A pastor’s confession: it is easier for me to preach the gospel publicly to hundreds of people than it is to talk about Jesus to one uninterested unbeliever. Perhaps you think, “I don’t feel comfortable doing either one!” And yet, while not everyone is called to preach to large groups of believers or unbelievers, all of us are responsible to speak a word for Jesus to the lost around us. Peter tells the church that every Christian must “always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (I Peter 3:15). It’s not just commanded, but commended, as we see Christians (who were not apostles) being scattered by persecution, bringing the good news of the gospel to the lost (Acts 8:1, 4). Each one of us is to let our “light shine before men in such a way that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) – and if words do not accompany our deeds, then how will the unbeliever ever know our Father in heaven to glorify Him?
I fear that many Christians assume that it’s only the preacher’s responsibility in the pulpit to talk to unbelievers about the gospel. To be sure, preachers are called to preach the gospel publicly in corporate worship, to the lost and to the found, since the word of God (particularly the preached word of God) is the means of regeneration and sanctification (I Peter 1:23-2:3). Paul assumes that unbelievers will be in the midst of corporate worship, and that the clear preaching of the word will in God’s providence convict them, call them to account, disclose the secrets of their hearts, and lead them to fall on their faces and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among us (I Corinthians 14:24-25). Yet how will unbelievers come into the corporate gatherings of the church? They may well walk in off the street, but it’s far more likely that they will come because of a relationship they already have with a believer, and because of conversations that believer has had with them about Jesus and about His church and/or His word.
So even with regard to the pastor’s task to be an evangelist and to proclaim publicly the truth of the gospel to the lost, we’re back to the individual Christian’s responsibility to be speaking a word for Jesus, to be wooing and attracting unbelievers, to be stirring up an interest in spiritual things, eternal things, raising the issues of holiness, sin, brokenness, redemption, hope, love and forgiveness found through faith in Jesus. Unless Christians are inviting unbelievers to hear the gospel preached in corporate worship, it is unlikely (humanly speaking) that they will be there. Yes, there are unbelievers among the membership of the church, tares in the midst of the wheat, hypocrites who look like believers yet are not truly converted. But unchurched unbelievers have no reason to be at church unless they are invited – over and over and over again, in some situations.
Do you see the vital importance of individual Christian men and women and boys and girls speaking a word for Jesus, both directly (talking about the gospel with them) and indirectly (inviting them to a place where they will hear the gospel)? But this reality then raises the question of whether you intentionally spend time with unbelievers. In particular, do you pursue time with unchurched unbelievers? So often, Christians – especially those in the buckle of the Bible Belt – surround themselves only with other Christians, and distance themselves from unbelievers. Yet Jesus calls us to go into the world to bear witness about Him (John 17:18). We are not to cordon ourselves off from the world in a little holy huddle, but we are to mix and mingle and share life with those who do not know our Savior, so that we might be ambassadors for Jesus to them. I have felt that myself of late – my calling is to pastor the flock, yet if I don’t intentionally put myself around unbelievers, when will I have the opportunities to share the gospel to the lost outside the church?
As we conclude our Missions Festival this weekend, being challenged to go across the street and around the world, examine your life to see what changes you need to make in order to be around unbelievers so that you might have opportunities to speak a word for Jesus to them. Pray for boldness to take advantage of the open doors that the Lord gives you. Invite your friends to join you at our worship services. Pray for your preachers, that we might preach with an eye to the lost as well as the found, and proclaim a Savior who alone can save sinners from the penalty and power and presence of sin. And pray for the Holy Spirit to move in the lives of the lost, so that we might see conversions.