentation “we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor 3:9) and “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Cor 5:20).

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Date published: 09/01/2024
Feature image: Image for illustrative purposes only. Artwork from www.freepik.com
DR ANNEKE VILJOEN – lecturer of formative studies at Mukhanyo Theological College and a librarian in the Durban Centre.

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