Perspective on Evangelism
Evangelism. As a single word, it strikes fear in people’s heart like few others.
To the non-Christian, it means that the person now speaking to me will become pushy, perhaps argumentative, perhaps even judgmental…and all in an attempt to recruit me to come to their church. (whether that’s correct or not, that’s the common perception today)
To the Christian, it means that I’m up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with 2 out with a 2-run deficit. If I don’t hit the ball, we lose. In other words, if this person doesn’t “convert” with weeping and gnashing of teeth on the spot I have failed them and failed my God. I know they’re going to have questions, and I may not have the right answers. I know they’ll be resistant and I won’t know how to overcome their objections. Why even swing the bat? I know I won’t hit the ball anyway? (again, whether this is reality or not, this is the common perception that keeps believers from sharing their faith)
Just for a moment, let’s review our job description:
Jesus told His disciples, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 CEB).
Our job is to be a witness. What does a witness do? Tells what they saw…explains what they experienced. A person can easily object to your worldview, your belief, even factual statements about Jesus. They could be objecting or simply defending their opposing view from your Christian defense (apologetics). It’s very difficult to “object” to a person’s own experience. I have a fairly unusual conversion experience, but I’ve NEVER had anyone say, “No, that didn’t happen,” when I’ve shared it.
Here’s an interesting perspective on evangelism from an outspoken atheist (Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller): Note that he’s not offended or upset…he’s actually touched… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCdCVto2MN8
Our job is NOT…to answer every question. One of the most powerful phrases you can use with a non-believer is, “I don’t know.” That’s because most believers ‘come off’ like they know it all and have all the answers. Admitting that you don’t may actually take the other person off-guard enough that they’ll listen to you because you’re demonstrating honesty instead of scrambling for an answer. If their question is something you may be able to answer, tell them you’ll look into it and get back with them (and actually do that). If they’re asking an eternal question for which we don’t know the answer, be honest with them and simply explain that there are some things we won’t know fully until we get to Heaven (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Remember that the root of evangelism is an invitation to Jesus, not an invitation to your church. The invitation to your church is not inappropriate, it’s just received poorly. In an invitation to your church, your friend sees a potential self-interest for you…some perceived benefit to you (whether you perceive a benefit or not). In an invitation to Jesus, you convey genuine concern for their eternity. If they accept Christ and come to your church…rejoice. If they accept Christ and end up at another church…rejoice just the same. THE GOAL IS NOT TO GET THEM TO YOUR CHURCH…THE GOAL IS TO GET THEM TO YOUR GOD!
Finally, and most importantly, don’t take God’s job from Him. Jesus didn’t send out His “witnesses” until “the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” There’s a reason for that. The job of witnessing is yours (tell your story). The job of conversion is HIS!!! If I convert them, they’re doomed! If He converts them, their life is transformed! Simply approach with a genuine concern for the other person, rather than a nervous desire to convert them. You can’t do that.
Take a deep breath and relax a bit. Take ’em out for coffee, and just simply tell them the truth of your experience and your concern for their eternity in a spirit of love. Also recognize that many of them will not respond to your witness right there. I used to work third shift, and I spent many mornings with co-workers at a local Waffle House. I shared my faith countless times at that Waffle House, and I can report ZERO Waffle House conversions. However, I can’t tell you how many times I heard the next night how deeply someone was moved by our conversation…some moved closer to Christ, others prayed to receive Christ on their drive home, some didn’t move but were touched that I cared.
What evangelism experience do you have (on either side of the conversation)? Please share in the comments and maybe we can help each other grow.