Tolerent of Evangelism?
Have you seen it? A bumper sticker with the message “Tolerance is the Only Absolute!” The last thing people, especially Christians, want to be called today is “intolerant”. The push from our media, educators and politicians is to be tolerant or else. In Wisconsin Christian News Vol. 3 Issue 4 Page 23 is the story of a professor from DePauw University who had her job changed and her salary cut for placing copies of Teachers in Focus from Focus on the Family on a table in her classroom. According to the article, she is suing to get back her teaching job and salary.
The tolerance issue is having an impact. “Since the beginning of the 1990s, the proportion of the adult population that is non-churched has risen significantly, to 32 percent from about 25 percent,” responds George Barna in his book, Evangelism that Works. Of course there are many factors for an increase in non-churched people, but the culture’s intolerance of moral truth is certainly one of them. A reaction to the tolerance movement has been the evangelical acceptance of the go-slow relational (or friendship) evangelism as the almost-exclusive acceptable means of evangelism. No one wants to be labeled extremist or intolerant, so Christians can be closed mouthed about the gospel, especially with new acquaintances.
So what’s wrong with relational (friendship) evangelism?
First, let me say what is right with relational evangelism. Building relationships with the unchurched is probably the most effective means for one person to influence another person toward having an authentic relationship with Christ. Ultimately, of course, it is the Holy Spirit who must change the heart and bring real faith in Christ as Savior. I very much believe relational evangelism is a crucial method for affecting our world today.
However, too often relationship evangelism means no evangelism at all. Barna in Evangelism that Works admonishes , “The primary disadvantage of this lifestyle evangelism approach is that it can become an easy excuse for Christians. Instead of diligently and aggressively pursuing evangelistic opportunities, Christians may easily convince themselves that if they just lead good lives, are friendly and open to sharing their faith, God will take care of the rest.”
The Pendulum has Swung
The pendulum has swung from “initiative evangelism” (sharing Christ in casual encounters, door-to-door canvassing, etc.) to sharing faith by being a “good Christian”. Not all Christians follow this pacifist style, but I believe the backlash from the tolerance movement has made the lack of evangelism of any sort predominant in the USA . It seems that Christians today are too afraid, confused, lacking in confidence, philosophically opposed, and fearful of giving offense to verbally share the gospel. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 10:14,15, “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things.’” Barna points out that churches talk about evangelism, they want to be evangelistic, and they have evangelism as a core part of their purpose statement, but very few churches have ongoing evangelism training. Yet God has called us to be ambassadors, laborers for the harvest and disciples.
There are churches that do provide consistent training for their members and they are creating armies of Christians effective in personal evangelism. If, however, Christians are told that initiative evangelism does not work, then obviously Christians won’t learn it or do it. “Why suffer all that rejection if it does not work anyway”, goes the rationale. Before I came to Christ, I had an acquaintance who witnessed to me while I wasn’t asking for it; I accepted Christ a few months later. I have a friend who accepted Christ through the witness of a stranger. There are many acceptable ways to be a witness, and the direct verbal gospel is a valid one. It does work. Barna’s web site states, “Half of all unchurched and non-Christian adults admit that they are seeking meaning and purpose in their life–providing a meaningful entry point for evangelizers.”
Initiative evangelism is biblical and Christians need to see it, own up to it and obey. Luke 10:1 (NASB) reads, “The Lord appointed 70 others, and sent them two by two ahead of Him to every city.” Note that Jesus sent them out “as lambs in the midst of wolves” (verse 3). They were to expect rejection. Luke 10:2 reads, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Note that Jesus did not say the evangelists are few, but the laborers are few. Jesus said to pray for more laborers. Jesus wants laborers because the harvest is plentiful. The reference to “lambs in the midst of wolves” indicates that it was difficult to verbally share the good news in Jesus day and culture too. Personal evangelism, like prayer and Bible study, is a discipline. It takes concentrated time, energy and determination. It takes a willingness to be prepared. I Peter 3:15 says, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” Jimmy Williams, the founder of Probe Ministries wrote: “Evangelism today must be something more than ‘swapping’ experiences. We must learn how to ground our faith in the facts of history and the claims of Christ. We must have others grapple with Jesus Christ, nor (sic) just our experience.” Remember, Jesus spoke with the woman at the well (John 4) without having a prior relationship. Many were saved that day as a result of her testimony and their encounter with Jesus Christ.
When I get into a conversion with someone that leads to the gospel, I often find it an exhilarating experience. Rejection is not much fun, but having an eye-to-eye conversation about the truths of the gospel is life changing for both of us. It is true there are a lot of bad ways to share the gospel, but then there are a lot of bad ways to have a relationship (we don’t throw them out, do we?). We need to learn good ways to engage people with the truths of the gospel.
The following are a few tips on developing the art of engaging people (initiative evangelism): 1) Use questions; learn to ask really good questions. Evangelist William Fay has an excellent training kit (with video and workbooks) called Share Jesus Without Fear. His training includes five questions every Christian can easily memorize, and he shows an easy way anyone can use the Bible in sharing the gospel. 2) Continue to get training through classes at church, conferences, books and going witnessing with a friend. “Going witnessing” may sound like the last thing you would ever want to do, but how can you learn to share the gospel naturally unless you start with a programmed approach? 3) Find good resources to give away. There are many excellent tracts, videos, books and my CD-ROM program called Evidence the Bible is True. These are tools that are easy to give away because they cover subjects that your unchurched friends and relatives care about. Invest prayer, time and money in the people you know who need Christ. 4) Use your pen. The pen is still mightier than the sword. Write a letter and include your testimony. I found it very difficult to share with my unsaved father, but I sent him letters with a personal presentation of the gospel. He saved the letters and he received Christ with the help of a pastor about six months before his death. What a blessing! 5) The gospel offends those in darkness, and truth offends, but we are not to intentionally be offensive. I Peter 3:15 states, “Being ready to make a defense . . . yet with gentleness and reverence.” Engage in the world with prayer, humility and gentleness.
Make this your prayer, “Lord help me to let my light shine and glorify You.” I welcome your questions and comments.
© Jim Bendewald
Permission is given to copy this article depending on the following requirements: Post the entire article as is including this permission information and the contact information below.
Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved.
Revised: 13 Feb 2010 07:56:10 -0600 .