Evidently, the Early Church Didn’t Know How to Do Evangelism!

I’ve been preaching through Acts on Sunday nights and I keep getting more confused as time goes on. You see, I went to seminary and I got me an edumacation and lots o’ book-learning. I’ve been to evangelism conferences and training sessions. And, with all that I have learned about evangelism and cultural engagement, I am left with only one conclusion:

Those poor folks in the church in Jerusalem just didn’t get it.

They did not know the effective evangelism strategies that we have learned today and they didn’t know what we now know about engaging our culture in a positive and tolerant way. We have some tried and true methods and programs that we have learned through the years and they just didn’t get it.

Permit me to mention a few examples.

1) They were so confrontational!

Didn’t they know that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar? Everything we do is supposed to be positive and encouraging; uplifting. We are here to make people feel good about themselves and to show love. We have learned that it is never God’s will that we confront people directly with their sin – that will just drive them away.

Sadly, the poor Apostles just didn’t get the memo on this one. As I studied through Acts, I was horrified at the way those men shared the message of Jesus Christ. They actually looked people in the eye and told them they were guilty sinners who needed to repent.

Peter got things started off wrong on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out in power. He could have gathered everyone to join in a circle and sing, “Kumbaya,” but no! He was rude.

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:36-38

Did he expect to build people’s self-esteem by accusing them of crucifying Jesus and calling on them to repent?

And he didn’t learn from his mistakes. When he healed the lame beggar, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Had he just told them that God loved and accepted them exactly as they were, he could have gotten them all to say, “Jesus is cool.” But no, he had to go and get all mean-spirited again.

But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. Acts 3:14-15

How did he expect to win them over calling them murderers? We know better now, don’t we? We’ve learned to present the gospel of salvation with barely a mention of sin – people just won’t listen to that kind of message.

Then, of course, when the Council called Peter on the carpet for his intemperate and offensive words, he did not apologize and become more tolerant. He doubled down on his offense.

Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:10-12

Poor Peter. He just didn’t get it. Because of this, the early church was known more for what it was against than for what it was for!

2) When the culture got offended, they didn’t back off. 

One of the things we have learned in American Christianity is that if our culture is offended or angry at us, we must be doing something wrong. It’s got to be our fault. If people don’t like what we are doing, we should do something different. After all, insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, right?

But Peter and the Apostles just never figured this out. The Council politely asked them to stop preaching about Jesus in Acts 4:18 and the Christians just totally ignored that request. The next time, in Acts 5, the Council had to give the Apostles a little beating to remind them that they were offending people with their message about sin and about Jesus, but still the disciples of Christ would not listen.

It all came to an unfortunate head when Stephen preached a sermon that was way out of line, calling the religious leaders all kinds of offensive names. They finally felt the need to bounce large rocks off his head until he stopped his preaching. It didn’t have to happen, if he had just been more positive, more encouraging and more tolerant of others.

They must have been insane because no matter how often they were asked to stop it, they just kept preaching that salvation was found only through repenting and trusting in Jesus Christ.

3) They REJOICED when they suffered!

We have learned that if we are living right as Christians, God will make everything work out easy for you and you will live a happy, contented life. Isn’t that what Romans 8:28 says? Everything will work out right and you will get everything you want, if you just please God with your life. God’s greatest desire, we have learned, is to make us happy and to help us to fulfill our goals and find contentment, happiness and success in life.

But the Apostles did not understand this truth. In fact, it is possible that there was some form of mental illness rampant in the early church, a group delusion or something. When the Council threatened them and beat them, they did not regroup and figure out a new, non-offensive, more tolerant way to engage their community.

They rejoiced!  Yep, that is what I said. Look at Acts 5:41-42.

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

They were rejoicing in their suffering as if it were some sort of badge of honor to suffer for Jesus. They didn’t change their ways, even though people were getting offended. They just kept preaching that Jesus was the only hope of salvation for the entire world, even though it had been made clear that their strategy was not being well received among the Jewish leaders.

I just wish I could travel back in time and take some of the boxes of curriculum I’ve got laying around the church with me. How different the Bible story would be if we could just have given some of our modern methods to those poor souls who just didn’t know what we know today.

Of course, it’s so odd. In spite of all their failings, they still had some success.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Acts 2:41

And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:47

But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. Acts 4:4

And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, Acts 5:14 

I don’t know, it must have been a fluke. Think how much better the book of Acts could have been if those fellas had just had some of our knowledge and insight into strategies and methods.

If only they had known what we know now….



  1. says

    Jesus wasn’t very good at the church growth thing either. In Luke 4, after turning down offers to have his “needs met,” the ability to implement his political agenda and win the culture war, and celebrity status, he then went to his hometown assembly and preached a message that nearly got him killed by an angry mob.

      • Joe Blackmon says

        Rob, you’re just a narrowminded fundy who is “ignurnt” enough to believe the Bible is innerant and has the gall to think that the politcal left is way off base concerning what God does and doesn’t appove.

        And I’ll bet you’re a Yankees fan.


      • says

        That’s entirely possible, Rob.

        I thought the blog post was tongue in cheek. As such, I responded in kind.

        If this was intended as a serious critique of the ministry of Jesus Christ, then I apologize for the misunderstanding.


          • says

            I was kidding in my first post. The second was just sarcastic. Not very becoming, I know. Probably should have included the tag like Joe did.

            And just to keep my eye from twitching – “You’re” not “Your”

  2. AlVz says

    We should all be like the early church. They were teaching the pure gospel and living in FREEDOM. Messiah was ALIVE and they were telling the world. Jew and Gentile.

    The work of that church lives on today. Praise the Lord.

    • cb scott says

      And “that” Church is still working today, in many local manifestations. Praise the Lord.

  3. volfan007 says

    Dave, I cannot say “Amen!” enough about this post. Excellent insight, and something I’ve thought about, often. Southern Baptists seem to be really good at trying to cure what ails the SBC with another program. We’ve been programmed to death. What’s missing? The heart! The Early Church had the heart to live for the Lord, and win the lost. They cared more about what Jesus thought, than they did about being cool. We’re missing that a lot in today’s Church.

    Dave, I’m also preaching thru the book of Acts, right now. I’m in chapter 4, dealing with Peter and the healed lame man, where the Sanhedrin is circling around them like sharks. I am thoroughly enjoying preaching the book of Acts. Where are you? It sounds like you might be near the same place?


    • dean says

      Vol, I am offering unsolicited advice now. Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Theological Seminary, has a book called The Case For Antioch. It will be a tremendous tool for you as you go through Acts. It has some incredible insight. For example, in Acts 13:1-3 describe how while worshiping the Holy Spirit said set aside Barnabas and Saul. Nothing like that happens in the church today in America. Can you imagine having a prayer meeting where someone stands and says God just told me that Bro. Ray and Bro. John are to be missionaries? If you do not have it I recommend it to you.
      Dave, it seems to me that the church in America has become more interested in being culturally relevant than spiritually useful. The only way we can impact the lost is to win them for Christ. All evangelism must be confrontational. But that confrontation must offer Jesus as Savior. The church is asking a nation of heathens not to do what their sin nature desires to do – sin. The local church needs to be more about event and personal evangelism and less about trying to be spiritual guides for a lost nation. When we win enough we will see a change in policies. It seems like we are waiting for someone to say the magic words and this nation will stop aborting babies and outlaw homosexuality. We have to remember that America is not Israel and is not the church. She is my country and I love her but she is a lost, heathen nation.

  4. Rick Patrick says

    Dave Miller,

    NOW you’re talking!

    Addressing the culture with confrontation and a refusal to back off when there is pushback gets such a bad rap these days, even though it is biblical, courageous and always appropriate among any generation.

    • Adam G. in NC says

      How did the early church react to that “pushback”? Did they lobby their nearest Roman Senator to get favorable legislation and government? Did they take to the streets in protest…or did they suffer passively knowing that the destruction of their bodies was a real testament that they really did believe what they said. Did their persecution show that they really did value the next life more than this one?

      • Rick Patrick says

        John the Baptist denounced the political ruler’s sex scandal and got his head chopped off.

        You don’t have to be passive and silent to suffer the persecution that brings God glory. You can also speak out against evil, thus testifying to the truth of the Word of God.

          • cb scott says

            They ended as God intended. The consequences of our obedience is in the hands of God. Our accountability is to be obedient.

            Sometimes, our obedience to God mandates our appeal to Caesar and when it does, we should obey and and leave the consequences to God.

            So, “how did these two examples end?” is not the right question.

            The right question is; When is it God’s will that His children appeal to Caesar?

            There are times wherein the children of God should appeal to Caesar and we should do so without regard to the consequences of our obedience.

          • volfan007 says


            Amen, Bro. You nailed it.

            And, sometimes, when we preach the Gospel, and teach the Bible, it might not end with a huge crowd coming to Church. Because, people will challenged to be saved, and they’ll be challenged to repent of sin, and walk close to God. And, they might not want to do that….


          • Adam G. in NC says

            Essentially, I agree. Pursuit of God’s will without regard to the consequences. I was mainly framing this in light of the recent “culture war” discussion. I think you were assuming I disagreed with Mr. Patrick. Not so. Just pushing a little deeper into the “why’s” and “how’s” of it.

            That said, don’t you think there is a right way and a wrong way to react to the “pushback” we get from society’s rejection of the gospel? When the majority disagrees with our beliefs do you believe it is biblical to do a legislative “work around”? Does this make them more receptive to the gospel?

          • Adam G. in NC says

            Would you say that Christians “as a cultural demographic” appealed to Caesar to relieve their suffering. Would you even say that was the reasons behind why Paul appealed to Caesar?

            Would you say that Paul appealed to Caeser to better facilitate the spread of the gospel without regard to the suffering of himself or the rest of his congregations?

  5. Max says

    “Now when they saw the boldness and unfettered eloquence of Peter and John and perceived that they were unlearned and untrained in the schools [common men with no educational advantages], they marveled; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

    Effective evangelism is birthed from “being with Jesus”, rather than “edumacation and lots o’ book-learning.” Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with education (I even have some), but it’s revealed truth that evangelizes. Education does not produce one ounce of revelation – being with Jesus does. Revealed truth turns preacher boys into men of God. Men of God evangelize.

    “If only they had known what we know now….” A lost world is dying to know what we know! If we want them to live, we need to unlearn most of what we know, spend some time with Jesus, and hit the street with the evangelistic zeal and boldness of the early church. The 21st century pulpit doesn’t need to go to another evangelism conference, it needs to go to the wilderness.

    • Christiane says

      I don’t know how ministers could manage without the strength gained from going on regular spiritual retreats for prayer and contemplation.

  6. Bill Mac says

    Let’s face it, evangelicalism, especially in America is a huge business. I often wonder what the apostles would think about it. I used to listen to Christian radio all the time, but it all just became noise. Everyone had a system, a method, or a secret. I find Christian bookstores just oppressive, with their loads of absolutely useless “Jesus junk”

    I think the wisdom of the early church was knowing when to be confrontational. And to whom. I do think rick gets it.

    • AlVz says

      Yes!! Christian radio is far from being near to Jesus anymore!! I have only one show that I listen to. The book story is just about the same.
      SO sad.

      You know the early church just told people about the cross and new covenant living. They know that the 613 laws where going nowhere fast. They witnessed a new way and that was the message.

    • Rob Ayers says

      I agree with you Bill about the business of Christianity. I refuse to buy programs or methods that in the main are faddish or popular. When the rage of “Purpose Driven Church” was ongoing, I was one of the few who refused to buy in, though I got the book and read it. I have great problems with ministries such as Dave Ramsey who (while admittedly is a great help to many) who offers his “Financial Peace” University which gives principles and lectures to help people in financial distress at a cost of over $100 per couple. Who would have thought that biblical principles and the Love of God was for sale?

      By the way buddy – you are entitled to your opinion :-)


        • Dave Miller says

          The Prayer of Jabez was a good example of truth gone wrong. There was a vein of truth that Wilkinson tapped into – that we should pray aggressively, asking God for big things!

          But to make an obscure story in the genealogies of Chronicles the central teaching of the Bible on prayer strained credulity. In other words, he took a sliver a truth and tried to construct a house with it.

          Most error is a truth misinterpreted or misapplied.

          • says

            What is that quote, that discernment isn’t about telling right from wrong but telling right from almost right?

            Most of us know pure wrong plainly stated. It’s the disguise that gets us.

        • Max says

          Yard sales in my area are cluttered with “Prayer of Jabez” and “Purpose Driven Life” at bargain-basement prices. Titles by Piper, Keller and Driscoll are also becoming more prominent on garage sale tables. I pass those deals up, but occasionally run across some great Bible finds – trying to locate some NIV’s now that aren’t the gender-neutral “update” to pass along to folks.

    • dean says

      Bill, my local Christian bookstore has a big sell on their Y2K books if you are interested! They are just on the other side of the gopher wood scented book marks and beside the devotionals for ticked off ladies with menopause. Happy reading, Dean

  7. says

    Great post, Dave.

    When someone says “no” to the gospel, and Jesus said most folks would, what they’re really saying is “I don’t see the value”. The value is two-fold: We don’t go to hell, and we get to live an exciting life. The unfortunate part is that the natural man (whoops .. I bought a 2011 NIV Friday .. guess I need to say “person”…) CANNOT understand how the Christian life can be exciting, rewarding, fruitful, etc. So we’re left with, really, the fact that lost folks are lost and bound for hell if they don’t place their faith in Jesus.

    If we’re pushing how great it is to be a follower of Jesus, no wonder the hit ratio is low. We’re speaking what is, the the natural person, a foreign language.

    I was going to stop there but another idea hit me and I’ve learned not to waste the few I still get. The only thing that we’re told the natural world can perceive is the existence of God .. all men can see the invisible characteristics of God through the creation, and Jesus said the Holy Spirit would “… convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment”. If we’re trying to “win the lost” by going outside the things the lost world can comprehend, no wonder we’re failing.

  8. Jess Alford says

    Dave Miller,

    WOW! I’ll have to say I have a whole new respect for you. Now the cat is out of the bag. You showed your true colors, you are guilty, and there is no way out of the hole you have dug for yourself. Sir, you preach the truth.

  9. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    1) They were so confrontational!
    2) When the culture got offended, they didn’t back off.
    3) They REJOICED when they suffered!

    Sounds like your typical Bible-believing Calvinists. :-)

    (Half-joking, half-serious) Early Church Christians seem like Calvinists or visa versa, Calvinists seem like Early Church Christians when it comes to obeying the Great Commission.

    • Dave Miller says

      Honestly, if you feel the need to make everything about Calvinism, whether you are for it or against it, you do not have your priorities in order.

      Half joking or not, this is NOT about Calvinism and I am not going to let it go there.

      I’m leaving this comment up as a warning. Future comments in this vein (either side) will be summarily consigned to comment oblivion.

        • cb scott says

          Comment Oblivion is blogger purgatory. I have been there many times and Debbie Kaufman, Bart Barber, Peter Lumpkins, Lydia Seller of Purple, and Tim Rogers prayed me out.

  10. John K says

    SBC Voices is going confrontational for the Gospel ! I don’t know if I should get the popcorn out or join in. For the sake of the Gospel Jesus took his audience and followers from the thousands down to just 12.

    “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”
    John 6:29-71

  11. Dave Miller says

    Permit me to give the counter-point to my own post. As I said, there is a danger in soft-pedaling the hard truths of the faith – that Jesus is the only way to God and that we are all guilty sinners before him. We cannot ignore these hard truths and still hold to the gospel.

    But, on the other hand, we can avoid being personally offensive, obnoxious or insensitive during our presentations of the gospel or our cultural engagement. I could write a post that would seem to be in contradistinction to this post confronting the cultural insensitivity we sometimes display in our engagement.

    And there is nothing wrong with attempting to be culturally relevant as long as we do not shield people from the hard truths in the process.

    I believe that we have erred greatly in avoiding the subject of sin and attempting to be non-confrontational in the proclamation of the gospel. But we would also err if we use this truth to mimic Fred Phelps.

    Balance, you know.

    • volfan007 says


      Amen, again. And, I’d say let the Gospel be offensive, but we shouldnt be offensive. We dont need to act like jerks, and then blame it on the lost crowd for hating the Gospel. The Gospel, and the truth of God’s Word will be offensive enough.


    • Christiane says

      there is a reason people cannot see the SBC as the same as Phelps’ group:

      the SBC definitely has some people in it who are able to practice a form of repentance which Phelps’ people do not practice.

      The concept of ‘repentance’ among people like Phelps and his group LACKS an element that appeared among the Hebrews in Our Lord’s time . . .
      Repentance was seen as needed because men had ‘turned away’ from God. This turning away from God brought evil, separation, and suffering.
      In contrast, the MAIN Hebraic meaning of the word ‘repentance’ is that people begin to ‘turn toward’ God again,

      This Hebraic expression of repentance, sometimes called ‘teshuva’, involves focusing on the superior state being approached rather than the inferior prior state being departed from.

      In short, some people in the SBC practice the kind of Christian repentance where the journeying of the mind, the heart, the soul, the spirit, the strength of a person becoming increasingly focused on Christ.

      This process involves being drawn steadily towards the Light of Christ.
      . . . . the one who has been ‘in darkness’ begins the turn towards the ‘light’ and in the Book of Ephesians 5:9,
      we come to know this:
      “(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)”

      darkness is the absence of light . . . Christians must not continue to dwell in the darkness once they have begun the great journey towards the light of Christ.

      Christ, the Light of the World, demands their ‘all’.
      Most Christian people, SBC folk included, are a ‘work in progress’ in this way, but they don’t turn back, once they have begun.

      You can’t say that about Fred Phelps. He still chooses to dwell on the dark instead of the Light.

  12. says

    Good…. Good… Good…
    I just read this article by the late Vance Havner…(http://vancehavner.com/?page_id=286)

    “If the time, money, and effort spent in trying to work up evangelism in lukewarm churches were spent in calling the churches themselves to repentance, confession, cleansing, and empowering, evangelism would be the natural result. We are trying to produce the results without the cause, the fruit without the tree. The New Testament epistle writers concentrated not on stirring up Christians to evangelize but rather on developing healthy Christians through spiritual food, rest, and exercise. Healthy Christians are naturally soul-winners, by life and by lip.

    One of England’s best preachers has said:

    I am never tired of saying that what the church needs to do is not to organize evangelistic campaigns to attract outside people, but to begin herself to live the Christian life. If she did that, men and women would be crowding into our buildings. They would say, what is the secret of this?”

    • Max says

      “We are trying to produce the results without the cause, the fruit without the tree.” Amen!!

      A great article by Havner. Unfortunately, repentance is not a 21st century church priority. Vance Havner was a gifted evangelist. He not only had wisdom, but a heap of common sense. Too bad that his writings & sermons are not on today’s recommended reading list for young preacher boys.

  13. Bart Barber says


    At the beginning of Acts, the church was held in favor by all the people. At the end of Acts, the Jewish leaders in Rome told Paul the only thing they knew about Christianity was that everyone everywhere spoke evil of it. They went from great PR to horrible PR in just a few years.

    And that was the beginning of the greatest period of growth that Christianity has ever known.

  14. Bruce H. says

    When I am offended, my mind will not release it easily. It becomes part of my thoughts and I cannot stop thinking about it. It is the offense of the cross that keeps the truth on the mind of the sinner. It is a principle, when used effectively, brings forth results, both good and bad.

    As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame. Romans 9:33

    As our society leans toward Sodom, we must offend them with the cross.

  15. says

    We must not assume to know their hearts at the time the Apostels were sharing the Gospel, they may have been led by the Holy Spirit in Righteous anger and love when they shared it during their day. I would Never presume or even attempt to know more than Jesus especially then.
    Jesus brought me a method called “Way of The Master”, by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. You can view it @ livingwaters.com.

    This method is non-confrontational but allows you to see yourself in the mirror so to speak by using a few of the Ten Commandments. People must realize they have a Sinful nature and are doomed without Christ before they receive the “Good News”, then you share what Jesus did for them.
    This method works on everyone because we all have a conscience. Some more hardened than most, but when we share this method we get 99.9 % more thank you’s and people wanting to surrender than by using Romans Roads or just trying to convince a person he needs the aspirin when he does not know he has a head ache.

    If you all do not have a method you must pray and ask God for help. He put this method in my path and He placed my Husband in my path who also used this method and now we walk in faith and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, and because God is so awesome He decides who needs to hear the message and its for His glory.

    We also teach these classes as a one day crash corse and prepare a folder with valuable resources and Million Dollar Bill Tracts. We cannot tell you enough how great this method has been. We thank Jesus for giving us Ray Comfort and this method assures no false converts because its all in for Christ or nothing. God Bless!

  16. Rosie says

    We can never presume to know the past and sound more intelligent than God. We must trust the Holy Spirit knew what he was doing with all the Apostles during that time.

    Most who share their faith must Trust in Jesus and also abide in Him and He in us otherwise He cannot send anyone out to share.

    People today don’t know they have a sinful nature and instead of being outspoken to just tell them is not going to work as well as explaining with the Ten Commandments that they do.
    Using the good person test is a way to share. For more info check our website. 99.9 % of the people we shared Christ with, wanted to know the truth and were very thankful for the method used. A few have cried and surrendered on the spot.
    To see more about this method go to our website. http://Hope4TheCityLV.com
    God Bless!