7 Evangelistic Strategies and Principles from the Apostle Paul in the Book of Acts
Written about 30 years after the death of Christ, the book of Acts was written by the Apostle Luke to a skeptic named Theophilus. Luke is writing to convince Theophilus that Christianity is true, but he doesn’t do this by writing a systematic theology book. Instead, he writes a history book.
The book of Acts give us the history of the early church. But it’s more specific than that. It gives us the history of the mission of the early church.
Luke doesn’t give us detailed descriptions of church life or worship services during this time. In fact, much of the book is descriptive without being prescriptive. It tells us what happened, not necessarily what we should imitate.
Luke is primarily interested in showing us the spread of Christianity. He wants us to see the power of the gospel unleashed to change lives, families, and cities.
What is our mission? And how do we accomplish it?
These are the questions that the book of Acts helps us answer.
Here are 7 key strategies and principles on engaging your people in the mission of the church.
When Peter gives his gospel presentation in Acts 2:14-36, he starts by addressing the questions of his listeners. The crowd notices the miraculous events surrounding his sermon, and they accuse the disciples of being drunk.
So he starts by addressing this claim. His starting point is their starting point. He doesn’t get defensive. He doesn’t ignore their accusation and barge forward with his monologue. In other words, his gospel presentation is not a rehearsed speech that ignores the context and questions of his audience.
Peter understands his listeners. That’s why he starts by quoting the prophet Joel. He calls in authorities that his his audience will recognize and listen to. Most of the people present there are Jews and Gentile converts. Quoting the prophets would give him instant credibility. Even more importantly, it will prove that what they are seeing is a fulfillment of God’s promise.
But even with this incredibly compelling evidence, Peter still patiently allows his listeners to sort through what they are hearing.
We need to allow people to come in a process
In this chapter, we see three stages. First, there is the stage of creating interest. The people listening ask: “What do these things mean?” Then, there is the stage of presenting the gospel. This is just a general statement of the gospel and an invitation to respond. And finally, there is the stage of personal conviction. They ask Peter: “What should we do?”
We need to know how to explain and defend the gospel, but we also need to hear and understand our listeners.
Peter shows great awareness in presenting the gospel. At multiple points, he appeals to things that they already know and believe. He knows how they view the world, so he knows how to apply the gospel to their understanding.
The better we are at listening to others, the better we’ll be at sharing the gospel with them.
On two separate occasions in the book of Acts, Paul shares his personal testimony. You can read them in *Acts 22 *and Acts 26.
Paul’s background was different than most of ours. His spiritual journey was very different. Certainly his conversion experience was more dramatic than any of ours.
But we can still learn from his example. All the most important things are the same.
Your testimony is a window into the gospel.
This is one of the greatest assets you have in this mission is that you are called to be witnesses. You are testifying to something that has transformed your life personally.
What is a testimony? A testimony is a personal story of how the gospel has changed your life and a personal appeal for someone to repent and believe that same gospel.
It’s like looking through a window with a beautiful view. At first, you notice the window. But after you get a picture of the view beyond it, you forget that the window is even there. You don’t notice it anymore. Why? Because the view is so captivating.
Testimonies are like that. It is what people see through them that matters. They are windows into gospel.
This is what we want. We want to tell our story in a way that helps people see Jesus through it. If they forget us but find Jesus, that should be fine with us.
Remember, you are not the hero of the story.
The person listening to you doesn’t need to hear half a dozen plot lines about sixteen main characters. They don’t need to hear about angels protecting you from a car accident when you were 6.
They need to hear about Jesus. Who He is and what He has done.
Remember, this testimony is really about Him. Tell them how Christ saved you and how He is changing you.
As the book of Acts unfolds, we get a very clear picture of the main method of evangelism in the early church. It’s not a program, and it’s not even primarily an event.
The primary context for evangelism was individual households (Acts 10:24, Acts 16:13-15, Acts 16:30-34). We saw the same thing happen when Jesus first began to call his disciple sin *John 1:41, 45 *and Mark 2:14-15.
And keep in mind that in the apostles’ day, the household included more than just the immediate family. It included servants, families of servants, friends, and even neighbors.
Essentially, new believers shared their faith with other members of their household. The gospel spread through these personal networks of relationships.
Historically, we know that most people who come to faith do so because of the witness of a friend or relative. It’s not that programs and events are not important at all. They just don’t compare with personal conversations.
Of course, there is a question that ask we have to ask ourselves here:
When someone gets to know you, does it make easier for you to share your faith or harder?
This kind of evangelism is difficult, because the main evidence is how the gospel has transformed your own life. You are sharing your faith with people who know you. So your life will either add to your gospel appeals or detract from it.
You cannot preach the gospel with just your life. You will eventually need to use words. But your life does have the ability to add weight to those words. You don’t need to be perfect to share the gospel with others, but you do need to be joyful, honest, humble, and loving.
If you are struggling to reach others for Christ, it is almost always because of a lack of joy, authenticity, humility, or love.
Take a moment to think through your network of relationships. Are there people close to you who need to hear about Christ? Maybe this is just a casual conversation after work. Maybe it involves invited some neighbors over for dinner. Maybe you need to make a trip to grab coffee with an old friend.
Make a list of people like this and begin praying for them. Look for ways to build those relationships, and take advantage of any opportunities you get to share Christ.
There is an account in Acts 8:26-40 about Phillip witnessing to a man from Ethiopia. We have much to learn from Phillip’s gospel presentation.
But it all starts with Phillip being led by the Spirit into the wilderness for this divine appointment.
We probably won’t get such obvious direction from God, but we will get “divine appointment” at times. God will orchestrate events and circumstances to give us opportunities to share our faith.
This means that we need to be looking for these opportunities.
And we need to be aware that it might be someone who is not like us. It’s not hard to understand that an African official would be very unlike a Jewish common person.
We need to be ready for God to use us in the lives of people who are unlike us. It is significant that one of the first conversion stories is a story of a Jewish man leading a black man to Christ. The gospel breaks down barriers and dissolves our prejudices.
Everyone is worthy of our kind, respectful witness.
And at least part of showing that respect involves giving space for the other person to ask questions and guide the conversation. Notice that in Acts 8, Phillip doesn’t give a rehearsed monologue. Instead, he asked questions. He tried to understand what was troubling or concerning to this man he had just met.
When we bring our own list of canned questions to these conversations, we risk losing their attention. Don’t fill the entire conversation up with questions that the other person is not even asking. Spend time listening, asking questions, and thoughtfully responding.
When we use the Scripture (as Phillip did) to answer those questions, we will have the authority and weight of God’s words, not just our own experience and ideas.
We know that Phillip was a gifted public speaker (see Acts 8:4). We may not all be able to follow his example in that way, but we can all look for these divine opportunities to share our faith.
In Acts 18 and 19, we find the Apostle Paul engaged in conversation with unbelievers. The two Greek words that are used for these conversations have the idea of reasoning, arguing, and persuading.
He was humble and fearless in his approach. Not afraid of debating difficult topics or answering tough questions.
Paul was not afraid to expose the gospel to the full light of objections. He didn’t present a passive speech. He didn’t present the gospel as one of many reasonable alternatives.
He reasoned and persuaded from the Scriptures. In other words, he engaged in dialogue, not just monologue.
Gospel conversations are more valuable than gospel presentations.
Paul answered questions and addressed objections. He listened to their feedback, and customized his message to address their objections.
One commentator said it this way:
“Paul did not preach in an authoritarian “don’t ask me any questions” mode. There was give-and-take, a willingness to field questions, an effort to help the listeners discover truth for themselves.” – Tim Keller
Now, let me ask you a question. When is the last time you’ve had that kind of conversation with an unbeliever?
When was the last time you sat down with someone who did not believe what you do about God and the Scriptures? When was the last time you just talked and listened to them?
At one point in his ministry, Paul worked as a tentmaker (Acts 18:1-8). During this time, Paul was not in full-time ministry. He worked during the week, and he preached in the synagogue on the weekends.
You say, “Why would Paul waste time getting a job? Why doesn’t he just spend all of his time preaching the gospel?”
Well, there are a lot of answers to that question:
First (and most practically), he needed the money. Remember, he is pioneering work in these cities. There is not a network of believers who are providing food and housing for him.
Second, he wants to guard against accusations of greed. He doesn’t want people to think that he’s only out for their money. We read this in some of the letters he writes later to these churches.
Many Christians feel like working their jobs is a barrier to sharing their faith. It means that most of their week is spent doing things that they have to do. Maybe even things that they wish they didn’t have to do.
But in some ways, this is a great advantage.
You see, people expect pastors to talk about God and about their church. And whether or not people say it, there is often at least an assumption that pastors have to talk about Jesus and the Bible. After all, it’s our job.
Some people even harbor suspicions that pastors are only after other people’s money. TV evangelists and prosperity preachers have done a lot to feed this suspicion.
But if you are not a full-time pastor, you are not open to those kinds of accusations.
In the midst of a busy and (at times) stressful life, your sacrifices to God are a powerful testimony to the grace of God.
Not only that. You also get to work and interact with unbelievers all week. That means that you are at a decided advantage when it comes to reaching people who don’t know Christ.
If you are Christian, your labors at home and work are never wasted. They are an offering of praise to God. They are a visible way for you to show your neighbors, co-workers, and friends that Jesus is Lord of All. He deserves your best work, your most creative efforts, your highest satisfaction, your most careful attention.
There are times when Paul spends a very short time in a city, sharing the gospel and starting churches. But there are other times when he moves in somewhere and spends some time there.
In Acts 18:11, we learn that Paul stayed a year and a half, teaching and evangelizing. This is a very long time for Paul to stay in one place. And it’s a very important strategy for reaching your community.
Let me give you one more reason why this kind of evangelism needs to be part of our lives.
If you only share the gospel in passing conversations, you can completely by-pass two of the most important qualities in evangelism – authenticity and love.
When you witness to a stranger on the street, two things are always true. You don’t know them, and they don’t know you.
And here’s the danger in that. You don’t have to live a consistent Christian life, because they don’t know you. They don’t know any different.
And you don’t have to make a real effort to sacrifice for them or show love to them, because you don’t know them. They don’t expect you to do anything out of the ordinary.
But when you focus on long-term evangelism, you have a chance to do both of those things. You have a chance to give generously, and you have a chance to let them see into your life.
They’ll see how you treat your wife, how you interact with your kids, how you keep your home, how you laugh, how you sing, how you entertain yourselves, and most importantly, how you connect all of that to Christ.
These are just a few of the principles and strategies that we can pull from the book of Acts. Hopefully, this will be an encouragement to find even more.
The history of the church is the history of God’s mission in this world. Get your church engaged in this mission.