Go and tell, don’t just do

Published 9:10 pm Friday, February 17, 2017

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr.

Perhaps you have heard the quote, usually ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

As Dr. Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College points out, there are only two problems with that statement: First, St. Francis never said it. Second, and much more important, it is bad theology.

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Now, it is certainly true that our actions lay the foundation for our words. It is certainly true that living an authentic Christian life gives credibility to our words. It is certainly true that God often uses the love and kindness of Christians to open hearts to the words of the gospel.

But the statement implies that words are not always necessary in proclaiming the gospel. That is not true. The word “gospel” literally means “good news.” And news, by very definition, must be proclaimed.

This is the Apostle Paul’s point in Romans 10:13-14, where he says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”

Most Christians understand that Jesus has given us the responsibility to tell others about him. One recent study indicates that 80 percent of churchgoers understand this to be our assignment. And here is a very encouraging statistic: 80 percent of unchurched people say they would have no problem listening to a Christian talk about their belief in the good news of Jesus.

But there is a big problem, which Jesus addresses in Matthew 9:37, in which he says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

The problem is not that the harvest is not there. It is there, and it is plentiful. The problem is not that the harvest is unwilling to hear. The problem is that there aren’t enough laborers who are willing to tell.

As Stetzer points out, “Evangelism is something we would rather talk about than do.”

Why is that? It seems like telling people good news would be one of the easiest commands to obey. Don’t we delight in sharing good news? Why do we find telling people about the best news ever (and the only news that can save) to be difficult?

Perhaps we perceive witnessing to be coercive. This indicates a misunderstanding of what it actually is.

Evangelism is simply telling the good news about Jesus. There is nothing coercive about it.

Yes, there are some coercive evangelists out there who give evangelism a bad name. But biblical evangelism is simply sharing the good news about Jesus with people, and doing it in love. After all, it would be profoundly unloving not to share the only good news that can save people.

Perhaps we lack confidence. But if you know Christ you have the Holy Spirit. He will give you words. A great resource to help you tell others about Jesus is the “Life Conversation Guide,” published by the North American Mission Board. It is free online or in the App Store.

Simply type in “Life On Mission” and download it. It contains a three-minute instructional video and provides a clear and simple way of sharing Jesus.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.