By Dudley Rutherford
The word evangelism can conjure up images and thoughts ranging from world missions to flashy televangelists. Of course, many faithful church members might say, “Evangelism? Oh, that’s something our preacher does on Sunday morning.”
Well, yes . . . and no.
Many years ago, I heard one of the greatest definitions of evangelism, and it has stuck with me: “Evangelism is nothing more than mouth-to-ear resuscitation!”
What a great yet simple description. The gospel of Jesus comes from your mouth to someone else’s ear—and brings life to a spirit who, without Christ, is dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1).
You don’t have to be a doctor or medical expert to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or CPR. Anyone can do it with proper training. It’s the same thing with sharing the gospel! You don’t have to be a preacher or possess a master’s degree from a Bible college. Any believer can share the good news—effectively—with the proper training.
Evangelism doesn’t have to be complicated or intimidating. And you can participate in it every single day of your life once you have the right tools. Once you do, you will be able to win souls for the kingdom of God.
What do I mean by that? You’ve probably heard the term “soul winner” before, and although we don’t see this precise term in the Bible, it most likely comes from two Scriptures. The first is Proverbs 11:30, which says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls” (New American Standard Bible). The second comes from 1 Corinthians 9 where Paul writes about humbling himself toward everyone so he can “win as many as possible” (v. 19). He writes:
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:20-23, author’s emphasis).
Four times in this passage Paul uses the word win. He is using his influence and background to persuade and convince those around him to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord. He’s competing for their souls. Did this come easily and without a fight, resistance, or conflict? I don’t think so. While recapping his life, one of the last things Paul said was that he had “fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 2:4).
Winning souls basically means leading people to a saving knowledge of the truth. Think of the expression, “winning someone over.” In that sense, you are convincing someone of something or gaining his or her support. Or consider the saying, “winning someone’s heart.” This has a more intimate meaning of gaining a person’s affection or causing them to love you exclusively.
I’ve often wondered why so many people back away from this term. Maybe it’s because the word winning constitutes a battle or conflict. I realize our society has fallen into a “can’t we all just get along” mentality, but the Bible says a war is going on. The war is not against people, but against the dark forces in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 6:12). And these powers are doing everything possible to win this war. That same passage of Scripture, Ephesians 6:10-17, says we must put on the full armor of God. We wouldn’t need to wear armor if a battle wasn’t going on, right?
Here’s the thing: The church is not a “bless me” club meant to provide comfortable seats and feel-good messages for its members. Christian fellowship and community are absolutely important. But what’s more important is the church’s role to equip its members with the knowledge of the Word of God—so that we will boldly engage in the war that is taking place over the souls of mankind.
Paul was actively engaged in this battle. He was willing to go wherever the Spirit led and was excellent at winning people over for the gospel. We can also learn a lot from Isaiah in the Old Testament and Philip from the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. In looking at these great evangelists in the Bible, I’ve noticed five distinct traits in those who are compelled to tell others about Christ:
1. A Surrendered Heart
When the prophet Isaiah stood trembling in the smoke-filled throne room of God, “he heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’” There was zero hesitation as Isaiah quickly responded, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).
If you were to ask a child if they wanted to go to Disneyland, that child’s hand would shoot up faster than you could say, “Mickey Mouse”! And that’s exactly what happened with Isaiah. Moments earlier he had seen the majesty of the living God. How could he not eagerly volunteer for whatever mission the Lord had in mind? So God told Isaiah to go and speak to the people on his behalf (vv. 9, 10).
Many people today lift their hands in church as an expression of worship to the Lord. It’s the universal sign of surrender. But the person who is surrendered to God should be lifting their hands not just in church but wherever they go! There should be something in their heart that says, “Lord, I’m completely yours. Lead me where you want me to go. Send me to the person you want me to talk to.” This is a picture of a surrendered heart.
Back in Acts 8:26, 27, Philip’s surrendered heart enabled him to be ready and available when God clearly spoke to him: “‘Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch.” A few verses later, the Spirit of the Lord once again told him, “Go to that chariot” (v. 29).
Philip made himself available and obeyed God’s direction. Did you know that God is more interested in your availability than your ability? Yes, he can use your talents and education for his kingdom—but the most important attribute is your availability. God sent Philip on a soul-winning journey, and Philip did not have a Bible college or seminary degree. When God said, “Go,” it wasn’t laden with prerequisites and qualifications. “Go” meant . . . go! He wanted to use Philip just as he was.
I’ll be the first to highly recommend biblical education to any believer, but if you feel unqualified to share your faith because of a lack of Bible training—don’t worry! Even if you don’t know much about the Bible, one thing you do know is what God has done for you. When you become available for God to use, you are well on your way to becoming a soul winner.
Philip did something impressive when he arrived at the place God was leading him. He listened. The Bible says he “heard the man reading” (Acts 8:30). Before Philip began sharing anything about Jesus to the Ethiopian, he took the time to listen and hear what his need was.
This type of sensitivity is often lacking within the body of Christ today. Marriages are crying for help, but no one is listening. People are hurting and lonely, but no one hears their cries. Being an effective soul winner means not only listening to those around you, but also hearing what is sometimes not spoken. This is difficult when you are the one doing all the talking! It reminds me of the old children’s rhyme: “A wise old owl sat on an oak; the more he saw the less he spoke; the less he spoke the more he heard; why aren’t we like that wise old bird?”
Be sensitive to those around you. Listen to what their needs are and be ready to share the answer. That answer: Jesus is alive inside of you!
Here’s a tip: If you are mean to someone, you are decreasing your effectiveness to share the gospel with that person. On the other hand, helpfulness and kindness can go a long way.
When Philip heard the Ethiopian eunuch reading the Old Testament, he offered his assistance. He asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30). He didn’t get in the man’s face and say, “Are you saved? If you were run over by an 18-wheel chariot today, would you go straight to Hell?” There is a difference between being helpful and obnoxious!
When you genuinely have a heart to help someone, it speaks volumes. It can be as simple as taking dinner to a single mother because she works long hours. Or mowing your elderly neighbor’s lawn. Or tutoring a student. Kindness has an interesting way of opening doors and softening hearts.
5. A Readiness to Preach Jesus
Eventually you’re going to have to open your mouth and talk about Jesus. When Philip asked the Ethiopian if he understood what he was reading, the eunuch invited Philip to explain the passage to him (Acts 8:34). “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).
The groundwork had been laid. Everything had been orchestrated by the Holy Spirit for this one, pivotal moment. Philip recognized his opportunity and was ready to complete his mission. So he shared the gospel with his new friend. He didn’t give his own opinions or relay what he had heard someone else say; instead, Philip simply preached Jesus.
And look at the miraculous result: the eunuch believed and at once sought the nearest pool of water for his baptism. Afterward, the Bible says the Holy Spirit took Philip away from there (the original “Beam me up, Scottie!”), and the Ethiopian eunuch left rejoicing. Why was the eunuch so joyful? Because he was a sinner who had welcomed the message of salvation and was now forgiven and born again.
Today, people just like the Ethiopian eunuch are waiting for the same good news. How do we find them? We start with a surrendered, available heart that desires to go wherever God is calling. We are sensitive to the needs of others and helpful. And finally, we preach Jesus. In doing so, we proclaim the gospel and become a valuable soul winner for the kingdom of God.
This article is adapted from the book Compelled: The Irresistible Call to Share Your Faith by Dudley Rutherford (Franklin: Worthy Books, 2018). Used with permission of Worthy Books, an imprint of Worthy Publishing Group, a division of Worthy Media Inc., ©2018, all rights reserved.
Dudley Rutherford serves as senior minister of Shepherd Church, Porter Ranch, California.