There have been many books written in the past decade on evangelism and the importance of it as well as it’s necessity. Much has been written already, but Mack Stiles’ Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks about Jesus is a refreshing and clear presentation of this important value of the church. Nothing Stiles says in this book is new. Nothing he says is wildly crazy either. It’s simply biblical and focused on the whole church creating a culture of evangelism. This is one of the new books in the IX Marks series.
Today, generally speaking, the church often relies heavily on programs or events to do evangelism. Stiles comes from a more relational approach and sending people from within the church out into the communities to truly get to know their neighbors and share the gospel with them through shared lives. While Stiles says, “There is no formula that dictates how God must work in evangelism. And though we may disagree with the evangelistic practices of individuals, ministries or churches, we must also recognize that when people develop good-hearted commitments to evangelism, God can produce true fruit” (22). However, it is evident that Stiles focuses heavily on relational discipleship throughout the book. Stiles takes the book in the direction of going away from entertainment ministries and programs, and focuses heavily on relationally getting to know our neighbors, coworkers and friends in order to have natural opportunities to share about our lives and share about Christ.
Christians have become used to relying on the “professionals” to do their evangelism. “Bring your friends to church and get them saved” type programs have been the craze over the past few decades or more, and what Stiles says is showing to be more and more true in the church about programmatic evangelism. He writes, “Programs are like sugar. It’s tasty, even addictive. However, it takes away a desire for more healthy food. Though it provides a quick burst of energy, over time it makes you flabby, and a steady diet will kill you. A strict diet of evangelistic programs produces malnourished evangelism” (37).
Stiles points out that the church has incorrectly taken the place of evangelism for it’s people. The job of the church is not to run programs but the church should be cultivating a culture of evangelism that is centered on training up and sending out the saints to do the work of the ministry. It first starts with making sure all the ministries of the church are saturated with the gospel. Is the gospel the center in the church? If it is not the center that all that is done in the church, the priorities must change. Churches must be focused on the gospel in all that they do in order to focus the hearts of the members to properly send them out into the world. People should be moved to share the gospel as a part of an ongoing way of life instead of at occasional evangelistic events. Stiles makes a fantastic observation and it raises his point of moving away from programmatic focused evangelism and moving towards relational evangelism/discipleship by saying, “Not all of us can be preachers, but we can all teach the gospel as opportunity comes. I often wonder whether more people come to faith over lunch when someone asks, “What did you think about the sermon today?” than during the sermon itself. Great things happen when we can teach the gospel (27).
Churches should be looking to equip and send people out into their communities to enter into friendships and relationships with people and to share their lives with them as the moments arrive. Churches need to move away from metrics and mentalities that focus on how many hands were raise, people stood up, or walked down front. The purpose of evangelism is to see life transformation. “Walking an aisle, raising a hand, or even praying a prayer may tell us that evangelism has happened, but such actions are not what evangelism is” (25). Evangelism is sharing the gospel with someone and continuing to do life with them, pointing them towards Christ in all that you and they do.
I have already recommended this book to many people in my church, and I recommend that every church staff and Elder team read this together to consider the role of evangelism in their church. I believe that Stiles makes a great case for relational evangelism and sending people out into their communities to truly love their neighbors by sharing the gospel with them. This is an important work because it focuses on Christ and wants the evangelism done to be about relationships and not entertainment. This is a refreshing message that is needed currently. Check out the book here for more information.
This is an honest review written in exchange of a review copy of Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks about Jesus from Crossway publications.