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A Biblical Take On ‘Lifestyle Evangelism’

by | Dec 3, 2015 | Missions Articles

There was a time in recent memory when so-called “lifestyle evangelism” was the second-most popular form of Gospel sharing. According to a Barna Group study, almost three quarters of “born-again” believers in the U.S. who are now 29 years old or older said they’d used this form of outreach.( 1 )Lifestyle evangelism is defined as “living in ways that would impress non-Christians and cause them to raise questions about that lifestyle.” This is a wonderful approach to life. There’s only one problem with describing it as “evangelism”: It’s not. This is normative, obedient Christianity, not evangelism. After all, the Apostle Paul admonished Christians in general to “let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ. (2) There should be nothing remarkable about this way of living for Jesus’ disciples.

Besides that, the problem with calling this approach to life “evangelism” is that it inverts the role of initiator in Gospel conversations — taking it from the Christian and handing it to the non-believer. This goes against the very definition of evangelism. An evangelist is “a bringer of good tidings. ( 3) Just to be emphatic about this, let us also note that to “bring” something is to “come carrying or leading” or to “come with.” (4) An evangelist is someone who comes to the non-believer carrying the Gospel. All ways of promoting Christianity are equally important, but not all are evangelism. It’s important that we use this word precisely so that we honor this unique ministry that was commissioned by Jesus himself.

The only person in the Bible who is described as an evangelist is the Apostle Philip. (5 )Therefore, it is helpful to examine how Philip conducted his ministry as an evangelist. The best passage for study of this topic is one verse —  Acts 8:5. There, we are told that “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.” He “went” and he “proclaimed” Christ to as many people as would listen in a city. This is not even to suggest that you always have to “go” to evangelize, but it certainly suggests that you have to take initiative. Philip didn’t wait for non-believers to come to him.

None of this is meant to undermine the lifestyle approach to promoting Christianity. In fact, I believe that if it was only possible to project one’s faith through lifestyle or through evangelism, we should definitely choose lifestyle. The Apostle Peter admonishes us to live in such as a way that non-Christians “may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (6)  That is the way that most people will ultimately be convinced of the Gospel’s validity. However, evangelism is a way of meeting and forming friendships with non-Christians who will be able to observe our lives. If we, as Christians, are to carry out the ministry of evangelism that Christ authorized, (7) we must be careful to define it accurately.

1. Survey Shows How Christians Share Their Faith, Barna Group
2. Philippians 1:27
3. Strong’s Concordance
4. Page 150 Oxford American
5. Acts 21:8
6. 1 Peter 2:12
7. Ephesians 4:11

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