Some years ago a survey was undertaken of the sermon delivered on a particular Sunday by some 300 protestant ministers and it was noted that many preached a sermon on the responsibility of personal evangelism. Is personal evangelism a necessary element in the Christian walk?
When I think back to my own time in the pew, I know only too well that evangelism was central to the preaching. We were all encouraged to take up the challenge of personal evangelism. It was an obligation, a demand even, of the Christian life. If we wanted to truly follow Christ, then like the disciples we must become "fishers of men," Any resistance was castigated as faithless disobedience. Like most believers, I wasn't very good at personal evangelism, and so I resisted the opportunities that came my way. I remember once we were told that we should pick up hitch-hikers and speak with them about Jesus. From then on I drove in the middle lane so I wouldn't be in a position where I could stop to pick them up.
When it comes to the business of personal evangelism, to witnessing, there are three errors we constantly make:
First, obligation-based personal witnessing promotes legalism. Righteousness in the sight of God is a gift of God's grace received through faith in Jesus. It is dangerous to view faithful discipleship as if it gains status in the sight of God. Witnessing, Bible study, prayer, goodness (no anger, no sexual thoughts, etc.)..... do not gain, confirm or advance our standing before God. When we hold onto Jesus God loves us 100% despite our failings.
Second, obligation-based witnessing often negates God's sovereign grace. Christ is building his church through the Spirit's sovereign power active in the good news about Jesus. Christ doesn't depend on us to build his kingdom. The seeker after God will find Christ in his Word despite us. We may share in Christ's work of gathering in the lost, but he is not dependent on whether we do or whether we don't.
Third, obligation-based witnessing often rests on selling techniques rather than communication. God's people are responsible to communicate the gospel to the lost. Using the variety of media available to us, the church is well able to make known the gospel. This is not a selling exercise dependent on persuasion.
When it comes to personal evangelism all we need to do is "be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have", and this because "the gospel is the power of God unto salvation."