I’m grateful to Dr. David Mills, Associate Professor of Evangelism and Assistant Dean of Applied Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, for writing and allowing us to publish this great challenge for us regarding evangelism.
In the resurrection chapter of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says much about evangelism. He says he declares to the Corinthians the gospel, which he preached to them previously (v.1). He said they could rest assured of their salvation if they held fast to the word he preached to them (v.2). He delivered to them first what he had received, namely Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and appearances (v.3—4). He remarks that though he was least among the apostles, he preached and the Corinthians believed (v.11). He imagines Christians declaring the risen Christ (v.12). In fact, this is a point of contention in favor of Christ’s resurrection. Paul reasons that if Christ did not rise from the dead, he preached in vain (v.14) and was guilty of false witness against God because he had testified to Christ’s resurrection (v.15). To the Corinthians’ shame he chastises them that they had failed to introduce others to God (v.34). He tells them of the mystery of the resurrection of believers (v.51). Paul anticipates that believers in the resurrection would prioritize evangelism. Believers manifest their faith in the resurrection by working at evangelism.
Paul’s frequent references to evangelism as a primary Christian work helps readers understand the meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” The work Paul speaks of in this verse consists of evangelism. In that work believers should “be steadfast, immovable”, and “always abounding.” A little evangelism here and there on infrequent occasions does not match the expectations of the apostle. He even expected the chaotic Corinthians to always abound in evangelism. The urgent need of the hour is steadfast, immovable, and always abounding evangelism.
Southern Baptists have several champions who have modeled this for the churches. One of those champions was George W. Truett, pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas, and oftentimes chairman of the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Seminary. In his biography of George Truett, Powhatan James wrote of Truett’s commitment to evangelism. He took pains to describe the extent to which Truett had yielded his life to Jesus Christ and how this surrender manifested itself in evangelism. Many have attested to Truett’s unreserved surrender to Jesus Christ and Christ’s dominance of this great man. James reveals that Christ’s dominance over Truett surfaced at many points, but one of the most unusual episodes of Truett’s surrender occurred when Truett lay sick in a hospital bed in Dallas. Truett was preaching an area wide revival in Longview, Texas when influenza made it impossible for him to continue the meetings. An ambulance rushed him to a Dallas hospital where he spent a month under a doctor’s care, followed by a month of rehabilitation at his favorite resort in Mineral Wells, Texas.
During his stay in the hospital, something unusual happened, and Truett became delirious. Of course, when people become delirious they are likely to say almost anything, and, sadly, the things spew forth are things they would never say when lucid. Truett suffered in this condition. Fever, and perhaps medication, confused and demented his mind. Mrs. Truett stayed by his beside during these times, and she wrote to James of what she experienced at his side during these times of delirium. She wrote,
My task has not been an easy one these past two months. It is very sweet to me, and a source of comfort to him, to learn that all through his unconsciousness and delirium from fever or medication, his subconscious mind was just as clean and Christian as his daily life has always been. As you know, I did not leave his bedside for the four weeks of his hospitalization, nor [sic] the weeks since. In his delirium, he was quoting scripture, preaching, and calling men to Christ or praying for them. I feel that his illness was a great revelation of the real man.*
The debilitating illnesses could not debilitate Truett’s witness for Christ. Difficulties could not debilitate Paul’s witness for Christ either. Nothing should debilitate our witness for Christ. Believers in the resurrection can fashion a personal practice of evangelism that resembles the resurrection. That is, as the resurrection is steadfast, immovable, and always abounding towards the world, so our personal evangelism can be steadfast, immovable, and always abound. To accomplish this, witnesses can pray every day for a list of lost people, preferably fifteen. They can make a new friend every day. They can witness every day using scheduled evangelism (visitation), spontaneous evangelism (“As you go” Matt 10:7), and social evangelism (making friends for Christ). They can invite someone to church every day. Research indicates that 82% of the unchurched are “somewhat likely” to accept an invitation. By mastering simple efforts in personal evangelism—and if pastors do not master personal evangelism, no one else will—they can live in a manner reminiscent of the resurrection.
*Powhatan W. James, George Truett: A Biography (Nashville: Broadman, 1939), 275-76.