In this episode, we dive into the question: what is evangelism? The best way to express the gospel to others is to live it out in one’s own life. This is the message of Scripture, from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6 to 1 Peter 3 and The Book of Hebrews. This kind of witness speaks volumes and is much more effective than being preached at or argued with. Stewarding life well is especially difficult in times of pain, sadness, and uncertainty. As difficult as these times can be, they are also fertile ground for making known the truth of the gospel.


Go and Share your Living Faith

Tim: We talked about your faith journey and our interactions and intersections along the way, with me mostly asking questions, in your memory, and providing some biblical direction. This brings up the subject of evangelism because that’s not the way evangelism is usually thought of in the Christian world. But it’s the way I’ve come to think about it, so I think the listeners might be interested in our mutual understanding of evangelism. It’s first important to recognize that  evangelists are gifts to the body. There’s a specific text that says that it’s a gifting. Some people would say that it’s much more than just sharing the faith, it’s also encouraging people to live the life. It’s also undeniable and indisputable that Paul shared his faith, Peter shared his faith, and there are a lot of examples of people sharing their faith all throughout the Bible. But in my studies, I only ever found one passage that says, in a command version, “You go share your faith verbally.” It’s in 1 Peter 3, where it says, “When somebody asks you why you’re willing to endure persecution gladly, unjust persecution, be ready to give them a defense for the hope that is within you.” So the picture that I got from all this, plus the Great Commission, which says “As you go–that’s a participle phrase–as you go, make disciples, baptizing and teaching them my commandments.” So that’s an introduction and then an ongoing process to get them to a spot of learning as you go. Which is kind of like the Shema in Deuteronomy 6, “And you shall teach these things to your children when you rise up all day long…” There was a home-centric worship experience, essentially, that’s what was commanded. I have come to look at evangelism as a way of life, not as an activity that you do. That doesn’t mean you can’t go and say, “I’m gonna make a deliberate effort to go share your faith.” There’s no prohibition from doing that, but I see on every page of the scripture “live it, live it, live it, live it.” I see, “You should live it so much that people smell you. You should create an odor.” So, for me, I don’t really think of myself as evangelizing. Like, there was a moment where I was evangelizing and there was a moment where I wasn’t, no. I just think of it as I live this life this way. I have a book that tells me what works and what doesn’t. That would be a great subtitle for the Bible, “Holy Bible, this is what works.” In that sense, it’s unbelievable wisdom, so why wouldn’t you want to know? I don’t remember having any experience other than “I’m gonna start recording these things for you because you’ve expressed the need,” which turned into the Yellow Balloons Podcast. I don’t think of a moment where, “Okay, I’m gonna share the faith.” And what I’ve heard from you is, if there had been a moment, I would have chased you away. So I think this is a worthwhile thing for people to reflect on from your side and then what you have done likewise.

What Attracts and What Pulls Away

Mark: Yeah, I think this is important because there are a lot of people that evangelized to me in a more, what I would describe as a ‘stereotypical way’ in my lifetime. And often from my perspective as an unbeliever, it felt judgmental. “You need this thing. I have this thing. You don’t have it. Let me save you. So I’m gonna save you. I’m here to be your Superman, to be your superhero.” My response was, “I don’t need a superhero. Thank you very much. I’m just fine.” So I would have turned away had you ever done that. I remember discussing scripture this way with you and you describing what you just described, there’s only one place. But even that place, it’s responsive. It’s not proactive. It’s “be prepared when you’re asked why and how can you live this way?” For me, that has become true evangelism. Live as to the best of our ability as God has commanded us to live and then people will ask, “Why are you happy? To what do you attribute your calmness in the storm?” That was one of the things that really attracted me to Christians, broadly speaking. I would travel around the country, I do politics for a living. It’s a dirty, nasty, brass-knuckle business. There’s a lot of emotion and a lot of anger or a lot of frustration. And when I would meet Christians, really faithful, practicing Christians, they didn’t seem caught up in all that in the same way that other people were. 

T: So in that sense, they were actually evangelizing.

M: Correct, yes.

T: It’s just this thing that they think of as evangelism wasn’t effective.

M: Exactly.

T: But their life was incredibly effective.

M: Exactly. 

T: You had already gotten a long way down the road when we started interacting.

M: Yeah. 

T: Because of the lives of these people.

Pivotal Point

M: So another pivotal point for me was having dinner with Dr. Dobson and his wife, Shirley. I was at some big fancy event, and we were sitting around a table. Ten people at the table and, honestly, to this day I don’t remember who anybody else was other than Dr. Dobson and Shirley. I was sitting across the table from him, I’m pretty sure we didn’t exchange anything except for hello. I didn’t speak during the entire dinner. They were, I don’t know who, ambassadors and politicians, “important people” and Dobson. What I noticed during the entire dinner was everybody talked about themselves and what they were doing and why they were so important, and everybody that they knew and all the things they had accomplished, but Dobson only asked questions. During the entire dinner, “Oh, well, that’s fascinating. How did you come to know the prime minister? How did you end up in Russia during that time period?” I knew who he was, so I knew his back story. I knew he was one of the most famous evangelists in modern America, had built a television network in a huge organization, and ministered to millions of people, yet here he was not saying anything about himself. That was so attractive to me. I remember literally thinking that I have no idea what that is and how he can be like that but I like that. I feel attracted to that. I need to understand what that is. So he was evangelizing simply by his being and by trying to be Christlike.

T: He had no idea you were even watching.

M: No. I actually had the privilege to tell him this story on his radio show a couple of years ago, and he cried. I think he knows he’s having an effect because he’s out there, but you don’t know who you don’t know. So there’s millions of people that Dr. Dobson has touched, that he’s never heard their story. To have somebody sit in front of him and say like, “I’m a believer because of what you did when you weren’t even talking to me,” I think it’s pretty profound.

T: (to Joey) Yeah. Joey, what experience have you had in this arena? 

The Evangelism/Discipleship Confusion

Joey: I think one of the things that I would say is that we have made the mistake of trying to treat evangelism and discipleship as two different activities. If we really believe that people are born with the image of God inside of them, then every interaction we have with people is a discipleship. I think part of it stems from this finish line of salvation that we’ve created of “Let’s get people into heaven and then that’s it, we’ve done the job.” Then, okay, we can invite them to maybe make some changes in their lives, if that makes sense for them, but as long as they’re in heaven, we’re okay. I think people feel really ill-equipped for how to live and how to be because we’ve treated it this way. And then the other side of the coin is turned off with this idea of this afterlife that they don’t even believe in. Like, “What are you talking to me about? I’m just trying to figure out who I am and what I think about living life on this planet.” So I think, for me, one of the keys is like you guys are saying– living your life in a way that models these types of things. We had a friend who had his brothers in town, and his brothers don’t really have friends, like a community. And my friend was like, “I just want them to see us together, I just want them to see.” And his brother called him the other day and was like “I was actually really jealous of the way that you and your friends were and I want more of that in my life.” That’s the whole idea right there. 

M: Evangelism, for sure.

J: I think we’ve tried to make things in Christianity sometimes too certain and too formulaic. Like, “Let’s get them to this finish line that’s gonna take this track or this thing” rather than saying, “We need to embody and communicate the kingdom of God in everything that we do all the time.” That’s harder. It’s harder work to do that, and I think we’ve shied away from it. But I know you’ve got thoughts about what salvation looks like and what that word even means, and I think getting tripped up on that has been a big part of the problem for many people. 

T: You’re touching on a really big point, which is the question of “What is faith?” We typically don’t like faith, we prefer certainty.

M: Yes. 

Faith, not Certainty

T: And there isn’t any. Well, I say there isn’t any, there isn’t much. The only certainty that we know is that we get three things we get to choose. That’s about it. Everything else is pretty uncertain relative to us. It’s very certain relative to God, but we don’t know God’s perspective. So when it comes to what we usually call salvation, which is just one form of deliverance. It’s being delivered from the penalty of sin, of not being born again spiritually. We need to be saved from all kinds of other things along the way, including drowning. When we think about that, it’s really just enough faith to “look as Jesus was lifted up on the cross, like the snake was lifted up,” as John 3:14 says. The snake was lifted up because people were bitten by vipers, and the question was, “Do you believe this proposition enough to look at that snake hoping that the poison won’t kill you?” That’s all that was. And Jesus says, “I’m lifted up just the same way so that if you look at me hoping to be delivered from this poison of sin, you will be.” Where’s the certainty in that? The certainty is in Christ on the cross. Hebrews says that “faith is having certainty about things you can’t see.” The certainty is actually not the certainty of circumstantial control, it’s the certainty of faith. And so I think that evangelism starts with an understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish, which is pointing people to faith. Then, once you have that faith, now you’re delivered and the question is “Now what?” And the invitation of the scripture is, “Keep walking by faith.” Why? Because that’s what leads to benefit and everything else is self-destruction. That’s a pretty simple formula and that’s all through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. But I think we do not like to see it because we prefer the illusion of control.

J: Yeah, even in my background, a lot of the language we use in evangelism activities are things like, “Do you know where you’re going after you die?” And the truth is that the way we are using the word “know” there, we don’t know that either. We believe and we trust in what God says about that. But that’s an exercise of faith, not an exercise of certainty.

T: Of experiential knowledge. 

The Bait and Switch of Evangelism

J: So then it becomes this tricky sort of–and I think this is why a lot of people are frustrated with the church right now–it becomes this kind of bait and switch. We are just trying to get them in the door with certainty, and then they’re in there and we’re like, “Okay, actually it’s a little more complicated than that.” And they’re like, “What in the world?” So yeah, it’s hard. But I think acknowledging what we’re talking about up-front is a huge part of it. And the other part of this, what I’ve taken as we’re talking, is that there are probably people who are listening who are kind of breathing a sigh of relief or thinking, “Oh great, I don’t have to evangelize, I don’t have to do evangelistic activities.” But I think the way we’re talking about this is actually tougher. You have to live this all the time.

T: You’re always evangelizing.

J: This isn’t like setting you free from having to share your faith. This means you have to live in such a way that anyone who might watch you at a dinner sees your faith. 

Evangelism in the Worst Times

M: Well, I think the best evangelism is done in the worst times. When you’re struggling the most and you turn to God and you behave in a way that the Bible would instruct you to behave, it’s pretty radical in this world. And I have a bunch of those experiences in mind, a lifetime of watching people around me. One is my very good friend, Ginny Rapini, she’s an executive with our organization. I’ve known her for a lot of years, she’s been through a bunch of tragedy. Her daughter has had stage four cancer multiple times and I was always blown away by how she dealt with it and she turned to the Lord. Because of that, it’s not that it wasn’t traumatic, it’s not that she didn’t cry, it’s not that it wasn’t difficult, but she had a peace that I had never seen in anybody else. Even people I know who know Ginny, who are not believers, say “That’s the most attractive thing I’ve ever seen.” That you can go through something like that on a very personal level, where Yellow Balloons comes from with Moriah and your loss and when that tragedy happened in your life when you lost your two-year-old granddaughter. And I came here during the height of that time and the intensity of that time. Watching your family, the church community and the reaction of everybody, it’s hard not to be evangelized to when you see that. Because you see faith in action, you see the actual works that come out of faith and you see everybody turn to each other. And my thought is, how would you deal with this kind of tragedy if you didn’t have that? It doesn’t make any sense. Coming here during that time of your life, which was incredibly difficult, deepened my faith in one incident more than anything else I’ve ever experienced.

T: So Mark is ending our session here with a really heavy, heavy thought, which is the main time I get to evangelize is when I’m irritated, tempted to be impatient and–

M: In pain. 

T: –really ticked off, in pain. And that’s when I get to really evangelize. Thanks, Mark.

M: Sorry it’s just the reality. Reality is an acquired taste.