Two Common Evangelism Mistakes

Don’t you sometimes wish that life came with a giant eraser that you could use to get rid of really big mistakes? This would be nice even when you order dessert and then realize about an hour later, oops, I probably shouldn’t have eaten ‘The Deluxe Chocolate Tower of Doom’ by myself.

But I also wish I had a giant eraser for the time during college that I drove by myself from Memphis, TN to Durham, NC in one night, starting around 6pm. On a map it looked so simple – just a straight shot across Tennessee. A few turns here and there, get onto I-40, and just 726 miles later, I would be at my destination. As Harry in Dumb & Dumber would say, “According to the map we’ve only gone 4 inches.”

By the time I arrived, it was around 6am. Snow had begun to fall. I was wired from the coffee and exhausted from the marathon driving effort. And somehow, there was also two rather unfortunate speeding tickets sitting in the glove compartment – one from the Tennessee police and another from the equally alert troopers of North Carolina.

Evangelism is another area of life where I have many regrets – and heard some terrible stories. Let’s look together at five common evangelism mistakes as we seek to become more mature in how we treat our friends and neighbors. We’ll look at two common mistakes this week and three more next week.

1. Present the wrong message.

I’ll never forget meeting with a pastor in college as he shared with me his most recent attempt to share the Christian faith with some of his nonChristian friends. There they were, enjoying a relaxing evening together, and the conversation naturally turned to whether or not Christianity was true. A perfect moment for explaining God’s great love for all people.

My pastor’s approach? First, establish that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. Second, since the Bible is the basis of Christianity, all the rest follows quite logically. Surprise – he had an incredibly difficult time proving his first point!

Imagine this for any other worldview. Step one, establish that everything Richard Dawkins says is correct. Step two, atheism is true. Step one, establish that the Qur’an is infallible. Step two, become a Muslim.

To sum it up, my friend’s method was a poor one. He picked a bad starting point (inerrancy) and set for himself an incredibly high bar (no errors whatsoever) without even focusing on the main message (the gospel). (Do I believe in inerrancy? Yes. Do I start evangelistic conversations here? No).

If we are going to do evangelism, let’s be sure we keep the main thing the main thing: the gospel.

For a quick review, here’s how Tim Keller explains the gospel. It is clear, Biblical, and memorable (emphasis added):

The Greek term “gospel” (ev-angelion) distinguished the Christian message from that of other religions. An ‘ev-angel’ was news of a great historical event, such as a victory in war or the ascension of a new king, that changed the listeners’ condition and required a response from the listener. So the gospel is news of what God has done to reach us. It is not advice about what we must do to reach God. What is this news?

God has entered the world in Jesus Christ to achieve a salvation that we could not achieve for ourselves which now 1) converts and transforms individuals, forming them into a new humanity, and eventually 2) will renew the whole world and all creation. This is the ‘good news’—the gospel…

And it is good news in three important ways.

1. The gospel is the good news of gracious acceptance…

2. The gospel is the good news of changed lives…

3. The gospel is the good news of the new world coming…

Evangelism is about sharing the gospel with love. To quote Star Wars, “Stay on target.”

What message are you sharing? Is it the gospel?

2. Live like you don’t believe a word you are saying.

Christians are famous for their hypocrisy (not that I believe we actually are necessarily any more hypocritical than any other large group of people – we just have a reputation for it). Here’s two examples:

When I was pastor of the Stephensport Baptist Church, we had only one little grocery store/deli/liquor store in the area. When I first became pastor, I walked over and noticed that the store had two drive-through windows; one on the side of the building and one clear around the back. I asked what the two windows were for. The proprietor pointed to the one in the front and said, “that one is for groceries. The one in back is the whiskey delivery window for the Deacons at the Stephensport Baptist Church.” …

[Anheuser Busch] is a major proponent of responsible drinking and spends quite a lot of money on ads that discourage underage drinking. Their ads also feature beautiful, young people laughing, having a great time, and clothing seems to spontaneously drop off these people with the mere presence of a long neck bottle of Bud in the background.

If they really believe underage drinking is wrong, why does the beer company have ads featuring such young people? The cynical might say that Anheuser Busch’s claim to be “the industry leader in promoting alcohol responsibility” is a joke, promoted only to fool the gullible and avoid legal trouble. After all, one study shows that, “The alcohol of choice for underage drinkers is Bud Light, according to the first national survey looking at what brands young people consume the most.”

The thing is, some people are equally cynical about Christianity. Have you heard their stories? The one where the pastor ran off with the pretty soprano. The financial scam that left their parents bankrupt. Stories of sexual abuse. The drive-through window at the back of the liquor store. Pretty soon, all the sermons about loving God and following the Bible and doing what’s good start to look like a lot of corporate responsibility mumbo-jumbo.

Maybe Anheuser Bush’s executives really are distressed that so many underage drinkers buy its products. Perhaps they simply despise these profits and are truly doing their best to stem the tide. I don’t know.

But I do know that many people think that Christians are using religion to get ahead in life. Are we?

Or do we seek to serve others the way God served us?

If you are going to proclaim that Jesus is Lord, doesn’t this imply that, well, Jesus is in charge of your life? It is simply confusing to see Christians live however they want to live, but talk as if Jesus is the most important person in the world. To be clear, I’m not saying we need to be perfect, but that we need to both be vulnerable about our current failings and need for grace (see point #1) and maturing in the way of Jesus. This is an ongoing, lifelong process for every disciple of Jesus.

Without this simultaneous honesty about our brokenness and our transformation into a new life, here’s how your friends are thinking: on the one hand, you go to church and sing songs that have lyrics like, “Jesus, I’ll worship Your holy name / Lord, I’ll worship Your holy name.” On the other hand, you don’t seem too concerned to live a holy life. Rather, it seems like you’re always trying to fit in and finding a way to justify your actions.

Deciding to become a Christian is a pretty serious decision. It changes everything. Our friends are rightly wondering: has Jesus changed everything for us? When they see that we don’t have everything together, but that we are nevertheless being changed by God’s grace into something better, this is a powerful demonstration of the gospel.


Evangelism is central to our Christian calling. The final, emphatic words of the Gospel of Matthew are about evangelism (and discipleship). Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”  The one with all authority commands us to go.

If you’re feeling some regret for presenting the wrong message or living a hypocritical lifestyle, here’s the good news once again: God has a giant eraser. He uses it to wipe away your sins. We are “simultaneously sinful yet accepted.” Be encouraged by God’s great love for you.

As I close this post, two challenges for all of us:

  • Take some time this week to study the good news of the gospel. What a great message!
  • Take stock of your life. Identify areas of habitual sin that you might more fully repent and go in another direction. The goal is to live, by God’s grace, a joy-filled life submitted to God’s authority.