• Date Reviewed: Jan 2024
• Book Reviewed: “Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus” by J. Mack Stiles
• Number of Pages: 128
Recently, Ever, a member of our church, shared his ongoing passion for reaching unbelieving Hispanic members of the community with the gospel of Christ and some ideas about how the church could help in evangelizing them. Ever and I were also talking in the church library about a book he’s been reading by J.I. Packer about evangelism and it’s always been clear to me that Ever has a strong and beautiful desire to share his faith with others. I know many others in our church share this same desire…it’s evident in Corey and Lorraine making intentional, spiritual connections with people who live near the church and in those who participated in and prayed for the Falcon Children’s Home outreach to the teen foster boys. I’ve seen it in Johnny and his dialogue with unbelievers in online forums and in the Tyners’ focus on family worship and equipping members to evangelize their children. I’m sure I could go on and on as there are many ways to go about evangelism and many members in our church who hope to bring glory to God through their interactions with the lost. Placing a priority on evangelism is important and equally as important is really having a good understanding of what evangelism is and is not, what role the church and its members should have in that regard, and what having a culture of evangelism in the church looks like. If we are going to pursue evangelism, I think it is our responsibility to first ensure that we understand these things so that our efforts to obey God and bring Him glory are done in a way that builds from the foundation and examples of evangelism in Scripture and not just from any assumptions we may have about it. I’m grateful to Ever, who inspired me to deepen my own understanding of evangelism beginning with the reading of the book “Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus” by J. Mack. Stiles.
Here is a short overview and what others have said about this book:
“Every few years, churches jump into the latest evangelistic fad. Leaders administrate the new program, and members go on a raid. But picture a church where evangelism is simply part of the culture. Leaders share their faith consistently and openly. Members follow, encouraging one another to make evangelism an ongoing way of life. Such is the way of evangelism presented by this brief and compelling book. No program here. Instead, it just might give your church a new way to live and share the gospel together.”
“Imagine a local church where every member knows the gospel and walks in step with it, where all are concerned for unbelieving people, where it is natural for leaders and members to talk about evangelistic opportunities, and where members are regularly inviting unbelievers to read the Bible together or attend small group Bible studies or Sunday services. If that sounds encouraging to you, then you’ll want to read this book and let Mack guide you step by step toward a culture of evangelism where evangelism is simply a natural outflow of the gospel life.” (Juan R. Sanchez, Jr.)
“Stile’s books on evangelism are terrific because they combine practical help with theological maturity. And he actually practices what he prescribes.” (Kevin DeYoung)
One of the main focuses of this book is what creating a culture of evangelism in the church looks like and how we as members can contribute to that culture, but first he goes over what is meant by “evangelism” and later goes on to “explore basic principles that share the actual practice of sharing our faith, those things we need to do to live as Christ’s ambassadors to a sin-sick world.” Some of the examples he offers up as, often neglected, platforms that Christians must build for healthy evangelistic efforts include things like: intentional evangelism preparation, a gospel-shaped way of life, not assuming the gospel, evangelism as a spiritual discipline, prayer, and evangelistic leadership.
The definition of evangelism that he uses is: “teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade” and then he goes on to say how the Amplified Bible might have expanded his definition to be “teaching (heralding, proclaiming, preaching) the gospel (the message from God that leads us to salvation) with the aim (hope, desire, goal) to persuade (convince, convert). He goes on to say that he doesn’t think programs or events are the most effective, or even the primary, way we should do evangelism but that most people come to faith through the influence of personal relationships-Christians intentionally talking about the gospel with people they have spent time with, getting to know, and living a gospel-centered and God-glorifying life for them to observe. He shares his top 11 yearnings for a culture of evangelism which include a culture that: is motivated by love for Jesus and His gospel, is confident in the gospel, understands the danger of entertainment, sees people clearly, pulls together as one, in which people teach one another, models evangelism, in which people who are sharing their faith are celebrated, that knows how to affirm and celebrate new life, does ministry that feels risky and is dangerous, understands that the church is the chosen and best method of evangelism.
I really appreciated when Stiles discussed thinking of evangelism as a spiritual discipline, such as prayer, Bible study, etc. He states that “God uses spiritual disciplines for our spiritual health. We grow when we practice them. Our Christian lives become sloppy when we don’t.” He also brings up a verse in Philemon that helped him understand that sharing our faith is not just for the benefit of the person we are talking with but also for our personal benefit… “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ” (Philem. 6). Perhaps we often have a fear of evangelizing and that keeps us from desiring to pursue it or we have met with much discouragement in our evangelizing that we become cynical about it, but remembering this truth about how it also impacts our own spiritual walk can help us to stay focused, as individuals and as a community devoted to building up a culture of evangelism.
He ends the book with this:
“Take heart. Evangelism is bigger than what we see. Remember God’s promise: He is giving you a fuller understanding of the good things we have in Christ. He’s giving you His eyes to see people as He sees them. He’s helping you know the rich meaning of the message we bear, and He’s helping you depend upon Him to work in people’s lives. Those are enough reasons to keep going, but it gets even better. Sometimes God lets us see tired people transformed into people filled with light. That’s a glorious thing, filled with wonder and hope.”
Reading this book reminded me that evangelism can manifest itself in so many different ways: praying for and supporting local and international missionaries, being consistent in family worship, building relationships with the people around us (our neighbors, co-workers, etc.) as we show them a gospel-centered life and bring the gospel to bear on their lives, inviting unbelieving friends to church to hear the gospel, spending time teaching members how to understand and effectively communicate the gospel, engaging in conversations with other believers about evangelism, and so much more. My understanding of what evangelism is and isn’t was greatly helped by this book and it was refreshing to be reminded that there is more than one way to evangelize and not everyone may do it in exactly the same way and that’s ok. I was also challenged to think about evangelism as a spiritual discipline and to remember that we should focus on being faithful and that we ourselves are being sanctified when we evangelize and that ultimately it is the Holy Spirit that saves, but we can be the means that God uses to plant the seed, even if that seed does not yield fruit immediately.
This book is part of the 9Marks series on Building Healthy Churches and if you haven’t before read any of the books from this series, let me encourage you to pick one or more of them up and read. I’ve read several of them and have learned so much from each! They are all easy-to-read, short and to the point, and highly practical and applicable. There were only 5 chapters in this book and I finished it in about a day and a half. If you read this book on evangelism and would like to go through another book in this series, I definitely would recommend the book on discipleship. Soon we will be adding both of those books, in English and in Spanish, to the CRBC Library for you all. Borrow one or both when they become available! Then, come find me one Sunday…I would love to dialogue about how these books impacted you and what you learned!