Eﬀective personal evangelism is not an all-or-nothing, one time, one person, take it or leave it proposition; it’s a process that involves lots of people working together over time to bring someone to faith in Christ.
Most Christians I know don’t get this.
The other day I went to breakfast with another pastor I don’t know very well. He was hoping for some good ideas that would help his church reach out to his community. When we ordered our meal, he told the waitress, to my utter shock, that he wanted to talk to her about what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. I wanted to duct tape the menu over his mouth and shut him up.
Have you ever done this? Or have you ever been around Christians who have done this type of thing at wrong place and the wrong time? Most Christians come on too strong after they start believing in hell because they don’t realize that evangelism is a process.
Evangelism was never meant to be an all-or-nothing proposition; it’s a team activity. We learn this from 1 Corinthians 3:5–7:
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
Paul is saying that the Christians in the church in Corinth couldn’t point to just one person and say, “That person alone led me to Christ.” Paul shared his faith. Another pastor named Apollos continued to teach the way of Jesus to those seeking to understand. Others had conversations that helped propel each person along in his or her journey. God grew that seed of faith in the hearts of seekers.
But no one person brought anyone to faith alone.
I’ve talked before about how you are responsible for sharing your faith with your nonbelieving friends in your sphere of inﬂuence. That doesn’t mean you’re responsible for converting them all by yourself, from start to ﬁnish. You may be the ﬁrst person to talk to someone about Christ, or you may be the one who actually leads him or her across the line of faith, but in between there’s usually a long string of faithful Christians who helped along the way.
Saying that evangelism is a process means two things.
First, many people will have a hand in leading a person to faith in Christ; conversion rarely happens because of just one conversation.
Second, your goal in evangelism is to remove barriers keeping someone from trusting in Christ, not to sit down, have one conversation, and take a complete non-Christian across the line of faith all at once.
Think of the barriers that exist in the mind of a nonbeliever as he or she considers the prospect of becoming a Christian. The average non-Christian I know struggles with the idea of believing in God, let alone Jesus, so that’s a huge barrier all by itself. If they are able to believe in God, then they move on to ﬁguring out which God is the right one. If they get past that barrier, which most don’t, they will struggle with the idea that the Bible is God’s Word. Then there’s the whole business of Jesus—who He is and what He claims to be.
Depending upon the person and his or her life experience, the list of barriers can be lengthy. So many barriers exist between where that person lives spiritually and making a commitment to Christ that it’s ridiculous to think that someone might come to faith based on one conversation. Yes, it happens, but usually God has already been working in that person’s heart long before.
When we hear about people coming to faith in Christ after just one conversation, ninety-nine times out of a hundred you’ll ﬁnd that the Christian who pressed for a decision wasn’t the ﬁrst believer to arrive on the scene. The fruit was already ripe. All he or she had to do was shake the tree a bit before it fell to the ground.
That’s what I mean when I say that evangelism is a process—taking a nonbeliever closer to the cross and removing one barrier at a time.
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