Many Christians are looking for a style of evangelism that works, which is to say one that produces visible, measurable results. Surely every Christian desires to see people turned from darkness to light, but most have learned that reported results and genuine conversions are not necessarily the same thing. Let’s take a look at one of the Apostle Paul’s evangelistic efforts recorded in the opening verses of Acts chapter seventeen. Here we find a biblical example of evangelism that works.
A Strategic Location
This endeavor took place in the Macedonian city of Thessalonica. The location was carefully chosen. After laboring fruitfully, and being expelled from the city of Philippi, Paul and his missionary team traveled west. They passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia without stopping because they had their sights on Thessalonica. Both of these cities were smaller and less significant than Thessalonica. Were there people in these locations who needed Christ? Yes, but Paul, a master strategist, had reasons to push on to Thessalonica because of its major importance.
Paul apparently chose locations for their long-term potential. He wanted to expend his labors where the churches he planted had the most favorable conditions in which to multiply. He was looking for hubs that would send out spokes to surrounding areas. Thessalonica was the ideal place. At the crossroads of two major trade routes, it was the Roman capital of Macedonia, as well as its main seaport. People streamed there from all over the world, and the potential for evangelistic multiplication was enormous.
A Providential Opportunity
One of the things Paul highly valued was a Jewish Synagogue, which apparently did not exist in Amphipolis and Apollonia. Although there are a few exceptions, Paul usually bypassed locations lacking synagogues so he could utilize the advantages a synagogue afforded him. As a highly trained Jewish Rabbi, Paul could expect open doors to preach in synagogues. Because of the freedom of the synagogue, Paul’s credentials provided him the standing necessary for synagogue leaders to invite him to address their congregation. His preaching was sufficiently effective to earn him two return invitations, thereby proclaiming the gospel on three successive Sabbaths to a congregation of attentive listeners.
An Effective Method
But what did Paul do? How did he evangelize in this opportune place? He expounded the Scriptures. Nothing novel here. Paul simply opened the Hebrew Scriptures and preached Christ. Additional details of this evangelistic method can be gathered from the text.
First, we are told, he reasoned with them, a word suggesting the use of searching questions. He piqued their curiosity and held their interest by asking questions relating to the Scriptures with which most of them were familiar.
- Do you know what this means?
- Have you ever noticed this?
- Do you understand the implications of this statement?
By using carefully prepared questions, Paul moved his audience to want to hear his message. Paul didn’t employ new methodologies, but made wise use of old ones.
Next we read that Paul was explaining. Another translation renders it was opening. In our own day, it’s not unusual to speak of someone opening the Scriptures, and that is exactly what Paul did. This word could also be translated exposit.
Paul was an expository preacher. What is exposition? It is simply explaining a text. What could be more basic than this? What else does a preacher do if not explain the Bible? But we live in a day when many have lost confidence in the power of God’s Word and resort to other methodologies. After all, we are told, times have changed, and therefore we must find new methods more suited to contemporary America, right?
The problem is that changing the method almost always changes the message. That’s not usually the intention. The goal is to find a more effective way to communicate the gospel, but unintended consequences almost always accompany innovation. The gospel is too important to be submitted to well-meaning experiments. We are not called to be creative program directors, but heralds who faithfully declare the message delivered to us in the manner our King has instructed.
Rather than innovate, why not do what Paul did and trust God to make it effective as it pleases Him? Do we really think we can improve on the methods of Paul, or of Christ?
The third description of Paul’s preaching is demonstrating. This word means “to set in order” or “to give evidence.” It suggests offering proof to further support an assertion that was previously made. Paul asserted from the Hebrew Scriptures “that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and that this Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”
Paul had a huge task—to convince a predominantly Jewish audience that their promised Messiah must first suffer and die before he would reign in glorious splendor. That’s not what they had been taught, and they would not be easily persuaded. The only way to convince them was to prove it from Scripture, which is exactly what Paul did. He opened passages such as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 to demonstrate the necessity of the Christ’s suffering and death followed by His glorious resurrection.
After laying the evidence before them, he could finally make his concluding claim, namely that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ promised by God. His crucifixion was not proof of divine displeasure, as the Jews thought. Rather it was the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy regarding the coming Messiah.
It was a hard sell, and the only possibility of success lay in convincing them of the true meaning of Scripture. Paul depended upon careful Bible exposition for his part in the work of evangelism, even as he relied totally on the power of the Holy Spirit to open hearts and cause his labors to be effective.
A Mixed Result
“And some of them were persuaded.” God blessed Paul’s methods, and crowned his labors with success. Some believed and were saved. “But the Jews who were not persuaded,” tells us Paul’s results were mixed. Some believed and others did not. Isn’t it nearly always that way? Occasionally we hear amazing reports of a situation where everyone who hears believes, but I have never witnessed this myself. I don’t doubt that it is possible for an omnipotent God, but I wonder if such reports are measuring genuine conversions, or merely visible results which will prove to be disappointing in time. Usually the results are mixed.
Does anyone believe the results would have been better if Paul had been more eloquent? Would the results have been greater if Paul had used different methods? There is no indication of this in Scripture. Paul used God-honoring methods, and God blessed Paul’s evangelism with lasting fruit. This is an example of evangelism that worked, and it demonstrates a pattern of evangelism that will work in our day as well if we faithfully employ it.
We don’t need different methods. We need greater confidence in the time-honored methods God has given, because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
G. N. Barkman received his BA and MA from BJU and later founded Beacon Baptist Church in Burlington, NC where has pastored for over 40 years. In addition, Pastor Barkman broadcasts over several radio stations in NC, VA, TN, and the island of Granada and conducts annual pastors’ training seminars in Zimbabwe, Africa. He and his wife, Marti have been blessed with four daughters and six grandchildren.