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New Horizons

Personal Evangelism

Charles Wingard

Evangelism is an intimidating word. Most of us recall times when we tried to testify about Christ, but stumbled on our words and failed miserably. Yet the role you can play in leading your friends to Jesus is enormous.

The Institute for American Church Growth conducted research to determine why people—at least from a human standpoint—come to Christ and the church. Over fourteen thousand laypeople were asked, "What or who was responsible for your coming to Christ and your church?" Look at the following responses. Keep in mind that some people checked more than one category.

Special need

1-2%

Walk in

2-3%

Pastor

5-6%

Visitation

1-2%

Sunday school

4-5%

Evangelistic crusade     

0.5%

Church program

2-3%

Friend or relative

     75-90%

The vast majority of the persons surveyed had their initial contact with the gospel of Christ and were introduced to the life of the church through the efforts of Christian friends and relatives.

Do you find the results of this survey surprising? You shouldn't. Both experience and the Bible point to natural, existing relationships as the primary arena in which the claims of Christ are brought to bear upon unbelievers.

Think of just a few of the many New Testament examples. Cornelius, Lydia, and the Philippian jailer all brought their households under the influence of Christ (Acts 10; 16). At the very beginning of Jesus' public ministry, Andrew led his brother, Peter, to the Lord. On the very next day, Philip did the same with his brother, Nathanael (John 1:40-46). Soon after choosing to follow Jesus, the tax collector Matthew brought the Lord to his home, and there Jesus had the opportunity to dine and speak with Matthew's friends and associates (Mark 2:13-15). In the Gospel of John, we learn that many Samaritans believed because of the witness of the woman who had met Jesus at Jacob's well (John 4).

Christ has not abandoned this ancient way of building his church. He still uses men and women who have a burden to see their loved ones come to know him. And doesn't it make sense? Who better than you knows more about them? Who has greater opportunity to serve them in love and to share with them the gospel of Christ? Is there anyone better equipped to pray for their specific needs than you?

Here are some guidelines that will be helpful in formulating a game plan for sharing Christ:

1. Pray for the lost. Pray for your friends and family who are not Christians. People will not respond positively to the gospel unless God gives them a new heart, and so we must pray that the Holy Spirit will prepare persons to receive with love the Savior Jesus Christ.

2. Pray for our church. Ask God to make the preaching and teaching clear and powerful, and to make our congregation one whose members clearly live under the power of the gospel. Pray that we will welcome newcomers with the love of Christ.

3. Pray for yourself. Ask for grace, so that your lifestyle will not discredit the gospel, but will be a consistent testimony to gospel truths. Pray that God will give you a clear vision of the eternal destinies at stake—heaven and hell. When gripped by these two realities, the love of Christ compels us to share our Savior.

4. Don't go at it alone. Much of the guilt associated with personal evangelism comes from the misguided notion that all Christians must be eloquent in gospel proclamation. In reality, God has made each person differently. Some of us find it more difficult to speak than others. This fact should lead us neither to false guilt over our lack of natural abilities or certain spiritual gifts, nor to a shirking of our responsibility for the souls of men and women. It should, however, encourage God's people to work together.

Bring the people you are seeking to win to Christ into contact with a variety of people in the congregation. Invite them to your home or to church gatherings where time may be spent with other Christians. No one person, including yourself, models all that a Christian should be. As we expose our loved ones who don't know Christ to other dedicated Christians, they will get a clearer picture of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. They will also hear a variety of gospel presentations.

5. Cultivate the habit of talking about your spiritual life without embarrassment. We talk with our friends about what is most important to us. If our Savior is precious to us, his name and our devotion to him will come up naturally in our conversations.

For example, when asked to spend the worship hour on the Lord's Day at the beach, it requires no skill in flowery oratory not only to politely decline, but also to say that it is your time to worship the Lord Jesus. Similarly, it is no more difficult to invite friends to hear the Bible preached or to a gathering of Christians than it is to invite them to a concert. When something brings you great joy, it is only natural to ask others to share in your happiness.

Is evangelism intimidating to you? It needn't be. Sharing Jesus can be a joyful way of life.

The author is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church North Shore, in Ipswich, Mass. This article (slightly adapted) first appeared in The Salt Shaker, May 1996. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2000.

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