Most Christians would agree that it is supremely important to win converts. We were rescued from hell, and it is imperative that we share what God has done for us so that others can be rescued too.
Likewise, most Christians would agree that evangelism is one of, if not the, hardest job they’ve ever faced. Just the thought of it causes our pulse to rise and our stomachs to churn.
I’ve struggled with the issue of evangelism for every one of the 39 years I’ve been a believer. Maybe I remember too well how disrespected I felt for all those years before I met Christ, when Christians tried all sorts of ways to convert me. I was misled, insulted, ridiculed, yelled at, argued with… and none of those things moved me one step closer to faith. In fact, they probably delayed my decision for several years.
Now that I’m on The Other Side, the last thing I want to do is keep someone from getting to know God. As a result, I find myself somewhat paralyzed. What if I make a mistake?
Three things have helped me overcome some of my fear of witnessing. The first, I’ve talked about already (see Door-to-Door Seed Sowing).
The second has to do with relinquishing my sense of liability, and letting God be God. I finally realized that, while I might be the messenger, the Holy Spirit is the one who calls. He convicts us of our sin. He supplies the faith for belief. He is responsible for the results—I just need to be obedient.
The third was something triggered by a snippet of a conversation I overheard at church. Not a book, not a sermon, just a few words that transformed my understanding of evangelism:
“You know, Jesus didn’t say, ‘Go, therefore, and make converts….’—He said to make disciples.” (See Matthew 28:18-20)
I’ve always taken that to mean we shouldn’t stop at making converts, but rather continue to minister to those we lead to Christ until they become mature Christians. And you could still read it that way. But in my epiphany at church that morning, I heard it as “focus on making disciples and they will eventually become converts.”
In spite of it being the opposite of the way we usually approach evangelism, it made so much more sense to me, I could hardly contain my excitement. What better way to lead someone to God than by demonstrating His work in their life? Then they can taste and see for themselves that the Lord is good. And while a set of principles is no substitute for an intimate rapport with God, until they hear His voice, living according to Godly principles can’t hurt.
In some ways, Christians do this already. Bible studies for curious nonbelievers and seeker-friendly churches both focus on instruction but often result in rebirth. That’s why, along with the expected Bible studies and prayer groups, our church has small groups formed around such non-churchy topics as rock climbing, bull riding, and birdwatching. As a result, hundreds of people—most of whom didn’t even go to our church to start with—have met God when they weren’t even looking for Him.
In spite of numerous courses and sermons on evangelism, I still have no idea how to go about converting someone. It sounds complicated and scary, and much beyond my ability. But I do have some understanding of how to make a disciple. I know it takes relationship—time and energy spent together. It takes prayer—lifting them up and asking God to work in their life. To really disciple someone, it takes love—putting their need for God ahead of my desire for convenience and comfort. It isn’t easy. I can’t do it without the Holy Spirit’s power. But at least I know where to begin.
Before, I was always trying to hide God’s role in my life from my non-Christian friends. I guess I thought they wouldn’t understand, and would be annoyed. Finally, I got up the gumption to talk to a friend who had repeatedly expressed her aggravation at people’s attempts to convert her. I asked whether or not it would bother her if I talked about my personal experience of God. To my surprise, she said she’d be fine with that, so long as I didn’t try to tell her what she should do. I was welcome to share about myself and my faith as much as I wanted.
What a relief! I actually find it harder to leave God out, since He’s such a central part of who I am. I’m not tongue-tied when it comes to sharing what God is teaching me and how He’s providing for my needs. Given that my friend and I are going through similar trials at the moment, I’ll trust her intelligence and the Holy Spirit’s power to connect the dots.