Is Relational Evangelism in the Old Testament?

God's been good to meA reader submitted a question about evangelism in the Old Testament.

I’d love to be steered toward some Old Testament passages that relate to “Relational Evangelism” any passages come to mind?

Part of how I answer the question is rooted in how I define evangelism and relational evangelism.  So let’s start with these

My definition of evangelism

I consider evangelism as the entire process

  • of a person awakening to their spiritual restlessness
  • seeking answers to that restlessness
  • hearing how Jesus is the way God satisfies that thirst.
  • hearing about our sinful condition before God.
  • hearing the proclamation of Jesus as Lord and our need to repent
  • the call to place faith in Christ and live as a follower of Jesus.

Every conversation about faith, every rumination in the late night hours, every invitation to church, every sermon heard, every bible verse read, every small group conversation all become “seeds” that that the Lord uses in the drawing process.

Since I’m a Presbyterian pastor, I choose to use an excellent definition of personal evangelism, as adopted by the General Assembly (1990).

Joyfully sharing the good news of the sovereign love of God, and calling people to repentance, to personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, to active membership in the church, and to obedient service in the world.

I’ve written about this definition before.  See these articles:

This definition of evangelism has guided me since the early part of the last decade and I have chosen to live it out in my own personal lifestyle of evangelism.

Evangelism involves me telling the first hand stories of God’s activity in my life.  In the course of doing that, I can talk about how I started my relationship with Christ and how my friends can do the same.

A stricter definition of Evangelism

A stricter definition of evangelism would focus exclusively on the presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ.

In this view, all of the process leading up to the sharing of the gospel would be “pre-evangelistic” seed planting.  An example of this is seen in Doug Cecil’s book “7 Principles of the Evangelistic Life”

Evangelism is an event and not a process. We are to do the work of an evangelist. The definition of evangelism has two main parts: information and invitation. One part without the other is out of balance. One should not think of presenting an invitation without any information. And likewise, providing only the information without an invitation to trust Christ will leave the listener frustrated and still unsaved. After a person trusts Christ, instruction in the spiritual life starts the person down the road toward spiritual maturity.”

On the one hand, I agree with his definition of evangelism.  A strict biblical interpretation of meaning of evangelism would be the actual proclamation of the gospel.

On the other hand, I would see all the appropriate activity and conversations leading up to that particular moment as part of the evangelistic process as people walk through stages of their journey to Christ.  He would call that “witnessing.”  It’s a slight difference of nuance.

My definition of Relational Evangelism

Before getting to some Old Testament passage, I need to share my perspective on Relational Evangelism.  This style focuses on doing good, living good, so that your lifestyle attracts spiritual curiosity.  “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” Matthew 5:16 (NLT)

I look at relational evangelism this way:

  • Living in such a way that your faith is obvious AND
  • Being intentional in talking about the gospel
  • In the context of intentional relationships

It is living in such a way (actions) and speaking regularly (Words) that your friends know you are an approachable Christian they can talk over their own spiritual issues.

Relational Evangelism in the Old Testament

In one sense, evangelism in the strict sense is not seen in the Old Testament.   Since the proclamation of evangelism is Jesus centered, you’ll not find evidence of such in the Old Testament, which only foreshadowed Christ.

However, we can see that the covenant people were to be active witnesses of their faith.

They were to live out their faith and tell stories of all that God had done.

The exhortations that speak to me the most are found in the Psalms.  The people of Israel were to tell of the goodness of the Lord.

Psalm 73:28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

Isaiah 63:7 I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us— yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.

I see where parents should teach their faith to their children

I see where believers were to talk about God’s goodness and faithfulness.

The Psalms are full of summaries of what God has done in history so that people could remember the stories.

I would argue that all of this is a predecessor to relational evangelism we practice today.  The members of the covenant community were called to talk about their faith with their friends.

Coaching Corner

Can we tell of ALL the deeds of the Lord with our non-Christian friends?  Can we share “the many good things He has done?”

Think back over the last 30 days. How have you seen God’s kindness at work in your life?

You might see evidence of God’s work in:

  • Guidance
  • Healing
  • Love
  • Forgiveness
  • Speaking to you
  • Growing a particular fruit of the Spirit
  • A season of testing
  • To be a blessing in the life of another

With whom can you share a story this week?

Which type of ambassador for Christ are you?

Ambassador for ChristWhen I wear a shirt with my business logo on the  pocket, I represent my evangelism training business.  I see eyes of people read my shirt when I introduce myself to them, or when they sit next to me on a plane or in a mall food court.  It often leads to a “what do I do?” type conversation where I present the solutions I bring to helping churches and people be more effective in sharing their faith.

When I wear a shirt that says “Vida Joven Panama” or “Young Life Nicaragua,” I am an unofficial representative of that organization.  People ask me what do I do for Young Life and what is my role? I get to explain the mission of Young Life and how I am not staff, but an invited teacher who provides training for their ministry leaders from all over Latin America).

When I wear any kind of Christian clothing, t-Shirt, I will be quickly associated with Christ and his church.  Sometimes people will ask me about my faith, but not as often as they come with conversations about an shirt or a Young Life shirt.

The shirt links me with the organization. I get to be an ambassador for the organization who’s logo is on my shirt.

Some recent travel experiences have prompted me to evaluate my own life as an ambassador for Christ.  Allow these devotional thoughts to stir your own reflection about how you represent Christ to the world.

[Read more...]

Are you a Genesis 3 Christian?

I listened to the testimony of an adult woman from Guatemala.  She is 2nd from the left in the image. Her journey to faith brought me to tears, and once again aroused my desire to help other people share the good news of Jesus Christ.  As you read or listen her story, ask yourself this question:  Where would you start with the gospel?  Genesis 3, or Genesis 1? [Read more...]

Evangelism without discipleship is incomplete

Evangelism without Discipleship is incompleteSeveral years ago, I participated in a street evangelism outreach in a foreign country.

I was doing an evangelistic campaign with a mission organization that had mobilized thousands of short term volunteers for ministry in Europe.

I learned to share a simple gospel script, such as the Ten Commandments, or the Bridge Illustration.

Our team prepared a few short dramas to draw a crowd and then I’d share a short message.

I remember the thrill of being on the streets in a foreign country, presenting the gospel to passers-by, working with an interpreter.

I remember a few people who wanted to make a decision to follow Christ, as well as some hecklers.

Some of these people were clearly broken and aware of their need for a Savior.   There were emotional moments of repentance as it appeared the Spirit of God was a work in bringing conviction for sin.

That was over 20 years ago.

Evangelism without discipleship is incomplete

While well meaning and energized on the task of saving souls, I learned a valuable lesson on that mission trip.

We were practicing evangelism without any potential for discipleship.

Our mission was a two week excursion into a foreign city that none of our team had ever been to before.

Our mission was independent of any local church.

  • There was no possibility of helping grow the new faith of people who responded to the gospel.
  • We didn’t have a reference sheet of local churches to refer these new believers.
  • We could not refer people to further Christian growth in a local church.

If evangelism is helping people find faith in Christ, and discipleship is the process of nurturing that faith, then we missed an important step in our work.

A local church plays a vital role in developing believers.

A new believer led to the Lord by the street evangelist could simply return to their old life.

A new believer led to the Lord in an emotional moment after a drama could walk away and the next day say “that was strange.”

The worries of this life could choke out any sense of new found faith.

Evangelists can walk away saying “150 people responded to the gospel” but have no idea how many people actually stayed on as a follower of Jesus.

Evangelism without the potential of discipleship in a local church is incomplete. [Tweet this]

Now when I do intentional contact evangelism, I make sure a local church is involved.  When I serve mission teams that enlist our help in the city, we are the local church that can do the follow up work.

The church is a partner in the work of evangelism

The church is a partner for the evangelist.   The church’s responsibility is to help make disciples.

If I am leading people to Christ, I want to invite people to my church.

If I helping others lead new people to Christ, I want to help invite them to my church.

(This is why hospitality ministry is important as well – to receive those who are coming).

An evangelist can be out among the people, developing those relationships, but the church should be the place for ongoing discipleship of new believers.

Your Turn:

If you are leading short term evangelism teams, what steps will you take to make sure a local church is involved?