I just read an article on Tim Challies’ blog that is worth a few minutes of your time. It is a bit of fiction that very aptly points to the problem of trying to create a Christian worship experience that would be appealing to unbelievers. Rather than me talk about it you can read it yourself here. Idiffer in some theological perspectives from Tim, but I think he has a valid point.
Evangelism – now that’s a word that strikes terror in the hearts of many Christians! We hear the word and we begin to think of knocking on a strangers door, or of awkwardly trying to explain the gospel to a friend or relative. Sweaty palms and nervous tics seem to accompany such activities. Or perhaps, we just relive the guilt we felt the last time we heard someone speak or preach on the subject. We may also recall the class we took or the book we read which gave us a technique, but didn’t help us gain courage. Those courses are helpful in that they give us aid in formulating a clear presentation of the gospel to someone who is ready to hear, but the problem we have is that most people we know are not actively seeking the truth. We may have tried some of the techniques we learned on someone who was apathetic or antagonistic to the gospel, and become discouraged as the conversation went nowhere in a hurry.
Much of our difficulty stems from a lack of understanding of evangelism. We don’t understand our role or the role of the Holy Spirit. We often don’t understand the people we are trying to reach, nor do we understand the dynamics involved. It certainly takes courage to evangelize, but courage alone tends to lead to failure which undermines courage! Let me suggest some basic truths that might help.
1. All true evangelism must come from a heart that loves God. I know that sounds basic, but it is essential. If you don’t know the Lord as savior you certainly can’t lead others where you haven’t gone. But even more than that, if you aren’t enjoying your walk with Him you will have a difficult time sharing the gospel. We always talk enthusiastically about the things and people we love and enjoy. Spend time growing in relationship with Him, and you will find that He just naturally starts to come up in your conversation.
2. An essential part of the gospel is the reality that God loves people – even while they are yet separated from Him by sin. As Christ’s body, we are the physical means by which God communicates his love. Don’t try to win people to Him without loving them. We need to pray for the ability to love people around us. Show that love by taking an interest in them and in their lives. Listen to what is important to them. Otherwise you communicate that you are only interested in them if they become like you! A preacher of years gone by told his students, “never preach on hell unless you can do so with tears in your eyes.” We need to reach out in love, not condemnation – they are already under condemnation!
3. Understand that the Holy Spirit changes lives – we don’t. Our part is to “speak the truth in love.” We trust Him to do the rest. If we don’t grasp this truth, we will become manipulative. We can’t win a spiritual battle with human efforts – it has to be something more than good salesmanship. If we try to accomplish this great task in our own strength we will frustrate and anger people or we will get people to say words without any true conversion. We must learn to do our part, and let the Spirit do His.
4. Remember that this is a spiritual battle. We must win this in the power of the Spirit through prayer. Start praying for the people you live and work around. God will work in lives and use us to do so, but we often “have not because we ask not.”
5. Know that most people are not won in one conversation. Our goal, each time we share should be to simply move the person closer to faith. Some people may have already had their hearts prepared and trust the Lord the first time we share, but most need time. It’s important that we don’t try to force something before the Holy Spirit has completed His work. Just keep “nudging them towards Jesus.
In short; Love God, love people, pray, speak, and let the Holy Spirit do His work. That’s the plan and the order that God uses.