Recently I was asked to offer a ‘tip’ on how to do evangelism. Years ago I might have replied with a new and clever way to present the “Four Spiritual Laws” or a glib answer to one of life’s deepest questions but today I found I had to ponder the question considerably. I have come to understand that evangelism is not an event and so a prepackaged spiel is not always useful. Evangelism is a process by which people become followers of Jesus. Reducing this process to a ‘tip’ became problematic for me. The tip I gave was “Listen!”
There are certain desires and experiences that are common with all of us. We all want meaning, and experience frustration, knowing that there has to be more to life. We all have regrets. We have all done things we wish we could undo. We have all experienced hurt at the hands of others and we regret the pain and the way it has negatively impacted us. We all need help! We may be slow to admit it. I remember “joking” with a congregation of prairie farmers that their problem was “You are self-made men, who worship your creator” While we value independence we realize the truth that “No man is an island.” We all need help and when this remains an unmet need our lives falter and fail. We all need love! We are all ache for love and acceptance. Children (and adults) who do not receive wholesome doses of love develop in unhealthy ways.
As I listen for signals of any of these commonalities, I can identify the need for my friend. Often we can be quite unaware! I can share my story of: desire, regret, or need for love. I can point toward the relationship with God that ‘scratches’ my deepest itch. I can invite them to look in the scriptures to hear the good news! For too many these universal needs go unmet. Poor substitutes continually fail until folks give in to a convinced hopelessness. Like the prodigal they find themselves in the ‘pig sty’, but unlike our hero, they make their bed there. Too many are stuck in: longing and regret!
Telling people that they have these unmet needs is vital. Telling them that we are designed to have these met in relationship with God, and that we can have that relationship because of Jesus is crucial, but proclamation that is not preceded by listening is like ‘sowing seed’ on untilled ground.
My ‘tip’ will not make your evangelism easier so perhaps it is not a ‘tip’ at all! Listening presupposes that the Holy Spirit is already at work in my friend’s life. How can I co-operate with the Spirit’s work if I do not listen? I firmly believe that, in each person’s life there is some momentum toward God and my evangelism is more fruitful if I discover that momentum and encourage it.
A carnival barker persuades and cajoles an unwilling crowd to do ‘what it doesn’t want to do’. This is not a good model for evangelism. An usher at wedding escorts those who are being called to the wedding. I want to be less of a ‘barker’ and more of an usher.