D. Scott Hildreth on Social Distancing Does Not Need to Slow Down the Spread of the Gospel

Image: Kate Kalvach/Unsplash
Image: Kate Kalvach/Unsplash

Director of the Lewis A. Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies and Assistant Professor of Global Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, D. Scott Hildreth was recently a guest on the Stetzer Leadership Podcast. The following article is intended as a companion to this episode, entitled “Is Evangelism Even Possible During COVID-19?” Topics discussed include personal and small group evangelism, demystifying the process of evangelism, and principles for training everyone to share their faith. You can listen to the full podcast on StetzerLeadershipPodcast.com or stream on your preferred application.

“How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing? And how can they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14)

With these three questions, the apostle Paul highlights the importance of personal evangelism, specifically our verbal witness. It is true that Christians should perform acts of compassion and demonstrate love and justice. We should help the poor, feed the hungry, and care for the oppressed and neglected. However, we dare not neglect the one responsibility that Christians alone bear, which is sharing Christ with a lost world.

But how?

In a season of pandemic, this is the pressing question. Close contact is frowned upon, even prohibited in some places. Personal interaction with the outside world is limited and the activities that provided social encounters aren’t happening. How can we evangelize when personal space is at a premium?

First, it is important to remember that lack of relational freedom is not uncommon. Around the world, many Christians live in contexts where it is illegal or unacceptable to share their faith. In many of these places, the church is growing and people are coming to faith. In other words, evangelism can happen (and is happening) despite limits in personal interaction.

While it is true that most of us are limited in our abilities to meet and minister to new people, none of us are completely isolated. We may not be talking to strangers, but we are talking with family members, friends, co-workers, classmates, and others that are close to us.

In the classic work, Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green points out that early Christians (who also faced persecution) concentrated their evangelism efforts on their “families” or “households.” He notes that in this context, the family included blood-relatives, but also co-workers and friends. In our COVID-19 world, these are people “inside the bubble.” As Green observed, “Christian missionaries made a deliberate point of gaining whatever households they could as lighthouses, so to speak, from which the gospel could illuminate the surrounding darkness” (Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, 321).

Of course, we want to share Christ as broadly as possible, but even in this season of limited exposure, there are pathways for evangelism. If we want to share Christ effectively, we need not look further than those around us. We can engage in bubble evangelism.

Second, effective evangelism requires us to remember that we are not alone. Evangelism is a spiritual activity. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would empower the witness. (Acts 1:8) He also taught that the Holy Spirit is active in the lives of seekers. (Jn. 16:8-11).

In this “unprecedented” moment (aren’t you tired of this word!), evangelism is difficult, even inside our bubbles. However, a season like this also exposes cracks in our lives; so many are facing our own mortality, insecurities, and brokenness. We realize that much of what we had hoped in doesn’t bring lasting joy. As Christians, we can be sure these realizations are the work of the Holy Spirit and provide pathways for evangelism.

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Source: Christianity Today