Four Illustrations for Evangelism

By James M. Rochford

God uses multiple analogies for the art and science of evangelism. Instead of giving us a manual on how to do evangelism, he gives us several pictures of what a good evangelist looks like and how they handle themselves. While practical suggestions are helpful in evangelism, everyone is different in their gifts and talents. Therefore, it makes more sense to begin by teaching the theory of evangelism before considering methods or formulas. Consider four different analogies that God uses to explain the work of evangelism. God compares a mature evangelist to: (1) farmers, (2) fishermen, (3) soldiers, and (4) and ambassadors. All four pictures are helpful in understanding a robust view of how to effectively share Christ with others.

(1) Farmers

Jesus compared evangelism to a farmer spreading seeds on the soil (Mt. 13:1-23). He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Mt. 9:37). Likewise, Paul compared evangelism to planting, watering, and growing the seed (1 Cor. 3:5-10), and he compared mature believers to “hard-working farmers” (2 Tim. 2:6). What is it about farming that is similar to evangelism? There are a number of similarities which are worth considering:

Farmers need to spread a lot of seeds. Good farmers liberally spread their seed on the field, knowing that not all will grow. Similarly, believers should share their faith often, knowing that most of the time, people will not come to Christ. It’s hard to know how much we should be sharing our faith, but one test is this: “When was the last time someone rejected your offer to come to Christ or rejected your invitation to a Bible study?” If this hasn’t happened recently, you probably aren’t abundantly sowing, and you’re being too conservative.

Farmers need to maintain their fields. Farmers do not merely throw the seed and hope for the best. They come back the next morning and water their seeds. Similarly, follow up is necessary with new or non-Christians. We need to see them fully grow—not just start to grow.

Farmers need patience. Farmers don’t see results for many months. They need to wait patiently to see their crops grow. Similarly, the problem with most believers isn’t with what they’re doing. They simply don’t wait long enough to see what God is doing behind the scenes.

Farmers need perseverance and discipline. Farming is back-breaking work. It consists of blood, sweat, and tears to bring in a good crop. Likewise, those experienced with evangelism know that reaching people for Christ is hard work! They know that they need to persevere through many dry seasons (2 Tim. 4:2).

(2) Fishermen

Jesus called his disciples to be fishers of men—not hunters of men (Mt. 4:19). Why did he pick this illustration, and not the other?

Good fishermen are patient. Fishermen look for the right spots where the fish are biting. Yet they ultimately need to wait and trust that the fish will eventually bite. This is out of your control (unless, of course, you’re dynamite fishing!). Similarly, good evangelists know that they need to wait for God to do his work in changing people’s hearts and minds.

Good fishermen aren’t forceful. Fishermen cannot force the fish to bite. In the same way, we can’t force people to come to Christ. We can only make our bait attractive. Similarly, in evangelism, we shouldn’t coerce people to come to Christ. Instead, we should persuade them to do so (2 Cor. 5:11). Paul Little notes, “We will discover so many people who are interested in spiritual reality that we won’t have to force ourselves on people who are not interested.”[1]

Good fishermen don’t scare away the fish. Fish can be easily scared away by the fisherman. Once they get a small nibble on the line, fishermen can pull too quickly and lose the fish. Similarly, good evangelists know how to listen and understand the person with whom they’re speaking. Paul Little writes, “The moment we detect a faint glimmer of interest in a non-Christian many of us want to rush right in and rattle off the whole gospel without coming up for air or waiting to sense audience response… The non-Christian needs gentle coaxing when he’s just beginning to show his interest: it’s usually fragile at first. Otherwise, like a bird scared from a close-up perch by too rapid movement toward him, he will withdraw before our overly eager approach.”[2]

Good fishermen stay away from clumsy fishermen. Often, when you’re fishing, you have other fishermen who will scare off the fish around you. (They might enter your water in a motor boat, making lots of noise, drinking beer, and scaring away all of the good fish!) Similarly, in evangelism, we need to be aware of legalistic, hypocritical Christians (or even cultic non-Christians) who will ruin our efforts at evangelism, scaring people away from Christ in the process.

Good fishermen have a favorite place to catch fish. Every fisherman has his own favorite spot—whether a lake or a water hole that he like. Moreover, he strategically picks a place where the fish are biting. If they stop biting, he usually moves on to another spot. Likewise, good evangelists need to be open to where “hungry” people are located and travel to them.

(3) Soldiers[3]

The NT authors use the analogy of military warfare to refer to the Christian’s work of evangelism. Jesus said, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Mt. 16:18). Paul refers to our spiritual weapons of warfare (2 Cor. 10:3-5), and our spiritual weapons and armor (Eph. 6:10-18). He encourages Timothy, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:3-4). There are many reasons for why evangelism is compared to warfare:

Soldiers are in the business of conquest. Soldiers look to take territory from the enemy, invading enemy territory from time to time. Similarly, Christians are on the offensive—not the defensive—in spiritual warfare. Christians should not merely protect existing believers, but rather, continue to take ground from the Enemy, as Jesus commands (Mt. 16:18; 28:18-20).

Soldiers need discipline and training. We wouldn’t want to simply send a civilian into war. They wouldn’t be ready. Similarly, even the youngest Christian can make a tremendous impact for Christ. In fact, young believers are often the best at evangelism. However, they quickly realize how much equipping and training play a role in reaching people for Christ (e.g. learning to pray, having tact, answering questions, etc.).

Soldiers need to endure suffering. In warfare, soldiers need to be tough. They need perseverance and a militant spirit. Similarly, believers who engage in spiritual warfare need to be tough and be ready to experience suffering for Christ (2 Tim. 2:3-4).

(4) Ambassadors

Paul writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). Even though we still live on Earth, our true identity is in heaven. Paul describes believers as “Christ’s ambassadors” on Earth (2 Cor. 5:20). An ambassador is a delegate or a representative from a nation, who speaks authoritatively for their government. Whatever the ambassador says or does reflects directly on their home nation. Why does the NT compare believers to ambassadors?

Ambassadors need to learn the culture in which they find themselves. Ambassadors know the culture, the language, and the environment of their foreign culture. Similarly, believers are to become “all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22). We shouldn’t use language that is only familiar to Christians (e.g. “saved” “outreach” etc.).

Ambassadors try to make their country look appealing. Ambassadors try to represent their culture in a winsome and attractive way, knowing that the foreign nation will form their perceptions on the behavior and attitude of the ambassador. Similarly, believers are careful to represent God accurately and show that following Christ is attractive.

Ambassadors find common ground. Ambassadors look for places on which their two cultures agree. Similarly, good evangelists seek to find common ground between worldviews.

Ambassadors speak authoritatively for their culture. When the ambassador speaks, it’s as if their nation is supporting their every word. Similarly, when good evangelists speak, they can trust that God wants to speak through them (1 Pet. 4:11).


[1] Little, Paul E. How to Give Away Your Faith. Chicago: Inter-Varsity, 1966. 36.

[2] Little, Paul E. How to Give Away Your Faith. Chicago: Inter-Varsity, 1966. 41.

[3] I am indebted to Dennis McCallum for the concepts and material throughout this section. See McCallum, Members of One Another, chapter 6.