As some of you know, I’ve felt convicted for several months that I’m not doing enough in the area of evangelism. I’m not doing enough personal evangelism, and I’m not providing enough leadership in that area to my congregation. I repent! I want to change. But the truth is I don’t know how to do it. Not very well, at least.
So I’m reading books. A few that I’ve read so far have been deeply theological. I speak that language, so I appreciate this emphasis. By all means, let’s understand what evangelism is and why we bother with it. But I finish these books thinking, “O.K., so tell me how to do it.” This has happened a few times. These books float about five feet off the ground. They’re vague. They talk about “hospitality” and “community” and “mission.”
You know what they mostly don’t talk about? Opening your mouth and letting words come out. When to do it. How to do it. What to say. For many of these authors, words are a last resort. And you’ve only earned the right to use them on someone after you’ve helped him move a piano up a flight of stairs. You have to become his best friend first. (I’m only exaggerating a little.) “Relationship, relationship, relationship,” these authors say. God knows how Philip converted the Ethiopian eunuch. He only just met the guy!
I am increasingly convinced that no evangelism takes place without words. We’re kidding ourselves if we think otherwise. Do we need to look at the decline of mainline Protestantism as proof?
God bless the man who said, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” (It’s usually attributed to St. Francis, but he probably didn’t say it.) So comforting, so reassuring, so wrong.
I get that our words mean nothing if they’re not spoken with integrity, and actions speak louder, etc. But there is no gospel without words. There is no evangelism without words. Or if there is, it’s so exceptional it’s not even worth mentioning. We’re not doing evangelism right if we don’t, at some point, explain what the gospel of Jesus Christ is or why it matters to us. I’m sure this is really obvious to many of you, but for some reason I didn’t get it. I don’t think I’m alone.
Someone who is helping me get it is Robert Tuttle. I’m reading his book Can We Talk? Sharing Your Faith in a Pre-Christian World. He challenges his readers to pray every morning this prayer: “God, make me sensitive to my opportunities for ministry.” He says that it will open doors for us to share our faith. Ministry is obviously much more than witnessing with words, but he wants us to pray for opportunities to use words in order to help people come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.†
Here’s an example of how not to do it. I belong to a civic organization outside of church. We had our monthly meeting tonight. I was a little bored (don’t tell anyone!) and grumpy because my entree was too salty. I made only a perfunctory effort to be sociable. I introduced myself to a few people I didn’t know. But I didn’t try hard.
And you know what thought didn’t cross my mind even once? “What if these people haven’t yet experienced the good news of Jesus Christ? What can I do to find out where they are spiritually? How can I help them understand the gospel?” And I’m supposedly a full-time minister! What’s my problem?
Anyway… You get my point. This is what I’m working on right now.
† Robert G. Tuttle Jr., Can We Talk? Sharing Your Faith in a Pre-Christian World (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999), 73.