Seven Lessons on Evangelization from Peter and Paul

John Kubasak

Seven Lessons on Evangelization from Peter and Paul

Our English word ‘evangelize’ comes from the Greek word euaggelion, which means “good news.” The gospel writers are the evangelists; certain varieties of Protestants are called evangelicals. We find this word all over the map of Christianity.  

All disciples of Christ share in the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)—that is, all of us are called to evangelize. That will inherently look different for us, however: “his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).  

Two apostles serve as models of evangelization for us. By the grace of God, Sts. Peter and Paul spread the fire of the gospel throughout the known world in the first century. Here are some lessons to consider in our own efforts at witnessing. 


1. Be willing to give up the world

St. Paul was already a prize rabbinical student by the time he started persecuting Christians. Being tasked with rounding up Christians was an indication of a promising future as a Pharisee—until Jesus turned his life upside down.  When writing to the Philippians, Paul addresses this: “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ” (3:7-8). 

Paul starts with a more simple description that he counts everything as loss. He feels so strongly that he then uses a more vivid word, “refuse,” to hammer home the point. Other bible translations list the word as garbage or rubbish. He saw his entire life and ministry through the lens of Jesus Christ: career, advancement, and honors as a Pharisee were worthless compared to gaining Christ. 

This is an important factor to consider. It can be very tempting to have an honors-based view of evangelization. The capital sin of pride is a very subtle foe in this. Yes, I want this friend or family member to come to Christ, but do I also want the credit? Or the appearance of being the uber-Catholic? Do I want positions, publications, or blog posts for the prestige?  


2. First things first: encountering and loving Christ…

Evangelization can be difficult and often takes training (whether formal or informal), prayer, and fasting. With that said, we cannot make the mistake that only trained apologists can witness to the Catholic faith. Anyone can witness to the saving power of Christ! Whenever Jesus healed someone, often their first instinct was to excitedly tell everyone about Jesus.  

The most important quality for someone evangelizing is a love of Christ. We come to love Him through encounters with Him: in prayer, in the sacraments, and in the active life of charity.  Our faith in Jesus grows as a result. When that happens, and the relationship deepens, our faith becomes “more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire” (1 Peter 1:7).    

The goal of our relationship with Christ is well stated by Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). We cannot give what we do not have. 


3. …but do not neglect intellectual formation

Having an encounter and love of Christ does not make intellectual formation irrelevant, however. We have to know the Catholic faith—primarily, Scripture, Tradition, and dogmas. If someone asked a specific question on one of the Church’s moral teachings, and the evangelist’s response was only, “God is love, just love one another,” how would that advance the conversation? Without defining the term of love from a Catholic perspective, the questioner walks away no clearer about the Catholic position.  

One of the most oft-quoted lines of Scripture when it comes to evangelization comes from St. Peter: “always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). He presupposes the hope that flows from relationship with Christ.  

Put another way, God intended for our intellect and heart to work together. No one will ever know everything, but we should expand our knowledge of the faith in addition to growing in love with Christ.


4. Be willing to be led in a new direction

The Holy Spirit often works in ways that are mysterious to us. Sometimes the path ahead makes sense, and sometimes we get led into unfamiliar territory. Peter, a Jew, was on mission to the Jews. He had a surprise vision about unclean foods being clean, and then received a messenger out of the blue. The Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10) was instructed to send for Peter. The apostle went; the local Jewish Christians were amazed that the Holy Spirit had been poured out onto Cornelius and his household. “Can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”(10:47)  Peter’s mission expanded quickly out of his comfort zone.   

It was no different for Paul. With his rabbinical training, his natural audience was Jews. His first stop wherever he went was to go to the synagogue. This was where his knowledge and experience were; he went toe to toe with local rabbis using all his years of schooling. As his mission went on, Jews and Gentiles alike became believers. Paul attested to the work of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) and also noted it to the Romans (15:7-13).  He also recounted a vision he had in the Jerusalem Temple in Acts 22:21, where Jesus told him that his mission was to the Gentiles. Even though a mission to the Jews was a slam dunk for Paul’s skill set, he still obeyed the promptings of the Holy Spirit and denied knowledge of Christ to no one. 


5, Have a good team 

Neither Peter nor Paul were without help.  Mark, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus, Silvanus, and more served as traveling companions, fellow workers in the Lord’s vineyard, and as scribes.  Tertius wrote down Romans from Paul’s dictation. Timothy was with Paul when the latter wrote to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians; Timothy later became the first bishop of Ephesus.  

There are also many YouTube channels that have great Catholic content.  Besides those resources, make sure to have your own back up from a prayer group, men’s or women’s group, or the friendships of fellow Catholics.  Our fellow coworkers in the Lord’s vineyard bring their own unique gifts to evangelization.  In addition, and perhaps more importantly, faithful friends are good sounding boards and personal supports.  Finally, where possible, I suggest having a regular confessor.  Having a trusted, regular confessor deepens the sacrament of confession.  When that priest comes to know you better, he can better prescribe the spiritual medicine you need. 


6, Be bold…

This is the hardest quality to emulate for many of us. Peter and Paul were willing to take on any opponent, preach the hardest sermons, and spread the gospel in the face of imprisonment and death. Paul addresses his own boldness to the Romans. He did not come across that way for any reason other than it being part of his ministerial vocation (15:15-16). Not even prison could slow down either apostle. They took it as an opportunity to preach to their jailers! Paul and Silas baptized the entire household of their jailer for Christ (Acts 16:25-34).  

Evangelization does not automatically bring up confrontation, but it can definitely accompany it. This is the case both inside and outside the Church.  Thanks to human weakness, today’s polarized climate in the Church is nothing new.  Paul went toe to toe with Peter himself to correct him fraternally (Acts 15:1-29). Both Peter and Paul make a point in their letters to address false teaches. And to the Galatians, Paul’s letter started with a brief, perfunctory greeting.  He quickly got to his point—“O foolish Galatians!” (3:1)—upbraiding them for embracing a false gospel.  

Paul wrote two letters to his spiritual son, Timothy. One of my favorite bible verses is Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, specifically used words to evoke physical competition. “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12)—yes, practicing and teaching the faith is a fight. It is a fight against evil, both in false teaching and against the evil of sin. And it is a good thing worth fighting for! Peter tells us what we fight for: to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). This is the finish line of the race we run (1 Corinthians 9:24, 2 Timothy 4:7) where a great reward awaits. It surpasses anything we could conceive of, “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). At the finish line is eternal union with Our Lord—it will be worth every trial, every time we go out on a limb, and every time we stand up for Christ. 


7, …because you never know whose ear you’ll catch

Will everyone come to a knowledge of God and faith in Jesus Christ?  Human experience tells us that the answer is ‘no.’ There will always be detractors, scoffers, and indifference. When evangelizing, one last lesson has to do with Paul’s experience at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:16-34).  

At first, Paul went to the synagogue and the marketplace to contend with anyone who would listen. The crowd brought him to the Areopagus where he preached the gospel. Some mocked him, others wanted to hear more, and only “some men” became believers (v. 32-34).  All in all, it was not a resounding success in terms of numbers. Among the believers was Dionysius the Areopagite, who later became the first bishop of Athens. Dionysius may not have been the person Paul was aiming his preaching at, but the Lord opened his ears in a special way. 


When opportunities for evangelization come up, ask for the intercession of Sts. Peter and Paul.  Take on Christ and do not be afraid!