The best book ever written on evangelism? The book of Acts. Have you read it lately to see how the early church –– that band of believers, that covey of Christians, that den of disciples –– turned the world upside down? If you read it, remember what Nick Ripken said, how we’ve separated the content of the Bible from its context. Read with fresh eyes.
Here are some marks I’ve observed from Acts. Perhaps you have noticed others.
- All Believers Witnessed Personally. If you think evangelism primarily happened through the apostles or key, professional evangelists, read again. Yes, the Spirit used those people, but every believer was busy sharing Christ. Before Peter stood to preach at Pentecost we read how all the 120 believers were speaking the acts of God (2:10-11).In Acts 4:29-31 we read of the church at prayer following the threats of Jewish officials. They prayed not for persecution to cease, but for God to give them all boldness. As a result, they all were filled with the Spirit and shared Christ (verse 31, not just the church leaders.Acts 8 and 11: Following the persecution that came after Stephen’s martyrdom we read that all the believers were scattered by persecution with one notable exception: “except the apostles” (see Acts 8:1-4). What did all these believers, who were obviously not apostles but regular rank and file Christ-followers, do? They went everywhere sharing Christ! This idea is picked up in Acts 11:19 and following. These same laypeople, including men of Cyrene and Cyprus, spread the gospel to Antioch, leading to a shift in the advancing Christian movement, for we will read in Acts 13 that the first formal missionaries would be sent not from Jerusalem, but from Antioch. Normal, everyday believers shared Christ, and can do so today.
- Some Of The Disciples Preached To Crowds. God certainly used preachers as well, like Peter in Acts 2 and 4, Stephen in 7, and Paul among others later.
- Believers Lived Their Faith And Pursued Their Mission Daily. The witness of the early church was a daily witness in the community, not just a weekly witness in a church building. See the following examples: Acts 2:42-27, where “daily” occurs twice; Acts 3:2; 5:42; 6:1; 16:5; 17:11, 17; 19:8-10; and 20:18, 31.
- They Reached People And Formed Churches. These early believers went forth to share Christ as living witnesses, regardless of the difficulty they faced or the response of their hearers. As they effectively evangelized, they then congregationalized, planting churches across the Roman Empire. Evangelism that leads to church plants is vitally needed today.
- They Declared An Unchanging, Timeless Message. The early church proclaimed an unambiguous message, as the gospel never changes. They applied it different ways, however. Peter in Acts 2 and Paul early in Acts 17 started with the Old Testament as they spoke to Jews, but Paul in Athens started with creation as he spoke to Greek philosophers. Taking an unchanging gospel to a changing culture still matters.
- They Gave Testimony To The Gospel’s Impact On Their Lives. Whether briefly in Acts 4:20 or in more detail in 22 or 26, the personal stories of conversion played a role in the growth of the church.
- They Displayed the Gospel’s Power in Their Lives. In a variety of ways the early church both displayed the gospel in their lives even while they spoke it with their lips. They cared for those in need (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37); they stood boldly in the face of persecution (Acts 4:13-20, etc); they expressed joy; they proclaimed Christ with boldness; they witnessed miracles; they traveled across the empire sharing Christ. We too can both share and show the gospel today.
- They Shared Christ In The Face Of Tremendous Obstacles. This included inward obstacles from hypocrisy (chapter 5), to ministry neglect (6), to theological issues (15). It also included a deepening persecution (threats in 4, beatings in 5, and martyrdom in 7).
- They Were Willing To Adapt Their Approach When Necessary. In 19:8-10, Paul shifted from a weekly focus in the synagogue to a daily focus at the school of Tyrannus. Because of this, all Asia heard the gospel. We don’t pursue innovation as of chief importance, but we also must be willing to change when necessary.
Perhaps you see other examples in the Acts, but may we demonstrate the same zeal and effectiveness today.
[Excerpted from the Evangelism Handbook]
Also, Roll Tide.