Gratitude Motivates Evangelism
Is there a distinctly Free Grace perspective on how to motivate Christians to talk about Jesus and the offer of eternal life with their unbelieving friends, neighbors, co-workers or family members?
There’s plenty of counsel on how pastors can motivate church members to witness. There’s a wealth of books in print, online resources, video courses, and entire ministries devoted to helping pastors get some evangelism momentum going in their churches. So pastors follow the advice by preaching sermons that emphasize the imperative contained in the “great commission” passages (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15ff; Luke 24:46-48; John 15:16, 20:21; Acts 1:8). Pastors experiencing frustration may warn disobedient churches of possible discipline (Revelation 2 and 3). Tender hearted pastors may extol Jesus as the example to emulate (Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10), or illuminate the miserable plight of those who live in darkness. If they have the means, they may retain the services of an evangelist to conduct training meetings or lead video-based training sessions. Some churches still have a strong affinity for the ministry of itinerant evangelists or revivalists whom they retain for a few days to do the work the church members should be doing.
The possibilities are almost endless. But it seems to me that most recommendations are flavored with “must do,” perhaps leaving a lingering taste of law rather than grace. There’s always some measure of imperative (duty), admonition (guilt), or reproof (shame) baked into these offerings. Beleaguered pastors who earnestly desire to see their church members active in evangelism sometimes reach for most anything.
So the question remains, is there a distinctively Free Grace way to motivate apathetic Christians to reignite evangelistic passion? If so, how do Free Grace pastors reframe the privilege of witnessing for Jesus from a “have to” to a “get to?” What can we do to free pastors from feeling the need to resort to law yet insure that church members spontaneously pray for open doors (Colossians 4:3), enter the opened doors (2 Corinthians 2:12), and use apt words to make the most of every opportunity (Colossians 4:5-6)?
The answer is found in the New Testament. There we find two suggested strategies: (1) remind people of God’s blessing in their lives (2) reconnect them with God’s love.
Remember God’s Blessings
Isn’t it remarkable that Jesus often told those whose lives he had touched to keep quiet? Yet, in spite of the Lord’s admonition, those who experienced his gracious blessings could not help themselves. They broadcast the good news of what God had done for them far and wide. This motif recurs in the Gospels with different people, in different settings, with different audiences.
Mark 7:31-37 tells the story of a deaf man presented to Jesus with a request that he heal him. Perhaps his family, friends, or neighbors brought him to Jesus. Whoever it may have been, they “begged Him to put His hand on him” to heal this poor soul (32). When the deed was accomplished (33-35), Jesus told them to keep the matter private (36). His warning was unheeded. It seems Jesus warned them several times, but each time they broadcast the news even more widely. The good news was announced loud and clear to those who had not yet heard or believed it!
Consider the two blind men upon whom Jesus bestowed sight (Matthew 9:27-31). He touched their eyes, immediately restoring their sight. The Lord told them, “See that no one knows it (30).” But how could one so blessed, the recipient of such amazing grace, possibly keep quiet? They naturally spread the good news throughout the whole region (31). Once again, those who had not yet believed in Jesus saw clear evidence that the good news was true!
Do you see the pattern? When a person experiences the blessings of God, when his gracious hand touches us, the beneficiary of God’s grace cannot be restrained. They tell anyone and everyone the good news of what Jesus has done for them.
This pattern is a common feature of the Gospels. There’s the paralytic’s running dialog – debate, even – with the Pharisees about the indisputable facts of what Jesus has done and what those facts imply (John 9). A leper wouldn’t keep quiet despite Jesus’s admonition say nothing to anyone (Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-44; Luke 5:12-14).
Perhaps this is the principle we’re looking for: recipients of God’s grace cannot restrain themselves from proclaiming the good news, even when God or man warns them to remain silent.
Reflect on God’s Love
1 John 4:19 says, “we love because he first loved us.” This pithy summary of verse 10 tells us that Christian love depends on God’s love for us. It is the redeemed heart’s automatic response when we reflect on God’s love.
Our hearts grow cold when we divert our attention from God’s gracious love; “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother whom he has seen cannot love God… (v. 20). It warms our hearts when our thoughts return to God’s love for us, filling us with love for the Lord and our fellow believers (v. 7, 21).
When love for God fills our hearts, that love spills out into our relationships. When we abide in him, the Spirit which he has given us (v. 13) will surely feel and manifest God’s love for the world (v. 14). Love is first among the fruit the Spirit produced in us (Galatians 5:22).
From Gratitude to Compassion
This leads us to fascinating research about the nature of gratitude. It turns out that gratitude — the awareness that we been blessed by another — is statistically and positively associated with empathy. Empathy, the awareness that another person is enduring hardship, results in compassion. Compassion leads to action intended to alleviate that hardship. It works like this:
Gratitude > Empathy > Compassion
Those Gospel stories are the written record of gratitude responses. People experienced God’s blessing. Gratitude overwhelmed them. That, coupled with the desire to glorify God, led to passionate proclamation of what Jesus had done so that others might enjoy the blessing of knowing Jesus.
 Kim, Grace Y., David C. Wang, Peter C. Hill. “An Investigation into the Multifaced Relationship between Gratitude, Empathy, and Compassion” Journal of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing 2:1 (2018), 23-44.
Motivating Evangelistic Passion
Here then is a way to motivate church members to active evangelism, a process that relies on grace rather than law or duty.
It begins by reconnecting believers who do not evangelize with their own experiences of God’s grace and blessings. Pastors who trust that “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), help people arrange themselves before God in such a way that he can ignite their passion once again. This involves a two-pronged approach: the preaching calendar and teaching two spiritual disciplines.
Make God’s love and grace your major preaching theme for the next year. Yes, perhaps it sounds a bit too much – a whole year? My experience (18 years a church consultant, trainer, and mentor of pastors) tells me that pastors embrace change (cognitive and behavioral) much faster than church folk. Your goal isn’t conveying information; it is to change how believers see themselves. This is a slow process. It can take many months.
If you relish dwelling on technical details in your sermons, you may need to polish other skills. Connect the sermon to the emotions. You want them to feel God’s love and grace, to experience it afresh – not merely to understand it. Remember the paradigm: Gratitude (not knowledge alone!) > Empathy > Compassion.
Two spiritual disciplines
Two spiritual disciplines will amplify your preaching’s effectiveness. The “gratitude letter” and the daily “three blessings” discipline reconnect Christians with their experiences of grace and blessing.
Ask your people to write a letter of gratitude to God. It should be recall 3 to 5 specific ways God blessed, with an explanation of why these were blessings and how their lives were changed as a result. Once the letter is written, direct them to read it aloud to the Lord. You may even ask them to share the letter with trusted friends. Have them file the letter and review it from time to time. Within a matter of weeks, they will feel uplifted in spirit and experience positive emotions toward others.
“Three blessings” is a daily exercise that focuses their attention on various ways God is still at work in their lives. Each night they set aside ten minutes to reflect on what went well during the day. These could be something as simple as a fine meal enjoyed with friends, a moment of solemn joy, or a short nap. Recording them draws attention to God’s grace on a daily basis.
Gratitude, not obligation, as a primary motive for Christian living is a hallmark of Free Grace theology. Relying on grace to nurture evangelistic passion among Christians is good theology and good science.
Isn’t it amazing what grace can do?