Paul wrote to his young pastor-friend, Timothy, “Be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). Those underlined words have always haunted me. I mentally high-five (or maybe even fist-pump) the apostle Paul throughout this letter as he charges Timothy to guard the trust, preach the word, and refute error. “Hold the fort!” he tells young Timmy. That part of the Christian ministry lights my jets. But it is not enough to only have a good defense of the truth. There must also be a strong offense in place. This is the “work of an evangelist.” The advance of the gospel is as important as the defense of the gospel. Churches need an enduring love for the Bible and concern for one another in the flock. But if that is all that characterizes us, we will have a perrenial tendancy to become ingrown, apathetic, and angry. We must also be continually developing a deep and abiding love for the lost. We need to keep before our minds that Jesus has “other sheep, which are not of this fold; (He) must bring them also” (John 10:16).
My personal history of involvment in evangelism has been quite varied. Since the time that I first trusted Christ in high school, I have had a God-given desire to be an active and effective witness of Jesus Christ. But that zeal has been expressed (or hidden) in a number of ways. During high school, my method of gospel-telling was hit-and-run evangelism. I took the gospel to the school hallways, shopping malls, and parks in an effort to make conversions. I would overcome my initial nervousness, sit down beside a total stranger, pull out a tract, and stick it to him. After hurriedly rehearsing the basic facts of the gospel, I would press the person to “make a decision” and “say the sinner’s prayer.” Some people “made decisions,” others walked away. I pray that there were some genuine conversions that came as a result of those evangelistic encounters. My motives were good (for the most part) during those early years, but I am still convinced that my tactics needed refinement. The zeal was there, the knowledge was lacking.
During my college years, my thoughts on witnessing changed. It was then that I become interested in event evangelism. From books and articles I read, it seemed that if you got the right communicator talking to the right crowd in the right setting, you couldn’t help but see many conversions. This pragmatic approach drove me to carefully examine brochures that came across my desk while I served as a youth pastor. The power team, clowns, illusionists, drama groups, comedians, bands–they all boasted of big results. They made it sound like if I could get students there, they could get them saved. This method of evangelism also left me wanting and weary–and our church budget depleted.
When we moved to California for seminary, I moved into my lifestyle evangelism phase of personal witnessing. I was excited to move out of the Bible belt and into a neighborhood full of unchurched unbelievers. So I made it a priority from the get-go to establish and work on relationships with our neighbors in hopes of earning the right to speak with them about the gospel one day. This was socially great. I like people. I like talking about sports, family, tools, golf, etc. But turning those friendships and conversations to Christ proved extremely difficult. It seemed that because I had initiated the relationship on the basis of “common interests,” that it was exceedingly difficult to bring this uncommon discussion of the gospel into the relationships.
I have resolved, in spite of my mixed history with personal witnessing, to never lose a zeal for the gospel’s progress. In an effort to solidify in my own mind what biblical evangelism truly is, I decided to study this important privilege we have as Christians and develop a series of messages for our church. I began preaching this series three weeks ago and will continue it for three more weeks. You can listen to these sermons here. And over the next several weeks, I plan on using this blog to deal with some evangelism issues I was not able to deal with in these messages. I welcome your interaction and ideas on personal witnessing, hoping that we will sharpen one another in this critical gospel-telling work.
I have heard many sermons preached on evangelism and generally come away feeling guilty because I don’t do more of it. But know that this is not my desire in these entries. Guilt makes us hopeless, apathetic, and resigned to failure. I want to arouse hope, excitement, creativity and zeal for the Lord and for His gospel-telling work. May God help us become more natural and active in personal witnessing.
P.S. Thank you for your patience in my absence from the blogosphere. I could give you some excuses, but none of them are any good. If only Mike Escen would get back online again, then the www would be in harmony again.