FEEDBACK: ON THE RESETTING OF PRIORITIES
The church is to be a community of worship, proclamation, redemption, growth, service, and benevolence. We have good news to share, positive testimony to bear. However, there are a number of inadequate concepts of evangelism; there are some common mistakes we make in understanding what evangelism is.
There are those who think that it is enough to have a life that speaks. Someone will say, for example, “The best way to be an evangelist is to just live your faith. I’m just going to live my faith and let my life share the gospel. People will notice the difference, and when they inquire, I will tell them about the gospel.
It always sounds good. Perhaps you are like me almost persuaded when you hear this line. But the next time you hear someone say that, ask them, “How many times this week, or this month, has someone come up to you and ask you,” What’s the secret of? your warm and vibrant life? “
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, tried this as an experiment once. For a while, he did not engage in any conversation about faith. But no one inquired about it. It didn’t take long for her to let go of the experience and start talking about her faith again. He found out if you don’t speak. the gospel is not communicated.
There are those who end up talking only about their church. In every church there are members who declare their willingness to do the work of evangelism. However, when they go out to speak, what they are really talking about is their church, not their Lord or the good news.
These people become, not evangelists, but promoters of the great church program, good staff or warm fellowship or excellent physical facilities. Now, it’s certainly important to have people enthusiastic about the church. In fact, more church members need to speak more positively than they do about their church. But the danger here is the possibility of confusing the gospel with the church. We substitute the medium for the message if we are speaking to the non-Christians of the church rather than the Lord of the church.
German preacher and theologian Helmut Thielicke once recounted an experience in the streets of Hamburg. He walked past a store that had a sign in the window saying “Fresh Bread for Sale”. Immediately he reacted to the sign by feeling hungry and thinking how nice it would be to have fresh bread. He walked into the store and said to the lady behind the counter, “I would like to buy some bread.” She replied, “I’m sorry, but we don’t sell bread.
“But,” Thielicke said, “you have a sign in your window that says fresh bread for sale.” “Oh,” said the lady, “We are waving; we don’t bake bread.
We ourselves get into sign making if we promote the church and fail to present Christ. We have living bread to give to people. But we can be so busy painting panels that no one ever tastes the bread.
There are those who think that evangelism is a technique or a program. Some in the church say, “I would like to be an evangelist or a witness, but I really don’t know how. I do not know what to say. Isn’t there a training session we could have? Is there not a
Of course, that would tell us what to say and how to prepare for the answers we will get? The answer, of course, is yes. There are many training programs and techniques for evangelism. The problem is, evangelism techniques tend to become as impersonal and contrived as any other pre-made sales technique. This is probably why there are no step-by-step evangelism techniques in the New Testament.
Christian testimony is primarily a testimony. It’s telling your own story. In a court of law, to be a witness is to provide a first-hand account of something. Court officials are not interested in opinions or ideas; they want to know what the witness saw and what the witness heard and what the witness knows: you are responsible for telling your story. You are not responsible for the whole gamut of truth, not even the entire body of Christian truth.
Do you remember the story of the custodian who cleaned the bank after bank hours? The phone rang, the guard answered: “Hello, this is the First National Bank.” The voice on the other end said, “I want to know what the Federal Reserve discount is, what the paper prime rate is, and if all of this overseas travel is going to upset the currency.” There was a long pause. Then the custodian said, “When I said hello and it’s the First National Bank, I told you everything I know about banking services.” We are not responsible for saying more than we know. The basic ingredient in each level of Christian testimony is the testimony, “This is what God has done for me.”
A Christian’s testimony is a revelation, not a sale. In our free enterprise, commercial society, it has been easy for evangelistic-minded Christians to feel that they are responsible not only for sharing their faith, but also for making the deal. The gospel has its own power. We are scrutineers, not salespeople.
As a wise seminary teacher said, “It is not given to anyone to ring everyone’s bell every time. It is also true, however, that every Christian’s testimony can ring someone’s bell every time. Everyone’s story can bless someone.
The witness of the Christian is a gift of love. Someone has said that the average Christian’s concept of mission is to “run through the bushes quoting John 3:16.” But there can be no impersonal evangelism. If it is impersonal, one might wonder if it is evangelization.
You don’t have to worry about people selling them something. However, to share something with them, to give them something as intimate as your faith, you have to take care of them. We should not offer our witness from a position of superiority but at the level of our humanity and our common needs. God calls us to tell our story with love.
Cartoons can be fascinating. The kind of cartoons you find of famous people on the editorial page, for example, are often very revealing. It’s amazing how an artist can use just a few lines and create the familiar face of a Nixon or a Carter? Ra Reagan or a Bush or a Clinton. The photographs are more detailed but often less interesting because in the few lines of a caricature, the artist adds something of his own interpretation. None of us will ever reproduce the fullness of Jesus Christ. But the few lines we can draw can communicate more than we ever imagine. Someone can look at your simple testimony and see the face of Christ!
Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses.” If we belong to him, in one way or another, sooner or later, we are witnesses.