Chris Castaldo is Director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. He was raised on Long Island, New York as a Roman Catholic and worked full-time in the Catholic Church for several years alongside priests, missions and nuns, enjoying many long-term relationships with them. His passion is sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ to Catholics who do not truly have a saving relationship with Him. Chris was a speaker at the Awakening 2010 evangelism conference at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, CA and this essay was part of his presentation. At the time he was Pastor of Outreach at College Church in Wheaton, IL.
As a Pastor of Outreach, a sizable part of my job is to mobilize the church for evangelism. Some days, instead of calling people to share Christ, it feels more like I'm asking them to open their mouths for a root canal.
At some point it dawned on me that many of us might actually prefer to have dental surgery than talk about Jesus in public. And the reason for this just might be that we don't understand the term "evangelism".
In the following and subsequent explanation, I would suggest that, far from being a chore, evangelism is among the greatest pleasures of life.
"Evangelism is the activity in which the entire Church prayerfully and intentionally relies on God in sharing gospel truth, to bring people one step closer to Jesus Christ."
The Entire Church The Church is the Body of Christ. As such, we extend hope to the world by communicating the message of Jesus' death and resurrection. Gospel outreach is not simply one ministry option among many--something only a gifted evangelist does. Rather, sharing Christ strikes at the heart of who we are. Just as Jesus was the Light of the world, who in His very being shined the hope of salvation, so we, in Christ, are the same. In this way, gospel activity is central to our identity, much as heat is a natural extension of the sun's rays. This evangelistic call applies to every Christian, from the youngest to the oldest.
Prayerfully Talking to God in prayer relates to every facet of the evangelistic purpose. Prayer provides wisdom to the evangelist; it appropriates power for its proclamation; and, in some mysterious way, it is used by God to accomplish His redemptive purposes. Prayer is also a common denominator to every renewal movement in the history of Christ's Church.
Intentionally Evangelism happens with intentionality. Having been inspired, equipped, and mobilized by Church leaders, the congregation is positioned to actively seize gospel opportunities. For example, at a nearby mall, I recently observed a young girl walking up a downward moving escalator. As soon as the child stopped walking, she immediately began heading downward. With additional steps, however, she continued moving up. This illustration helps me think about the challenge to maintain proactive gospel outreach. The busyness of life and the gravity of selfishness draw us downward. To the extent that we are intentional, evangelism has the potential to make progress.
Relying on God Psalm 18:2 says, "The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." The Psalmist is intent on exalting God as the foundation of his salvation and does so by choosing eight different ways to say it. In the Hebrew language, indeed in any language, this manner of repetition emphatically underscores the point: salvation is of God! Because of this great truth, we can joyfully and confidentially rely on Him.
In Revealing Gospel Truth Being a Christian is more than being a friendly person. I have the privilege of knowing some nice people. My colleague Jay Thomas, for instance, always appears happy. What's more, his joy is contagious. If you asked him, he would tell you that his positive attitude is an outgrowth of his faith. However, I suspect that no one has ever looked at Jay and concluded, "Wow, he is a nice guy! I'll bet Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead to provide me with forgiveness and eternal life." This kind of inference doesn't come from an abstract deduction; it requires specific explanation. In other words, in order for outreach to be more than "friendly service," we must communicate gospel content.
To Bring People Notice it doesn't say "to bring unbelievers," but "people." As I explained earlier, evangelism--the activity of sharing the gospel, is bigger than just conversion. After initially coming to Christ we still need the gospel to liberate us from sin and establish us in righteousness. Thus, so say that we "evangelize" someone doesn't mean that the recipient is necessarily without faith.
At the same time, those outside of Christ are in dire need of the gospel. This need provides much of the motivation for doing evangelistic outreach. Consequently, we who have been in the Church for a while must break out from our holy huddles. Like Jesus--the friend of tax collectors and sinners--we must forge meaningful relationships with nonbelievers. In Jesus' words, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden" (Matthew 5:14).
One Step Closer to Christ Of all the points I've made so far, this is the one about which I am most passionate. Sometimes when we think about evangelism, we define it by a particular method. For many of us, it's the crusade approach made popular by D.L. Moody or, more recently, Billy Graham. Accordingly, we think of evangelism as a full-blown gospel presentation that begins by explaining the human problem of sin and culminates in an invitation for one to receive Christ.
I don't know about you, but most of my gospel encounters don't allow for a full-orbed sermon. In a crusade, the goal of the evangelist is to clearly present the entire gospel message and urge someone to make a decision. (It's probably not an accident that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's magazine is called Decision.) However, if you define all of evangelism in that way, what happens when you only have two minutes to talk to a colleague beside the water cooler during break? How do you witness to the checkout person in the supermarket, or to a family member who knows what you believe and is utterly disinterested in hearing any more sermons? The answer is--you don't. You don't say a thing.
We can't share in that kind of way without completely alienating ourselves; therefore, we don't share at all. The outcome is the same as hiding our lamp beneath the proverbial table. What we need to learn is how to gradually plant the seeds of gospel truth that help people incrementally move one step closer to Christ. Therefore, instead of definining evangelism strictly as a comprehensive presentation or the "full delmonte" (i.e. everything there is to say about salvation) culminating into a Billy Graham-like invitation, we need to view the incremental efforts of seed planting, which we perform in the course of natural relationships, as not only a legitimate form of evangelism but also a critical method among our Catholic loved ones.
As pastors and church leaders we have an enormous opportunity to educate our people as to what evangelism is and what it's not. Satan would be delighted for the Church to associate gospel outreach with "root canal". It's our job as Christ's under-shepherds to help our people recognize this as a lie from the pit and to see that evangelism, in addition to being central to our identity as members of God's new creation, is in fact a privilege and great joy.