Holistic Evangelism
by Paul Hazelden


Have you ever felt uncomfortable about evangelism? After a good few years talking with people in many different churches, I have found quite a lot of people who feel uncomfortable - and often, quite a bit guilty - about the evangelism they are doing. Or, rather, not doing.

People tell me about their problems with evangelism. They say a number of different things, but it often boils down to something like this...

These problems are real. But they have real answers, too. The rest of this article suggests some of the answers, and how they can be put together into a course which might help ordinary Christians be happy and confident about doing evangelism themselves.

1. The Popular View

1.1. What is Evangelism?

When we talk with our fellow Christians, what do they generally understand by this word, 'evangelism'? It seems to go something like this...

Of course, the really scary thing is when people go through this process, and don't decide that evangelism is for other people...

1.2. Beliefs

We think of evangelism as forcing our beliefs onto other people. No wonder people don't respond very well! I don't warm to people who do this to me, whether they believe in double glazing or TM.

And much of the time, even when we 'succeed,' the beliefs we want to get across somehow get lost in the process. If we are honest, our evangelism does not usually communicate some pure and simple Gospel message, but comes across as a strange mixture of half-baked philosophy and moralising dogma expressed in an incomprehensible jargon. And that's when it is going well.

1.3. Platitudes

The rest of the time, we are reduced to uttering banal platitudes, which come down to "wouldn't it be great if people were nice to each other?" and "God loves you." Not that I have anything against either of these ideas. Properly understood, they are deep and powerful, but in the context of evangelism they usually do not communicate much, and what they do communicate is usually wrong!

If things are really this bad, perhaps we had better forget all about this evangelism lark! But what, then, do we do about this Jesus who commands us to go and make disciples? Ignore Him? Maybe not. Perhaps there is a better way...

2. A Better Way

2.1. Consistency

The source of much of our difficulty is the vast inconsistency between what we believe, what we say we believe, what we are taught to do, and what we really do.

We say we love people, but we act as though we have no interest in them as people. We are taught we ought to love them, but we are also taught that evangelism means we must ignore their personality and beliefs. Of course, we are not taught this explicitly, but that is what it comes down to. We are taught that we must 'make friends' - but only so that we can hit them over the head with the gospel. We are taught that we must 'build bridges' - but only so that we can drive home the message of salvation.

The starting point for holistic evangelism is the idea that we ought, at least, to try for a little consistency between our message and our method.

2.2. Lifestyle

Ah! I can hear the sighs of relief. We are on familiar territory here. If our message and method need to be consistent, then we are talking about a lifestyle that reflects the gospel in all its fullness. We are talking about commitment to ecology, women's issues, racial justice, and ending third world debt and the arms trade. Or are we?

To put it bluntly - much of the time, this 'lifestyle' message is an excuse, a red-herring and a side-track.

Firstly, all these issues, are important. So are many others I failed to mention. But there are thousands of charities in this country. I cannot give my time and energy to each one - I cannot even give some money to each. We are not all called to do everything: we are all called to do something. That is (at least part of) what the Body of Christ is all about.

It is not inconsistent to believe that some issues are important but do nothing to actively promote them. It is what everybody with half a conscience does. Jesus did not take up many of the important issues that faced Him. Instead, He remained focussed on the few issues which were His priorities. Our choice is basically between following His example with a clear conscience, or following His example while feeling inadequate and guilty.

I have a sneaking suspicion that a fair number of the people who talk about the importance of lifestyle are just using it as an excuse. I can't do any evangelism today because my lifestyle is not up to scratch.

2.3. Qualifications

One of the problems people repeatedly describe is this: there is something wrong with me. I cannot share the gospel properly because I am inadequate. Few of us consider that the problem might not be in us, but in what we think we are being expected to do, and what we think we are expected to be.

Our lifestyle ought to reflect the gospel. We ought to stand up for justice and human dignity. But let's be honest. In reality, we are sinners, lazy, uncertain in our faith, neurotic and unreliable. And all the rest. But this is not the problem we have with evangelism! This is what qualifies us to speak on the subject. We know that God accepts and forgives sinful people, because that is what we are!

Our message is not just that we can't get to Heaven by our own efforts - we also believe that without God, nothing in life works the way it should. If our lifestyle were perfect, we would not need to be saved, so let's stop worrying that we are less than perfect and start worrying about the things we are told to be concerned about.

2.4. The Right to Speak

We worry about the strangest things. We ask: do I have the right to speak to this person? We worry about establishing the right to speak about Jesus. We worry about our credentials: are we consistent enough? Loving enough? Spiritual enough?

If you are the only person in a burning building who knows where the fire escape is, you do not worry if you have the right to share this information with the people around you. You don't ask if your lifestyle qualifies you to tell them something of such importance.

I know many Christians find this hard to believe, but many people actually want to talk about things that matter to them. Many people are tired of the glib superficiality of their lives. Many people really appreciate the chance to talk about issues which are important and meaningful to them.

People do not want to waste their time with a religious crank, but a lot of people will enjoy the opportunity to talk about the things they believe are important in life, and to find out what other people think about these subjects.

2.5. Love in Action

Here is one useful tip for people planning to do some evangelism: don't worry too much about telling other people what you believe. Ask them what they believe. Ask them questions about it. Show an interest in them.

Actually, this is more than just a tip. It expresses something fairly fundamental. If evangelism is primarily about collecting scalps, then all we have to do is persuade people we are right. But if it is about communicating God's love, a different approach is needed.

I find it hard to imagine saying to someone, "God loves you, but I don't," or, "God cares about you, but I am not interested in you." And it would seem a strange sort of love that does not care what the other person thinks and feels. Far too often in the past, I have offered people truths before I understood where they were or what they needed to hear. Of course, sometimes God guides you to say the right things anyway, and fundamentally this is not something we can work out and piece together for ourselves - but that does not excuse us from trying.

I will sometimes say the wrong thing when I am trying to express love, and sometimes say the right thing when I am not. But human failing and God's grace do not set aside the command to love, or relieve me of the duty to apply the little I understand about how to communicate His love.

It comes down to the old challenge: do you love me because you want to see me saved, or do you want to see me saved because you love me? Is the love genuine, or just a tool you use to get at me?

2.6. Asking Questions

Asking people questions can be just another evangelistic trick or technique. But it can also be a genuine expression of a sincere desire to love this unique individual. Asking questions is just one way to do it. I sometimes find it easier to find out what people think by throwing out ideas and seeing how they respond, or by asking about things around them and discovering how they are affected by these things. Being interrogated is usually not much fun, but the odd direct question often communicates: "You are important - you matter to me."

If you ask people questions about what they believe, you will find one that of two things usually happens. They may, out of politeness, start to ask you what you believe. In which case, you can answer their questions. Or they may start to discover that the answers they give you don't sound so convincing when they say it out loud, and they may start to express uncertainty, in which case you can gently offer to show them a way of being sure. Not sure about what you believe, but sure about the God in who you believe.

2.7. Understanding the Message

Of course, just asking people questions and answering their questions is not enough. If we are to challenge people to follow Christ, we must give them some information, some content to respond to.

The traditional view of evangelism says that I need to memorise something like the 'Four Spiritual laws'. In theological terms, the people we evangelise must hear - receive, understand - the kerygma, the core gospel message. But what is this 'core' message?

We can express the core message in a number of ways. One I have used goes like this:

Jesus is Lord - absolute ruler of the universe - and this truth must change your life.

However you express it, you must get to the point where you can express what you believe simply and concisely. The best training in this area comes from 'Evangelism Explosion', but any training is better than none.

This does not come easy for us, so to do it well, we neeed to learn, to work, and to practice. It is good to share your faith without having been taught to do it, but it is better to share your faith having been taught.

However, important though it is to have a clear 'gospel message', concern about this largely misses a much more important point.

If I am to invite people to follow Jesus, they need to have some idea of who this Jesus is. In so many evangelistic messages, the only thing we tell people about Jesus is that He died for their sins. This may make them grateful, but they are unlikely to dedicate the rest of their lives to following Him on that basis.

2.8. Working with God

The Engel scale - or something very similar - is an absolute necessity. Unless we seek to understand what God is wanting to do in an individual's life, we will often find ourselves working against God - not the road to success or happiness in your work!

2.9. Working with a strategy

God has plans and strategies, and we should, too. Lawrence Singelhurst's book, Sowing, Reaping, Keeping describes a very simple and effective strategy which most churches can put into place.

2.10. Working with prayer

Of course, any evangelism - everything we do as Christians! - must be bathed in prayer.

But prayer can also be a vital part of our evangelism. People who remain hard-hearted against every argument we throw at them will sometimes melt when we pray for them.

Even people who claim to believe it is all nonsense will often appreciate you praying for them. Pray out loud in their presence. Lay on hands when you pray, if that is possible. And really pray for them - don't preach or re-inforce points of your argument: open your heart to God and ask Him to work.

3. Good Newsing for Beginners

(Evangelism for ordinary Christians)

Evangelism is, literally, communicating good news. What follows are some pointers to help ordinary Christians communicate the message in ways that are consistent with the content.

Evangelism rarely 'succeeds' with anyone at the first point of contact - see the Engel Scale for more about this. So we need to make sure that our evangelistic encounters do not put people off! We need to aim to make the experience an enjoyable one for our contact - leave them, in the best tradition of showbiz, wanting more.

- The presented problems

I don't know how to open up the conversations I am interested in people
  • I ask them questions
  • I listen and respond to their answers
  • I love them!!!
I don't know what to say Who I am is more important than what I say.
  • It is a relationship, not a religion or set of doctrines
  • The 2 x 5 points from Evangelism Explosion
I don't know how to answer questions I have, or can find, all the answers I need
  • Some questions have no answers
  • We have been given answers to all the questions we need answered
  • I don't know all the answers - we can explore them together
I have not earned the right to speak I have the right to speak:

  • The gospel is good news
  • The gospel is true, relevant and important
  • Jesus is an amazing person, whatever you believe about Him
  • What I say and the way I say it is not offensive
  • People enjoy talking about the things that matter to them

- The emotional problems

I am afraid of failure The only failure in evangelism is failure to evangelise:
  • It's okay to make mistakes
  • I don't expect to win every time I do anything else
  • Fruit takes time to grow
I am afraid of rejection People who disagree with what I say are not rejecting me.
  • I am comfortable with the message and the methods
  • I have experienced it working well
  • I stop when people don't want to talk any more
I am afraid of appearing to be different or looking foolish The price is worth paying:
  • I am different - a child of God
  • I don't mind looking foolish if it helps to win a soul for Jesus

- The intellectual problems

I am not good enough Nobody is good enough, but we have this ministry through grace, not merit
  • Jesus is Lord - no matter how good or bad I am
  • God works to transform me as I live in obedience
  • God uses sinful people - it's all He has
This is not my job - I am not an evangelist This is my job:
  • The Great Commission was given to all the Church - including me
  • I am called to love - show interest in, demonstrate care for, give time to - people
I don't understand what I am trying to achieve I understand enough to get started:
  • Obedience and partnership - God chooses to work through us
  • Moving people along the Engel Scale
  • Communicating the cost, as well as the benefit, of following Jesus
  • Start with the strategy described in 'Sowing, Reaping, Keeping'

4. Good Newsing for Church Leaders

(Evangelism and church life)

4.1. How?

How do I get my people doing evangelism?

4.2. No Fruit

We have done some evangelism, but have not see any fruit.

4.3. Balance

How do we keep a balance between evangelism and everything else we need to do?

4.4. Nobody Comes

We hold Gospel meetings, but nobody brings their non-Christian friends.

4.5. We Can't Cope at Present

We don't have the time or energy. Need to build up the body and then we will be able to evangelise.

5. Course Outline

The course can be run either at a weekend, or on a series of weekday evenings.

  1. (Friday Night)
    1. Introduction
    2. Identifying problems the people present have with evangelism
    3. What evangelism is not, and what it is.
  2. (Saturday morning 1)
    1. Gospel outline
    2. Asking questions
    3. Love
  3. (Saturday morning 2)
    1. The Engel Scale
    2. Lifestyle
    3. Consistency
  4. (Sunday morning)
    1. A brief summary of the course so far
    2. The context of evangelism: church life
  5. (Sunday afternoon - optional and open)
    1. Discussion - what do we do next?



Copyright © 1999-2002 Paul Hazelden
http://hazelden.org.uk/pt03/art_pt107_holistic_evangelism.htm was last updated 5 October 2007
Page content last modified: 19 February 2002
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