Regrettably, we often overlook what today’s passage tells us about evangelism in the early church. Immediately after the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54–60), a “great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem,” which caused all of the Christians there, except the apostles, to be scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (8:1b). In other words, the laity in Jerusalem were forced to flee the city and leave those ordained to church office behind. This is significant because it was these scattered laypeople who began preaching the Word beyond Jerusalem (v. 4), beginning the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth as Jesus predicted (1:6–8). From the church’s earliest days, lay Christians have been faithful and effective evangelists.
Nevertheless, many believers in the church today feel unequipped to proclaim the Gospel, or they think the responsibility to preach Christ to non-Christians lies solely with the pastor. Such sentiments are easily explainable: No one has taught them how to share the good news of Jesus Christ. If people are to proclaim the Gospel, they must learn how to share it with others.
All Christians can benefit from systematic evangelism, that is, some kind of evangelistic program that is easy to memorize and use for spreading God’s Word. Getting to the basic facts of the Gospel — the demands of the Lord’s holiness, our sin, the atonement and resurrection of Christ — and packaging them in a way that is easy to learn and repeat can go a long way towards helping people evangelize. Many different programs exist, one of the most popular being Evangelism Explosion by Dr. D. James Kennedy. Churches that have used this program testify to its success in getting people involved in evangelism.
Of course, we run the risk of distortion any time we try to reduce the Gospel to its simplest points. However, even the apostles worked with a simplified message when they went to those who knew nothing of the Bible. The apostolic sermons in Acts show us that the kerygma, the basic message of the Gospel, was delivered to the Gentiles who knew nothing of God’s Word. Only after people were converted did systematic, in-depth teaching of the Scriptures begin.
Many people leave evangelism up to Sunday school teachers and the preaching of the pastor. However, this confuses teaching with evangelism. The teaching ministry of the church is essential to the growth of the kingdom, but its primary task is to educate those who are already Christians — any evangelism that happens is secondary. If you feel unequipped to share the Gospel, seek a program designed to help you preach the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus.
For further study:
The Bible in a year: