There is no evangelism without words

January 27, 2012

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.

7 Responses to “There is no evangelism without words”

  1. Curtis Says:

    Brent, when you start down this road you will find yourself in a world that few visit and even fewer know anything about. That’s the good news.

    One thing about it. If you begin to take the risk of doing the work of an evangelist you will not be bored. And, as Dr. Suess said, “oh, the places you will go and the things you will see.”

    If you are going to stick around awhile with this, I have a response to Mr. Tuttle’s question, ” Are there things that we can assume about the people we encounter ( regardless of their presuppositions ) anywhere? Yep.

    It appears that the Gospel jump right into the middle of a multi-cultural world.

    5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

    13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

    Peter Addresses the Crowd

    14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:

    I never read the word “Cretan” that I don’t remember Epimenides statement presumably referenced in Titus 1:2
    ( Cretans) “they are always liars, ….) Clearly, the politically correct had not yet taken hold.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    “And how shall they believe, if they do not hear? And how shall they hear, if no one preaches?” (Something like that.) Certainly people have to “know the substance” of the faith to believe it. I have some friends who are missionaries that have a library at their home with Christian books. They invite students over to teach them English, and use these books as the texts. One way, I guess.

    Of course, our efforts at evangelism will not always be well received (as they were not in the NT). If I may make a case in point, I attempted some “evangelism” via arguing for “Christian positions” on a blog for a long while, but recently got “blocked off,” I assume for offending people with my positions. (I really don’t think I stated them overly stridently.) Unfortunately, during my tenure I never did see anyone who said, “You know what? I believed differently, but you persuaded me.” Consistent failures can dampen enthusiam.

    Nonetheless, if memory serves me correctly, William Carey, the “Father of Modern Missions,” went to India and had no converts for seven years, yet ultimately was highly successful in his evangelistic efforts. So we really should never give up hope altogether; but, perhaps sometimes we might look for other methods or venues.

    Interestingly, though, I note that quite a few of the “blog correspondents” knew some biblical passages to “quote back” to me. I know there are exceptions, and their number is undoubtedly steadily increasing, but in large measure I think a big chunk of people in America are not Christians out of igorance, but simply because they don’t want to believe. This is just my view (although I have heard others say similarly), but I support “foreign missions” because there are huge numbers of people in other countries who have never heard the gospel message preached. Here, many people have become “hardened,” while there, many seem to be “thirsty” for such good news. I hope this is not a “cop-out” on my part, but I like the thought that in some way I am helping with evangelism when I send a check to some on the “front lines” who “know what they ae doing.” I do recognize that this does not free me up from all obligations “at home,” but I guess I feel more “successful” in supporting the missionaries than from my own feeble efforts.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I don’t know where this evangelism prof, Tuttle, got his statistics, but he said people have to be exposed to the gospel 25 times before they can say “yes.” Rejection is par for the course, but each rejection brings someone closer to a decision.

      • Curtis Says:

        The Home Mission Board of the SBC quoted 32 in 1972 as the number of “touches” necessary before a decision.
        Apparently, the pace is picking up.

        This is going to sound like a woo woo story and then some. When first called to the ministry, in my early 20’s I was a Roman Road Guy at the drop of a hat. I would talk to anyone any where. Made no difference.

        I “witnessed,” that’s what we called it then, to a friend and classmate. He decided “yes.” But, did “no.”

        We wandered our separate ways and I didn’t see him for 25 years. At our class reunion we see each other across the parking lot.

        He yells mind you, “Curtis, remember when we talked back at Texas Tech? Well, I went ahead with that decision. I’ve been meaning to look you up. Didn’t want you to think I didn’t do what I said I would.”

        Twenty Five years.

      • brentwhite Says:


        Funny you say that. I had a similar experience. At our 20-year class reunion, a friend from high school to whom I witnessed made a decision for Christ in the intervening years. He didn’t credit me with leading him there or anything, but it was important for him to let me know that he made it. I was definitely one of those 25 or 32 “touches.”

        So how are you doing with evangelism now? What can I learn from your experience?


  3. Curtis Says:

    Hi Brent,

    I’ll be glad to report on my approach to evangelism. I hope it helps a bit.

    I basically respond to people within their context. I seem to have been given a sign across my forehead, ” tell me”. And, they do.

    I enjoy people and enjoy engaging everyone I meet. I have always had an innate curiosity about folks. How they go about living their lives, what they think etc. I’m interested in people. I’m the sort of person that people would describe as, ” he never met a stranger.”

    Out of that grows my evangelism. There are few conversations, once they are on the footing of lived life that won’t turn into a spiritual conversation. It is easy for me to do that since I believe all of life is sacred and lived before God. The presence of God is always here and now, not there and then.

    Once I was past close-the-deal idea of evangelism I was free to be patient. I’m not taking scalps. I’m a messenger bringing a piece of good news.

    I have no idea how the person who hears the word will receive it or what they will do with it. That is none of my business. It is my calling to share it. It is my calling to introduce people to Jesus Christ. And, do so in such a way that the introduction is taylor made for that moment.

    I also go about evangelism in such a way that if they aren’t buying doesn’t mean I stop the relationship. I like them because they are standing in front of me not because i can get them to do what I want them to. They may not want to become a Christian. O.K. That’s not my call.

    I know there are a lot of hurting people in this world. I know the common denominator is suffering in one form or another. The Germans called it angst. I simply call is suffering. Also, a fear and or a grief covered by anger drives a lot of folks.

    I don’t have a pat formula now. The relationship and conversation will dictate the direction.

    Anyway, I tried to do this as much off the top of my head as I could. Didn’t want it to be an essay on evangelism. Evangelism is about life to me.

    Basically, my approach to evangelism is a varied as the individuals I relate too.

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