April/May 2014 - Vol. 73
Person to Person: A practical approach to effective evangelism

Personal Evangelism: Part 5
Authentic Evangelism
by Jim Berlucchi

Is the job of evangelism completed once an individual has made a commitment to Jesus Christ? Not if we take seriously the teaching of Jesus about the kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ came among men preaching the kingdom of God. Now this phrase “the kingdom of God” sounds strange to modern ears. Nevertheless, we should understand what Jesus meant by this kingdom. When the people of Galilee begged him to stay with them, he replied by saying, “I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43). Later, Luke records that “he went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1). There are literally scores of references to this kingdom cited throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Just what is this kingdom? On earth it is that human society which has come under the reign of Jesus Christ. The kingdom then, is a society of believers under the reign of God awaiting its full establishment at Christ’s return. This redeemed society is distinct from the kingdom of this world, the other human society where Jesus is not acknowledged as Lord.

Jesus’ intention in evangelism is not simply to redeem individuals (though this is crucial) but to incorporate them, into a transformed community. It is within the body of Christ that believers are brought to maturity and fruitfulness. Together, their lives give witness to the world that Jesus is Lord, extending his influence to bring others into that new life. “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). Peter highlights this fact also: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

God wants to win others to himself through his kingdom and into his kingdom. This is the basis upon which to understand our personal involvement in evangelism: A widely accepted misunderstanding of the gospel undercuts God’s full intention with evangelism. One might refer to it as the abbreviated gospel. 

The inadequacy of this notion of the nature of the good news naturally leads to an understanding of evangelism that is highly individualized and short-sighted. It often limits the focus of personal witnessing to helping others make a verbal acceptance of Christ without emphasizing the ongoing need for commitment and relationship with other Christians. The fruit borne can be dramatic, but it is often woefully short-lived. Consider the following examples of this kind of approach:

  • According to Gallup poll surveys conducted in the United States between 1976-2005 an average of 39 percent of adult Americans claim to have been borne again. This is a startling statistic, indeed, when one considers the obvious realities of modern life. Statistics of divorce rates, sexual promiscuity, and widespread cheating in business and industry, fly in the face of the claim on the part of one out of every three adult Americans to have been born again. Where are these millions of Christians? Where is the evidence of their redemptive influence upon our post-Christian culture? Might they have died prematurely, withered on the vine?
  • A man’s dormitory in a nominal Christian university is visited one evening by a touring evangelistic troupe. Upon presenting the gospel message, the leader asks for commitment from the students, to be indicated by the raising of hands. Virtually all of the 200 students in attendance make this commitment to Christ. Publicized as one of its most notable evangelistic successes, the evangelistic group makes little or no effort to follow-up on these decisions. Satisfied that arm-lifting indicates conversion, the group is unaware that no observable change occurs in the lives of the students. Premarital sex and drunkenness continue to thrive in that particular dormitory.
  • A nationally renowned entertainer claims conversion to Christ. After recording a hit song about the experience, he resumes his former blatantly decadent lifestyle.
  • A professional athlete who is avowedly and publicly born-again divorces his wife, remarries, and divorces again.
One can think of countless examples of this kind of evangelism and its distorted Christian ideology. I remember leading a young man to Christ about ten years ago. As he prayed aloud his commitment, I thought, “Thank God, he crossed over.” Because I had a stunted understanding of the gospel, I did not industriously help him to establish a prayer life, join a church, or improve his marriage. Six months later he admitted sadly, “You know, I asked God into my life and had a great momentary experience. But now I look back and see that my life is the same as before. I haven’t changed at all.”

Paul says: 

“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me” (Colossians 1:28-29).
Authentic evangelism is not completed when the message of salvation is verbally proclaimed. Neither has it fully succeeded when people respond with faith and commitment. These are crucial elements but more is needed to establish new believers in a productive and enduring Christian way of life.

I would suggest that we understand authentic evangelism as the process by which we, as members of a redeemed community, help others to establish, re-establish, or significantly deepen a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The process of evangelism is not complete, however, until the individual is helped to take the crucial steps which promote and insure ongoing growth in the Christian life. This would include connection with some kind of vital, committed Christian fellowship.

We can see, then, that our goal in evangelism is not simply to help others make decisions for Christ or accept Christ as Lord although this is of absolute importance. Rather it is to help them also to establish a basic Christian lifestyle that will be fruitful in years to come. We want to produce “fruit that will abide” – the kind of fruit that Jesus desires his disciples bear and that proves that they are his disciples. Like the great evangelist and apostle Paul, our vision for evangelism should be the full, uncondensed version: “Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, striving with all energy which he mightily inspires within me” (Colossians 1:28-29).

Paul toiled endlessly not just to verbally declare the gospel, but also for the full integration of that gospel into the lives of his converts. In other words, he was not satisfied with only a personal decision for Christ. His aim was that the full life of Christ be worked out in each individual.

This approach has many implications for our personal involvement in evangelism. First, it extends our responsibility and concern beyond mere verbal proclamation aimed to provide a quick decision.

Second, it implies that we, as Christ’s witnesses, can most effectively reach others if we are rooted in Christ and in solid Christian relationships. The more we evangelize out of the context of strong Christian relationships, the more effective we are in reaching others. Not only do we have more resources to rely on, but our own lives will witness to the joy of redeemed relationships. We can genuinely say to others, “Come and see.”

Third, an accurate understanding of the full gospel message greatly increases our field of harvest. We are not only now considering these people who are avowedly non-Christian. Rather, our outreach includes the many thousands who perhaps profess Christ and yet are not solidly rooted or growing in Christ. Our harvest could accurately include many of those born-again adults who have failed to grow to Christian maturity. Evangelism then, can feasibly include anything from helping someone commit or recommit their life to Christ to introducing an isolated and weak Christian to a thriving Christian environment.

Our commission as Christians is thus both extensive and challenging. As members of the body of Christ, we are trying to bring others into the full life that Jesus alone can give. Within this supportive Christian environment, we can apply the principles of personal evangelism that will truly contribute to changing the world.

See > Part 6: Portrait of the Christian Ambassador

[This article is adapted from the book, Person to Person: How to be effective in evangelism, © 1984 by Jim Berlucchi, and published by Servants Books, Ann Arbor.]

Person to Person: How to Be Effective in Evangelism
by Jim Berlucchi

> Part 1: True “No Limit” Message
> Part 2: Everyday Evangelism
> Part 3: Be Open - Be Natural
> Part 4: Building Bridges
> Part 5: Authentic Evangelism
> Part 6: Portrait of the Christian Ambassador
> Part 7: Prayer Makes a Difference
> Part 8: Speaking About Jesus Christ
> Part 9: Earning the Right to Be Heard

Jim Berlucchi is the Executive Director at Spitzer Center for Ethical Leadership. He formerly served as the Executive Director of Legatus, an international association of Catholic CEOs. He is the work/life columnist for Faith Magazine, and a published composer and recording artist. Sample audio clips of his music are available online. He served for many years as a community leader in The Word of God and The Sword of the Spirit.He and his wife Judy reside in Dexter, Michigan, USA. They are the grateful parents of eight children and enjoy a steadily increasing number of grandchildren. 
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