Holding our nerve – the absolutely necessary task of evangelism

This article by Michael Prest, the Director of UFM Worldwide, is a longer version of one that first appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of 4Corners, the UFM magazine, and is used with permission.

In Rico Tice’s book ‘Honest Evangelism’ he talks about something called ‘the pain line’, that is the point in the conversation where we move from topics that are socially acceptable – chatting about sport, home improvements or our next holiday – and we move into territory that is much less comfortable: we try to speak about our faith in Jesus. Against the backdrop of such a strong secular agenda in our society today, that pain line is getting a little more painful, isn’t it?

Then if we zoom out from the situation here in the UK and think about some of the contexts where UFM mission workers are serving, the pressure to not speak for Jesus is even more acute.

And it is not just from ‘out there’ where the pressure is on to keep quiet about Jesus. No, there is a growing tendency or temptation within the church to do the same – to push evangelism right down the agenda.

There are 144 evangelical mission agencies based in the UK and our friend Eddie Arthur has been doing some research about them recently. How many of those 144 agencies do you think are involved in evangelism in some way? Answer: just 56, less than 4 in 10! It turns out that more than half of the evangelical mission agencies in the UK today see no place for evangelism in their work.

For many, evangelism has become part of the package, not the central focus; for some, it has disappeared altogether, replaced by a huge list of other important things.

As Christian people, we have got to hold our nerve on this one. As we serve together in mission, we have got to see that the task of evangelism is absolutely necessary. And we see why so clearly in Mark 4 where Jesus tells his disciples that the kingdom of God is going to grow as the seed is scattered. What is that seed? ‘The famer sows the word’ (Mark 4:14).

The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is going to grow as the word is scattered. Here is the nub of the issue.  Here is why evangelism is absolutely necessary: God’s kingdom grows as God’s word is spread; lives are changed as God’s word is shared.

Evangelism – literally ‘gospelling’, or as Roger Carswell puts it, ‘proclaiming the gospel to non-Christians who are listening’ – is the God-ordained way through which people are going to hear the good news, and his kingdom is going to grow.

As we go on in our mission service together, let us remember the reality that, according to Jesus, there are two kinds of people in this world:

·      When it comes to God’s kingdom – you are either in or you are out.

·      When it comes to your sin – you are either forgiven or guilty.

·      When it comes to eternity – you are either facing heaven or hell.

And the only thing that divides those two groups is our response to the Lord Jesus Christ:

·      The one who took on human flesh and lived the sinless life we can never life.

·      The one who, as darkness fell over the whole land, cried out in a loud voice from the cross, ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me’.

·      The one who took the punishment that our sin deserved upon himself.

·      The one who can give us his right standing before God.

·      The one who is risen and now sits at the right hand of the Father, who can save us from hell and save us for heaven.

Hudson Taylor once wrote, ‘I would never have thought of going out to China had I not believed that the Chinese were lost and needed Christ.’ 

Friends, we need to hold our nerve on this and see that the task of evangelism is absolutely necessary. To keep evangelism at the heart of our efforts is not to narrow the scope of our mission, but rather to have confidence that the gospel message really does have power to change lives.

Michael Prest is Director of UFM Worldwide

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