Riot Evangelism


We live in a day when everyone is okay with our Christian faith as long as we keep it private. But the apostles in Acts do the opposite, offending many with their public testimony about Jesus.

And as [Peter and John] were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.  –Acts 4:1–4

I’m not against relationship evangelism. Maybe buying muffins and hugging people will eventually convert them to saving faith in Jesus Christ, and if so, feel free to make more muffins and give more hugs.

But my preference is riot evangelism. As we read the book of Acts, we see that the church comes into being through a Spirit-empowered sermon by Peter on the day of Pentecost (Acts 4:1–4) and not through some guy spending six months playing checkers with people, hoping to somehow earn the right to share the gospel.

Hugs or riots?

The New Testament church continued growing in large part through preaching Jesus to groups large and small. Virtually the only chapters of Acts that do not include preaching record seasons when the preachers are in prison for preaching and therefore temporarily unable to preach.

I’m not against relationship evangelism—but my preference is riot evangelism

What we do not see in Acts is Paul taking years or decades to befriend people before he feels he has the right to tell them about sin and Jesus. In short, he does not have a lot of relationships. In fact, he has more enemies than friends and seems to initiate far more riots than group hugs. But he does win a lot of converts because he preaches and God blesses.

In short, the Apostles’ strategy in Acts seems to be:

  1. Pull into town and say something controversial and offensive.
  2. Wait for a crowd to show up.
  3. Preach the gospel and call people to repent of sin and trust in Jesus.
  4. Get out of town before being murdered.
  5. Send in people like Timothy and Titus to straighten things out and establish a local church by gathering the converts.
  6. Repeat the process.

At our church, I do riot evangelism while our people do relational evangelism. Either way, however, in order for people to meet Jesus, we have to tell them about Jesus.

Public faith vs. private faith

We live in a day when everyone is okay with your Christian faith as long as you keep it private. This is a tragedy, because it means we are withholding Jesus from people who are hurting, suffering, and dead in their sin.

Do you talk about Jesus on social media? Does your family know you are a Christian? You may attend church, but do your co-workers know where you spend Sunday morning? Are you a student in a university class? When the topic of Christianity comes up and the conversation is not very positive, do you speak up and maybe say, “Since you brought it up, I’d like to talk about Jesus”?

In order for people to meet Jesus, we have to tell them about Jesus

Some of us don’t go public with our faith because we don’t want to be persecuted. I get it. Peter went public, and he was crucified upside down. But here’s the big idea: someone went public for you. Someone took the risk of offending you and told you about Jesus.

Worth the risk

The goal of life is not to escape without getting persecuted for your faith. As Christians, we want to finish this earthly life with converts who will join us with Jesus in heaven. In order for this to happen, our faith has to be public. You don’t need to be rude about it, but you do need to be honest. 

We live in a day when everyone is okay with your Christian faith as long as you keep it private

You never know when you are going to have an opportunity to talk to people about Jesus, so be prepared. The Christian life is a series of pop quizzes. In Acts 3, Peter didn’t have time to prepare an outline or write out his sermon, but it’s obvious he had studied up—and the Holy Spirit blessed that.

Study, study, study. Pray, pray, pray. Expect God to open doors to opportunities, and be faithful to walk through them.

Take courage

To be sure, it requires a lot of courage to speak up—whether that’s in front of one person or one thousand. Thankfully, God has provided us with the example of Peter for encouragement.

Early on in his life, Peter was a real coward. He flat out denied Jesus because he was afraid of the repercussions (Matt. 26:74). In Acts, however, we see Peter preaching boldly to massive crowds. In the end, as I mentioned, he courageously died a martyr’s death. What made the difference over the course of his life? The Holy Spirit.

The goal of life is not to escape without getting persecuted for your faith

We live in a culture that is increasingly hostile towards Christianity. We need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. As we obey the Scriptures, repent of sin, and walk in humility, we will learn to trust the Spirit. Talking about Jesus may never feel safe and easy, but speak up and the courage will come by faith.

Open your mouth, talk about Jesus, and trust the Holy Spirit to do his work. Then, take your beating and “endure hardship as a good soldier” like Paul told Timothy (2 Tim. 2:3, NKJV). Jesus never said he’d be handing out medals in the end for good and faithful cowards.

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