Last week I managed to make it to the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Kentucky. The focus this year was evangelism and being unashamed to share the gospel with our neighbors, our culture, and our world that desperately need to hear it. The messages were a blessing and, in some ways, a heavy but encouraging burden to come home with. In order to make sure I didn’t lose what I learned and looking to gain some practical guidance on how to put it into practice, I dove right into J. Mack Stiles’ little 9 Marks book Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus.
Though small in size, it packs a solid gospel-punch, clearly and succinctly outlining a biblical theology and philosophy of evangelism that takes their proper roots in the whole church, not simply the efforts of a select few with the “gift.” Eschewing programs and gimmicks, Stiles says that evangelism is best done by the local church by cultivating a “culture of evangelism” among its members.
What’s a culture of evangelism you ask? Well, if evangelism is “teaching people the gospel with an aim to persuade”, then a culture of evangelism is the kind of environment where this activity is the air the congregation breathes. To give us a picture of what that looks like, Stiles gives us 11 marks of a culture of evangelism (pp. 48-61):
1. A Culture Motivated by Love for Jesus and His Gospel -
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Cor. 5:14-15)
This is a culture that doesn’t have to be pushed and prodded to share the gospel, but is drawn to share the news of Jesus because of its joy and delight in the message itself.
2. A Culture That is Confident in the Gospel -
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16)
This is a culture that isn’t caught up in gimmicks or tricks meant spruce or sex up the gospel, but fully expects God to work and convert through this saving message.
3. A Culture That Understands the Danger of Entertainment -
“As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. (Ezek. 30-32)
This is a culture that doesn’t confuse a funny speaker who can pack the seats with the true preaching of the Word that can save souls.
4. A Culture That Sees People Clearly -
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. (2 Cor. 5:16a)
This is a culture that does not judge by outward appearances, but sees people truly through the light of the Gospel, as a broken Image-bearers who need to, and are capable of, hearing the gospel through the work of the Spirit. No one is beyond God’s reach.
5. A Culture That Pulls Together as One -
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, (Phil 1:3-5)
This is a culture where everybody is on deck, pulling together from the greeter, the usher, to the person simply sitting in the pew, because they all realize they have a part to play in showing non-believers the gospel.
6. A Culture in Which People Teach One Another -
…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15b)
Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim. 1:13)
This is a culture where experienced believers train newer believers to teach and share the gospel as a matter of course, passing on the knowledge from disciple to disciple that all might be prepared to participate in the church’s great task.
7. A Culture That Models Evangelism -
What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Tim. 2:2)
This is a culture where we don’t just teach the practices of evangelism cognitively, but actively model it to new believers, encouraging them along the way.
8. A Culture in Which People Who Are Sharing Their Faith Are Celebrated -
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. (Phil. 2:19-22)
This is a culture where the evangelistic efforts of our brothers and sisters are encouraged and praised, so that others may be stirred up to similar boldness.
9. A Culture That Knows How to Affirm And Celebrate New Life -
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we hear of your faith in Christ…just as you learned it from Ephaphras our beloved fellow servant. (Col. 1:3-4, 7)
This is a culture that celebrates the work of Christ to bring new believers to life in himself, all the while pushing then to future faithfulness.
10. A Culture Doing Ministry That Feels Risky and Is Dangerous -
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. (Phil. 1:12-13)
This is a culture where non-Christians and atheists are coming to Jesus because the church is taking risks–social, physical, and financial–to meet them where they’re at with the gospel of Jesus.
11. A Culture That Understands That the Church Is the Chosen and Best Method of Evangelism -
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor wit all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)
This is a culture where the local church of brothers and sisters, imaging the gospel, is seen as Jesus’ best tool for making his name known and drawing others to himself.
Of course, Stiles goes into greater detail than I can here. Still, I hope this encourages and provokes you to examine your own church and see if you’re cultivating a culture of evangelism. If not, I’d commend you to pick up Stiles’ little book and begin to put it into practice immediately. Evangelism is no ancillary call, or extra task to be added to the regular working of the church, but central to its essence and well-being.
Soli Deo Gloria
See also this article by Stiles on “How to Create a Culture of Evangelism.”