When evangelism comes up, heads go down. We’ve discovered the obvious—that gospel preaching involves preaching, an unpleasant and clumsy sounding word.
Think about the feelings you’ve had in the following scenarios:
You looked out your front window and saw two people going door to door with an armload of brochures and fliers. They knocked on your door a few minutes later.
While shopping, you spotted a lady in the middle of the mall with a clipboard, approaching one person after another. She made a beeline to you.
In the middle of dinner, someone called you who got your name wrong and then wanted to know which cable provider you use. He has also been trained to “overcome the objection.”
These alien invaders had a spiel, a presentation they wanted to preach. Part of you felt sympathy for them (since everyone has to earn a living), but another part of you desperately wanted to avoid them.
That’s why we put “No solicitors” signs on our doors, and put our phone numbers on “Do not call” lists. The feeling of being trapped in a pitch of some type is a special kind of annoyance—like what you experience while sitting in your pulled-over car, waiting for the policeman to bring your ticket.
We recall these feelings when the idea of evangelism comes up.
Look, fair’s fair. I don’t like it when people try to sell things to me, so I’m not going to do it to anybody else.
The word “preaching” seems to capture the most officious and unpleasant sense of sales, confrontation, hawking goods, and cramming information down someone’s throat. With associations like these, it’s no wonder evangelism is a dead issue to many of us, especially to a newer generation of believers who finds it quite comfortable indeed to never speak of Christ to non-Christians.
Few people, especially introverts, ever warm to the idea of evangelism as presentation. For obvious reasons, they can’t fathom finding people, rooting them to the spot, quieting them, and then delivering mini-lectures.
To be clear, we’re never going to completely banish the sense of awkwardness that comes from losing face for Christ, nor should we try. Service to God is an honor that comes with a price. But in the name of maximizing evangelism, let’s dispel the image of the gospel as polished oration, delivered by well-oiled speakers.
Instead, let’s move it into our daily wheelhouse where ordinary things happen. This is where those of us who wish to preach the gospel, but are presentation-shy, will find encouragement. For the words of the gospel shared in normal conversation count as gospel preaching.
Sometimes the Bible shows God greatly blessing presentations, as with Peter in Acts chapter 2. The newly minted apostle stood before a multitude of Jews and said, “ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
Smitten with this realization, the crowd cried, “What shall we do?” Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The Bible tells us three thousand souls were added that day (v. 41).
Although the presentational style of evangelism can be wonderfully effective, it’s not the only kind of evangelism God uses. Unfortunately, our admiration of it and the high-profile drama that accompanies it often causes us to overlook small-scale gospel encounters in the Bible.
For instance, Acts chapter 8 devotes a chunk of verses to a single conversation between two individuals: An angel instructs Philip to go down a certain desert road. When he gets there, he sees a foreign dignitary returning home from worshiping in Jerusalem.
29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
As an aspiring gospel preacher, Acts 8 might be your chapter, not Acts 2, with its large crowds and long message.
Consider the potential similarity between you and Philip. The story begins with God arranging circumstances, and in the midst of them, the Spirit specifically leads to a conversation with a particular person. Although verse 35 summarizes the details of the dialogue—Philip’s message, as well as any other questions from the Ethiopian—enough generalities exist to reflect your own experience.
For instance, you’re headed home from work, turn onto your street, and ten houses down from yours, you see a moving truck. You tell yourself, Hey, a new family in the neighborhood! We should drop by and introduce ourselves sometime [which means never].
You settle into your nightly ritual and during a commercial break, you randomly think about that family. Then the next morning during devotionals, the thought of the new neighbors comes back again. Without knowing your inward cogitations, your spouse shuffles into the kitchen and says, “Hey, somebody moved in down the street. We should go meet them!” You agree that you should…sometime (again, meaning never).
But later at work, you think about that family yet again, and by now you’re beginning to wonder if “God is tryin’ to tell you something.”
You’re not done resisting, though, and procrastination is your last defense. We can’t go down there empty-handed. Wait until next week/month when we have time to buy them a gift. Just as quickly though, you remember that you pass a grocery store on the way home from work every day. They have little ornamental plants…and things.
Later that day, you travel down that sidewalk with your family, successfully led at last by the Holy Spirit, with potted plant and coffee cake in hand.
You meet the couple, welcome them to the neighborhood, and get around to asking if they’ve found a home church. They tell you they aren’t church goers. Not even believers.
But they think their kids need something spiritual.
It’s a start, and God begins to bless the conversation. He likes to do so, because in the first place, He was the One pushing, cajoling, and convincing you to “rise and go.”
Continue with me next week as we “Pursue the Conversation.”