Personal evangelism is the life, ministry, and duty of a local church whereby an individual, out of experiential devotion to his Saviour and compassion for his neighbour is naturally constrained, enabled by prayer, and imbued with wisdom in the Holy Spirit, to verbally communicate the message of the gospel to his neighbour and to consistently substantiate that gospel by a self-sacrificial life in order that others might be convinced of it, brought into the kingdom of Christ, and nurtured in the life of the church.
“The life, ministry, and duty of the local church.” The local church is the platform for personal evangelism. It is also the goal on the human and local level: to get people into the local church where the gospel is being preached (1 Corinthians 1:21). The personal evangelist has a high view of the church (Psalm 69:9; John 2:17) and of the role of the church in the development and growth of the would-be convert. The local church should be conscientious and see evangelism as a duty; it is this that will keep it in prayer for the Spirit of evangelism and which will in turn maintain the life of the church.
“Out of experiential devotion to his Saviour and loving compassion for his neighbour.” Here is the twofold motivation for personal evangelism—the fulfilment of the law of Christ (Mark 12:30–31; Matthew 15:32). If we love the Saviour we will love what He loves and have the compassion that He has. We will want to be used by Him and for His glory; we will want to see His power effective in the lives of men and women.
“For his neighbour.” Here we come to the proper forum or environment (John 1:41; John 4:29; Luke 10:30ff): it is in the world where we live and work among the ungodly. In this forum, although evangelism is primarily to lost sinners, yet it may also be to backslidden believers (Galatians 6:1), rebuking them by our words and actions and encouraging them in the gospel.
“Naturally constrained.” In the preparation for personal evangelism many are motivated by guilt, emotion, or uninformed zeal. But motivation alone is not sufficient. Personal evangelism is a matter of sanctification, not mere motivation (1 Peter 3:15). We are drawn to evangelism rather than driven to it (2 Corinthians 5:14). Personal evangelism is not a strategy or a staged event; it is not a quirky scheme to get people to make an admission of sin or confession of Christ. Personal evangelism is the natural flow of the life of a believer into his community.
“Enabled by prayer.” In personal evangelism we need boldness, we need wisdom to know when to speak and what to say, and we need restraint to hold back and not antagonise. We need God-given opportunities (Acts 8:26–27). When those opportunities come, we need words to speak (Ezekiel 3:27; Psalm 81:10), and we need power with those words.
“Imbued with wisdom in the Holy Spirit.” In the exercise of personal evangelism we need prayer and discernment. Philippians 1:9–10 teaches us that not only is there a good way and a bad way, but there is also a good way and a best way, that which is excellent. Wisdom in the Holy Spirit deals with both boldness to speak (Ephesians 6:19) and restraint from speaking. There are time when it is wrong to evangelise (Matthew 7:6; Titus 3:10). There are times when the only way to evangelise is to live the gospel (Genesis 39:3; 1 Samuel 18:28; Galatians 1:24; 1 Peter 3:15), and at other times it is necessary to avoid individuals that they might be ashamed (2 Thessalonians 3:14).
“Verbally communicate the message of the gospel.” In personal evangelism the gift of communicating effectively is honed and developed by our love for Christ, our desire to help others, and our zeal for the glory of God. For the early church, coming as it did from the freshness of the resurrection, they went everywhere evangelising (Acts 8:4). For some, talking comes easily and they are quite at ease striking up conversations with strangers; for others it is more difficult. Paul dealt with this by praying for boldness in speaking the gospel (Ephesians 6:19), and Peter speaks of preparation for those times when we will be asked about the “hope” that is in us (1 Peter 3:15–16).
“Consistently substantiate that gospel by the self-sacrificial life.” The life of evangelism is the evangelist’s life. The life lived self-sacrificially in the gospel will solicit questions from the unbelieving world (1 Peter 3:15; cf. Matthew 5:13–14; Colossians 4:5; 2 Timothy 2:10) and others will be drawn to enquire (1 Kings 8:41–42). Evangelism as described in both the Old and New Testaments is both centripetal and centrifugal—reaching out and drawing in.
“Others might be convinced of the gospel.” In this aspect of evangelism we are simply instruments; it is the Spirit who convinces (John 16:8). We should live and preach, however, so that we are effective instruments and so that others are convinced by our life and testimony (Titus 1:9).
“Brought into the kingdom of Christ and nurtured in the life of the church.” The goal of personal evangelism is the kingdom of Christ formed (Luke 17:21) and developed (1 Corinthians 9:27) in the hearts of individuals and the church of Christ extended on the earth (Matthew 16:18; 28:18–20). This will bring us back to the beginning where others will be brought up to the platform and the life and ministry of the church is renewed and extended by others being sent out (2 Timothy 2:2).