At the center of any culture are values—convictions of the mind, and passions of the heart.
When we lead well, we’re asking ourselves key questions:
- What do we believe?
- What do we care about?
- What is the most important thing we need to be doing right now?
These are the issues and conversations that stir you up so much that when you talk about them, you’ll stay up late at night brainstorming ideas, and talk to other people about them. A strong culture has deeply embedded values. You see them, you hear them, and you feel them!
Values are what we embed deeply into the DNA of our lives and churches. As followers of Jesus, we draw our evangelism values from our Lord and Savior and what we find in Scripture. This foundation provides a platform from which we can build cultures of evangelism. Let’s take a closer look at several key values related to this conversation.
Value 1: Eternity Matters
A poll by the Pew Research Center found that 96% of evangelical Christians (regardless of race) believe in heaven and 91% of evangelicals believe in hell. For Catholics, though it is lower (90% believe in heaven, 74% believe in hell), it is still a vast majority. What is maybe most surprising is that even in the general population as a whole, 73% believe in heaven and 60% believe in hell. In postmodern America, belief in heaven AND hell are still the majority view.
Why do we have an evangelism problem? Why are we not more passionate to tell people about Jesus?
So why, if almost 100% of evangelical Christians believe in both heaven and hell, and those views still influence a majority of Americans, do we have an evangelism problem? If we believe people will either spend an eternity in heaven of wholeness and happiness with God or else spend an eternity in hell without hope and without God, why are we not more passionate to tell people about Jesus? I’ve been wrestling with these questions for decades.
I think it stems from the hard truth that we aren’t teaching about heaven and hell because it’s not one of our driving values.
Value 2: Heaven and Hell are Real
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17).
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
In Scripture, the reality of hell is the flip side to the reality of heaven. Jesus spent time talking about both the peril of hell and the hope of heaven. The existence of a real and eternal hell is just as biblical as a real and eternal heaven. While some today would love to believe in the existence of heaven but reject the reality of hell, it’s just not biblical.
Scripture doesn’t get into the specifics of what hell is like, but it does clearly tell us that it is real, eternal, and something to be feared. While we don’t have a clear picture of heaven, God’s Word repeatedly tells us that it’s God’s dwelling place. His throne is there, the angels are there, and the Lord Jesus Christ is there. We also know that the embodied existence we will receive when Christ comes again and creates the new heavens and the new earth is something to be anticipated as the fulfillment of all of Jesus’ promises. We shall be like Jesus, for we shall see him as he is.
Value 3: God is Eternal
We value eternity because God is eternal. Scripture repeatedly tells and shows us this indelible truth:
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God…” (Isaiah 40:28).
“The eternal God is your dwelling place…” (Deut. 33:27a).
“Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).
The word eternal means “everlasting, having no beginning and no end.” I don’t know about you, but that’s hard for me to wrap my head around. Think about it. We measure everything in minutes, hours, days and years. But God is eternal—he transcends all time. He has no beginning or end. He has always been and will continue forever and ever.
When we really grasp this eternality of God and his promise to us, it changes what we value.
When we really grasp this eternality of God and his promise to us, it changes what we value. It changes how we think about our lives and how we see and respond to others who have not yet found their way back to God. I love this quote from John Wesley: “I judge all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity.”
We must pray for the lost and listen for the heartbeat of the Holy Spirit to show us when and how to talk about Jesus with them. The price of eternity is one we must be willing to pay.
Called to Share
I came to Christ through the revival that hit through the Jesus movement in the ‘70s. I memorized the Colossians 3:1-4 passage:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (ESV).
That verse moved me. It caused me to look up and to care about heaven and hell and eternity. Paul’s words to the church in Colossae drove me; it motivated me in my relationships.
I remember my missionary summer in Ireland. I was driven to want the people we were meeting to come to know Jesus and confess his name. I knew that was a top priority, a core priority, a burning priority, because when we set our mind on the things above, on Jesus, it’s deep in our soul and our heart.
Do you remember the song, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”? It was written by a woman who went blind. She wrote:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in His wonderful face,
and the things of earth
will grow strangely dim
in the light of His glory and grace.”
That song went down deep in my soul. Paul goes on to tell us what happens when we set our mind on things above. He says that focus leads to unity, reconciliation, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness toward each other, which then leads to a passion for people who don’t know Jesus.
As we process together what it means to adopt and live out values that allow us to share the gospel with those around us who are far from God, let us keep our minds in the right places. Let us all focus on the values laid out for us in Scripture and do our best to live them out.
My friend Dave and I have created a workbook series designed to help you focus in on your own understanding of evangelism and take a look at your current evangelism practices. Our second workbook in the series is out now and we’d love for you to download it, work through the reflection questions, and share it with your churches and faith communities. Click here to access the first workbooks in the series and don’t forget to grab a ticket to the Exponential conference in Orlando in March to continue this conversation.
Rick Richardson is Professor of Evangelism and Leadership at Wheaton College and also directs the Church Evangelism and Research Institutes for the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. Rick founded the Church Evangelism Institute and has worked with hundreds of senior pastors and their leaders in revitalizing churches through conversion growth. He worked in campus ministry for 25 years, and regularly speaks and ministers as an evangelist on campuses in many different parts of the country. More about Rick here.