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 Outreach vs. Evangelism



It is so disconcerting that in 2016 some people still do not know the difference between OUTREACH and EVANGELISM. What’s worse is they don’t care to know, because they THINK they know what they are being called to do–as if the One who truly calls us tells us that standing on the streets while we pass out Bible tracts and Christian pamphlets, books, brochures, as well as other kinds of so-called Christian paraphernalia, is doing OUTREACH.

It is a shame how some of us have blurred the lines between OUTREACH and EVANGELISM. Knowing the difference between OUTREACH and EVANGELISM will help us to see the clear distinctions between the two, once again.

Indubitably, Christ describes what His disciples do when they are doing outreach. The apostle Matthew writes:  

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ ~ Matthew 25:34-40, ESV 

Let there be no doubt about it.  OUTREACH, for example, is providing a LITERAL cold cup of water for a thirsty individual. Jesus says: “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42, ESV). To use a more contemporary OUTREACH example, it would be Christian dentists offering citywide FREE dental assistance. Both a cup of cold water for someone who is thirsty and free dental assistance for people who have dental issues are examples of OUTREACH, because they meet the PHYSICAL needs of people (no matter whether the people are lost OR saved souls). Therefore, OUTREACH is providing Christian service and charity, as well as social action or public involvement (praising, acknowledging or celebrating the Gospel YET sharing it with no one).

On the other hand, it is the apostle Paul who writes about how Timothy’s evangelism should be done. He strongly encourages Timothy—one of Christ’s disciples—to:

preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. …As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. ~ 2 Timothy 4:2, 5, ESV

In the case of EVANGELISM, it primarily is sharing verbally, as well as sharing in print, the Word of Life (the Gospel of Christ). Jesus says: “…Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15, ESV). Apostle Paul writes: “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. …For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:10, 13-15, ESV).

Let there be no doubt about it. EVANGELISM, for example, is meeting the SPIRITUAL needs of the people in communities all over this world (mostly the spiritual needs of lost souls). Spreading the Gospel of Christ FREELY via public preaching is EVANGELISM, because evangelism provides a communicated message—the Gospel of Christ—that includes a warning about sin and the consequences of sin, an explanation of the Gospel of Christ (the ONLY solution God has provided for sin), and a call to true repentance.

Both outreach (healing) and evangelism (proclaiming/preaching) are included in the verses that Luke writes:  

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. ~ Luke 9:1-6, ESV

There can be no doubt about it. Believers in Christ (disciples of Christ) are called to do BOTH—to do OUTREACH and EVANGELISM. BOTH are NECESSARY. This truth is why the Lord did both. For example, on one occasion, He preached numerous kingdom parables publicly to the great crowds (while outside sitting in a small boat). This is classic evangelism—meeting the SPIRITUAL needs of people. On another occasion, the Lord is moved to heal the sick in the great crowds that followed Him, and He also feeds them with two fish and five loaves of barley bread (cf. Matthew 13 and Matthew 14:13-21). This is classic outreach—meeting the physical needs of people.   

Finally, since so many people today are calling OUTREACH the handing out of Bible tracts and Christian pamphlets, books, brochures, as well as other kinds of so-called Christian paraphernalia, the one point I want to make clear is that just standing on the streets while handing out Christian literature IS NOT OUTREACH. If the truth be told, it also is barely EVANGELISM! Selah (pause and calmly think about that)!