Some years ago a survey was undertaken of the sermon delivered on a particular Sunday by some 300 evangelical ministers. Two subjects were found to dominate. First, an exhortation to submit to a "forensic" gospel (sin, judgement, Christ's substitutionary sacrifice...) and second, an exhortation to undertake personal evangelism. Let's consider the second topic where evangelism was presented as a necessary element in the Christian walk, a matter of obedience.
When I think back to my own time in the pew of an evangelical church, I know only too well that evangelism was central to the preaching. We were all of us 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." We must evangelize. Any resistance was castigated as faithless disobedience. Like most believers, I wasn't very good at evangelism, and so I resisted the opportunities that came my way. I remember once we were told 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. Naturally, I was a very guilty believer, unworthy of my Lord's love.
When it comes to the business of personal evangelism there are three errors we constantly make:
First, obligation-based personal witnessing promotes legalism. Righteousness, in the sight of God, is both imputed and imparted as a gift of God's grace appropriated through faith. It is dangerous to view faithful discipleship as if it gains status in the sight of God. Such a view promotes legalism. Witnessing, Bible study, prayer, goodness (no anger, no sexual thoughts, etc.)..... do not gain, confirm or advance our standing before God.
Second, obligation-based witnessing often negates God's sovereign grace. Christ is building his church through the Spirit's sovereign power active in the gospel. Christ doesn't depend on us to build his Kingdom. The seeker after God will find Christ in his Word, and as a consequence, will be incorporated eternally into the fellowship of believers. 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 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, as a whole, is to work together to make known the gospel. This is not a selling exercise dependent on persuasion.
We should not forget that "the gospel is the power of God unto salvation."