Is Evangelism Still Possible In These Tough Times?
The current situation we find ourselves in; has got me thinking. Life has become really tough and has left people with many questions about this pandemic. Where are we going with this life? When will this Covid-19 pandemic really go away? Are the economic hardships we are experiencing now ever going to end? More than this, the pandemic has left many Christians in the difficult dilemma of how they can faithfully live out the commitment to the call to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’. The pandemic has indeed posed a huge challenge when it comes to the church’s model of evangelism. This article does not seek to provide any answers to the questions above but my hope is that it will help us to rethink what we have normalized as the way to evangelize. The mandate of evangelism, which Jesus called us to, is a very key and fundamental component of our lives as Christians. And from the looks of it, things are not going to go back to the old way of life any time soon and if they do, it will not be the same old way of doing things. It is my opinion, therefore, that we need to embrace the new normal and further, rethink how to engage in evangelism in this new world order.
The Great Commission
Firstly, I think it’s worthy for us to revisit Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20 , which carry this mandate of evangelism, commonly referred to as the ‘disciple making mandate’. Matthew 28 makes clear Christ’s command to his disciples, which is to make other disciples. It goes further to detail how we ought to do it.
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 ESV ]
It can be noted from these verses that the main concern of the evangelism mandate is about bringing people to Christ and helping them grow in being faithful disciples of Christ. And the verses explain how this is to happen: baptizing them…teaching them. However, the verses do not provide a context in which this mandate has to happen. Over the years, many have understood, “Go therefore…” as providing the context in which the evangelism mandate has to happen and this understanding has led to short and long term missions. This same understanding has also seen the church consider evangelism as part of its programs and activities. To many of us, evangelism occurs only when we have gone to a weekend crusade or reach out. I strongly believe this is the reason why we find ourselves in this dilemma now.
The big question, then is, how do we continue to faithfully obey the Matthew 28 mandate in this current climate? Perhaps we also need to ask, is the traditional understanding of evangelism of going for weekend outreaches and door to door, the prescribed way of carrying Matthew 28 mandate? Are those the only ways the task of evangelism can be accomplished? I believe that it’s worthy to come to Matthew 28 with fresh eyes as we seek answers to these questions.
Making disciples is not only going out
It’s important to note that in Matthew 28:18-20 , the command and emphasis is on making disciples, not on going. Thus the conversion of people to Christ is at the heart of the command. Understanding it this way helps us to see that the going at the beginning of verse 19 has little to do with the idea we have carried so long as a church. Instead, it carries the idea that as you live your life, makes disciples. Does this then mean that people should not go for outreaches or missions? Absolutely not! These are part of us living our lives and we should continue to do them, but what we should be careful of is categorizing them as the only ways to carry out the evangelism mandate. Disciple making should happen in each and every context. The world and area we live in is the prescribed context in which evangelism has to happen. What we have to be concerned about is making sure that the gospel reaches people in every corner of the world. There is no one prescribed way or platform a person can be told the gospel. Every disciple is encouraged to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in the process, make disciples who will in turn make disciples too.
How do we carry out the Mandate in this Era?
This is probably the most difficult question to answer at this stage, but I would like to make a couple of suggestions to consider. We must bear in mind that the answer to this question is very complex as contexts are different. As suggested above, Jesus was calling the disciples to make other disciples as they lived their own lives, meaning that they had to utilize resources and opportunities available to them in their particular context. So then, context determined how they engaged people with the gospel. With this in mind and reflecting on your current context, what resources and opportunities does your context provide that you can use for the furtherance of the gospel?
In my own case, the greatest resource that my context has provided is the internet, and I am sure this is the case for most of us. In addition to this my greatest opportunity is my network of friends and students. Ever since Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic, I have seen many people, businesses, schools, shops etc. moving from doing things physically to the online platform. The church has not been exempted in this; we were forced to go online, a platform most of us had for decades considered evil. The pandemic has seen people rethinking the way of doing normal life and right now, normal life happens online. This might not be true for every context but for most contexts, it is. So, how can we carry out the evangelism mandate in this era? I think we need to rethink our old ways and consider moving online as a church. We are now living in the reality of everything being done online and I think it’s the best time to develop online evangelism strategies. Yes, it’s not an easy thing to migrate to online, but times like these call us to step up.
Remember Jesus’ words:
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues."
[Matthew 10:16-17NIV ]
Though he was saying this in line with persecution, the disciples were supposed to keep testifying about Jesus, no matter what. There was no excuse not to. Yes, moving evangelism online can be taxing and can invite lots of backlash, but just as Jesus told the disciples then, we need to engage in this wisely, act shrewdly, knowing the mandate we carry calls us to continue to even in these difficult circumstances.
Remember how Paul also encouraged Timothy, saying:
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2 NIV )
This encouragement was given in the context of false teaching and people drifting away from the truth, following teachings that suit them, but Timothy was then encouraged to do the work of an evangelist, preaching the gospel. Though this was a different scenario, but we see that Paul encouraged Timothy to remain faithful in preaching the gospel.
So then, should we wait for normalcy to proclaim the gospel? The answer to this has to be a resounding ‘no!’ especially in light of the verses above. During this time when people are struggling with all the unanswered questions about life, we need to be serious about directing people to God, where they will find peace, not answers.
We should continue living out the gospel-witnessing lives more during these times. We must show that despite the situation we are in, there is a God who is sovereign and who is worthy our worship. And Jesus is the way to whom we need to point ourselves and people to. We must maximize the opportunities we get, and in this time, the online platform needs our presence.