By Chuck Griffin
As we come out of this pandemic, the church where I serve as pastor, Holston View United Methodist in Weber City, Va., is in a time of discernment. As part of that, we are going to spend some time discussing and then, I hope, practicing evangelism.
That’s caused me to think about basic evangelism principles I have learned through the years. If you’ve been a Christian for any significant time, I’m confident someone has shared with you the general mandate for all Christians: We are to bring others to a belief in Christ.
This act is rooted most strongly in Jesus’ words recorded at the end of the gospel of Matthew.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you,” Jesus said.
Knowing we’re supposed to evangelize and actually evangelizing are two different things, however. The idea is intriguing, but its execution can be intimidating, particularly if we begin to imagine the hostile responses we might receive.
I struggled with this until I was in seminary, when I was blessed with a very effective professor of evangelism, Dr. Robert G. Tuttle Jr. A couple of his key ideas really helped me.
The first principle helps us to remember that evangelizing is not manipulative. It is compassionate.
“I do not love in order to evangelize. I evangelize because I love,” Tuttle would say.
If we’re struggling with evangelism, we may also be struggling with our relationship with God. Growing in love for God and our neighbors by praying, worshiping, reading the Bible and being in fellowship with those in our community is essential to effective evangelism.
The second principle helps us to deal with what is basically a fear of failure. It gets us to stop expecting every encounter with a non-Christian to result in that person falling to his or her knees, calling on Christ for salvation.
Tuttle called this principle “1 in 25,” which comes from a jailhouse ministry experience he had as a young pastor. After he had witnessed to inmates one day, one of them declared his desire to follow Christ.
Tuttle said he went back the next day, obviously quite proud of himself. The inmate told him this: “Tuttle, I lay awake all last night, thinking. Suddenly it occurred to me that it takes an average of 25 different witnesses before any real encounter with God takes place. Just because you were number 25, you think you did it all, and you stink.”
When you tell someone about Christ, you may be witness number 3, or number 7, or number 22. What’s important is that you move that person forward in his or her understanding of Jesus Christ.
These two principles don’t deal with every aspect of evangelism, of course. There are entire books written on how to find common ground with people so we can talk about Christ in a natural way. Most of these books focus on the need to listen before we speak.
I pray, however, that Tuttle’s two principles will help relieve some of the fears you may experience as you share the good news about the love of Jesus Christ.
Lord, As we go about fulfilling the most basic duty you have given us, give us a sense of peace, knowing you arrived on the scene ahead of us, preparing the way. Amen.