It’s not Your T-Shirt’s Job to Evangelize

KDZ1250_1_origTestamints. Paintings of Jesus carrying a man. Poems about footprints in the sand. T-shirts with Christian slogans. “Christian” films. Fish bumper stickers. These are a few of my least favorite things.

As Christians, we love to surround ourselves with “Christian” paraphernalia. We will wear that t-shirt with the blood splattered cross on it. We will slap that “Are You Saved?” bumper sticker on the back of the car. We will even invite our friends to go see The Passion or Fireproof. But ask us to speak up and actually tell someone the Gospel, and our hands get all clammy, we get nervous, we begin to make excuses, and we finally collapse in a wet puddle on the floor.

Why are we so bold with our clothing slogans, our car bumpers, and even sometimes our Facebook status, but we are deathly afraid to actually say something face-to-face to a non-believer about the Gospel?

We Don’t Know What the Gospel Is.

Evangelism is not some vague term for “acting Christian” or wearing stuff with Christian words on it or showing a “Christian” movie. The word euaggelizw means “declare the good news”. The good news, or Gospel, that we proclaim is not a vague message about the love of God, or heaven and hell, or going to church. The Gospel is actually a very specific message—a message many of us have a hard time articulating.

In the book of Acts, we witness the explosive growth of the early Church. Six times—yes, six times—we hear the full message of what the apostles call the good news (euaggelion–see Acts 8:12; 8:35; 10:36; 13:32; 14:15).  Four times Acts records Peter’s proclamation of the gospel (Acts 2:22-41; 3:12-4:4; 5:27-32; 10:34-48).  Twice we hear it from Paul (Acts 13:26-43; 26:15-29).

The amazing thing about these six sermons is that they seem canned.  It’s the same message every time.  To Peter and Paul, the Gospel isn’t vague; it’s specific–a specific message about Jesus.  According to Peter and Paul, here is the specific Gospel:

According to God’s plan, he sent his Son into the world to die on a cross for the forgiveness of sins.  On the third day, he rose from the dead, and the disciples were all eye-witnesses to the risen Christ.  Jesus has been exalted as the Messiah, and everyone who repents of sin and believes in Him will be saved.  Do you believe?

Evangelism Is Your Mouth’s Job.

We put unfair pressure on our artwork, our clothing, our car bumpers–heck, even our mints–to be “evangelistic” because the last thing we want to do is actually speak up. If we can leave a coin with John 3:16 on it with our tip, that’s better than actually having to talk to the waitress. If we can wear a t-shirt that says, “God’s Not Dead”, it frees us from the guilt that we haven’t actually verbalized the gospel in six months. If we can leave a tract in a hotel bathroom, it frees us from having an awkward interaction with the cleaning ladies.

The point is, we want our clothes, our art, our movies, our tracts, our whatever to evangelize so that we don’t have to. That’s impossible.  True evangelism–sharing the specific message of the gospel–requires a mouth (it could be argued that the gospel could be shared via text, email, etc.)  The point is it takes words, your words.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus lays the burden of spreading the gospel on the shoulders of his disciples: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  The Greek word witnesses (μάρτυρες, “martyrs”) is intimately tied to the idea of courtroom testimony.  We verbalize, speak forth, say–whatever word you want to use–we make words come out of our mouth.  Words about Jesus.  That is how the Kingdom expands across this globe.

Not by hanging crosses on your wall.  Not by wearing Christian clothing.  Not by leaving tracts in doctor’s offices.

I’m Being Too Harsh.

Before you throw your “A Breadcrumb and Two Fish” shirt in the garbage and rip all of your Thomas Kincade paintings off the wall…

It’s not wrong to wear these things, put these things on your wall, or use tracts or any other aids.  We just have to remember that they are evangelism aids, not evangelism substitutes.  If you have a lot of success generating discussion about Jesus Christ by wearing that t-shirt, great.  If people often ask about that painting of Jesus on your wall, and it provides a doorway to verbalize the gospel, awesome.  Just don’t allow yourself to be fooled that those things excuse you from actually saying something.

But, don’t people get saved from reading tracts or seeing The Passion, etc.?  Maybe.  However, does this excuse us from our duty?  Jesus said that if his disciples keep quiet, the stones will cry out (Luke 19:40).  Is that how we want God to build his Kingdom–through inanimate objects?  God will establish his Kingdom whether we cooperate or not.

However, God intends to work through us rather than despite us.

(photo credit)