A Philosophy of Personal Evangelism 9
I am for every kind of scripturally appropriate evangelism. I wish there were more of it, not less. But I also believe that the only kind of evangelism that has the potential to reach the entire world is personal evangelism. That last sentence is the the philosophical heart of this blog series but I would remiss if I did not admit that personal evangelism has its own challenges. Personal evangelism has the most potential usefulness for the cause of Christ but there are a number of things that limit that potential. Understanding those limitations I think can help us to minimize them, and thus maximize our application of confrontational soul winning.
The first limitation is simply this: not enough Christians do it. I pastor an average sized
church with an above average number of soul winners. I would estimate that 30-40% of our average attendance personally witnesses at least once a month. But, transparently, I have had to fight and claw and scratch and bleed and pray and beg and preach myself half to death in these thirteen years to get those percentages that high - and they still are not a majority. Additionally, I recognize that the average church is in worse shape than mine. Various studies I have seen assert that in the typical Gospel preaching American church of all kinds less than 20% of the people attending ever personally witness.
What does that mean? Well, in practical terms, in a city the size of Chicago, if there are 250,000 people attending a Gospel preaching church (generous numbers here, too) that means less than 50,000 people will be personally confronted with their need of Christ this year – in a city of 2.7 million! We can shade those numbers a dozen different ways for better or worse but the stubborn truth is clear: personal evangelism is hamstrung because the vast majority of American Christians refuse to do it.
Secondly, personal evangelism is limited because many Christians have the wrong concept of what it is. Inviting your neighbor to church is good but that is not personal evangelism. Putting a tract in with your check when you pay your electric bill is good but it is not personal evangelism. The biblical illustrations of personal evangelism – Jesus with the woman at the well, Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch, Paul and Silas with the Philippian jailer, etc. – all involved one person talking to another person about his need for Christ with the view of bringing him to an immediate decision. In the book of Acts the early church went house to house seeking to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
This limits personal evangelism because many a Christian has silenced their conscience by convincing themselves they are being evangelistic when in fact they are not. They have not clearly presented the Gospel. They have not engaged anyone in a conversational give-and-take to assure understanding. They have not pressed any individual to the point of decision.
Third, personal evangelism is limited when we motivate Christians to win souls on the basis of results rather than the basis of obedience. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16.15) That verse does not say "…and win them to Christ." That verse does not say, "…and build a big church." It says go and it says preach.
When we motivate people to be soul winners so that we can see or experience a good result they will stop if and when those good results stop. I went to a Bible college that emphasized personal evangelism to the max. In its forty year history it has matriculated thousands of soul winners who long since gave up the practice because it did so largely on the basis of results. Those results dried up so the soul winning inevitably dried up too. Soul winning is not a church growth method; soul winning is being obedient to the command of God to take the Gospel to every creature.
Fourth, personal evangelism is limited because some soul winners sell Jesus rather than offer Him.
When your motivation is results oriented you will automatically place pressure on people to produce those results. That pressure at some point always causes an appropriation of worldly methods of getting someone to say "yes" when what they really want is to say "no." At this point, soul winning has become salesmanship rather than a Gospel presentation.
For years I made my living as a salesman. I have sat through dozens of hours of sales training and application. I am more than familiar with phrases such as it's a numbers a game, "no" just means I need more information, abc – always be closing, somebody is selling somebody in every conversation, don't be an order taker, make them feel bad about theirs, and what is there to think about. I have used the Socratic method and the power of positive thinking. I extensively developed my product knowledge. Etc. etc. etc.
I was good at what I did, and the things I learned transferred across industries because the principles work. Sales is push, push, push. It is out thinking the customer, and in a sense manipulating their mental outlook into spending more than they want on things they do not really need sooner than they think feasible.
For me, selling was a selfish thing. I got a commission, and the more I sold the more commission I made. Soul winners who sell Jesus are no different. I get a number, I get a result, and I get to feel good about myself as a soul winner. This only comes through results so I am motivated to push the envelope in order to obtain those results.
Beloved, motivation is just as important to God as the outcome is. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force to make him a king, he departed into a mountain himself alone. (John 6.15) The people had the wrong motivation in offering Him the crown and so He wisely refused it.
We cannot justifiably manipulate someone into Heaven. Likewise, it is unscriptural to browbeat or intimidate a person into making a decision for Christ. In such cases all we really do is manipulate someone into praying a prayer and that does not accomplish anything. Manipulation produces no understanding. Manipulation produces no conviction. Selling Jesus produces statistics that please the soul winner and his peers but it does nothing to advance the cause of Christ.
Fifth, personal evangelism is limited because oftentimes the training is suspect. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. (II Timothy 2.21) Good works require training and preparation, and there is no work better than the work of saving souls.
In some cases there is no training whatsoever. "Here is a New Testament. Here is a fistful of tracts. Now go get 'em, tiger." What is the result of such foolishness? There is rightly little boldness in such a person's witness for they have none of the knowledge necessary to inspire confidence. There is little clarity in such a person's witness because there is no carefully prepared plan to put into execution. There is little personalization of in such a person's witness because the best they can do is read a tract.
In more cases there is bad training. Let me reach to my wife by way of example. For more than 15 years she has taught piano to numbers of people. Those lessons have always been conducted one-on-one. On the other hand, there is a piano store in our area that conducts free lessons for everyone who purchases an instrument. But those lessons are done in lecture style to a group. Guess which approach actually develops effective musicians?
In my twenty years as a pastor I have spent hundreds of hours conducting one-on-one personal evangelism training. I want to develop a church that believes deeply in soul winning but that does so in a careful, thorough, scriptural manner. Anything less fails over the long term and is an injustice to the cause of Christ.
It is fairly common for the average Christian to believe at a higher level
than his practice. He readily admits he should read his Bible but he often fails. He knows he needs to pray but neglects his spiritual duty here too. In the abstract he is for a vigorous church attendance; in the concrete he finds all manner of other things pressing upon his time. The same is true in relation to witnessing. Nearly all genuine Christians freely confess their responsibility to share Christ with the lost yet the vast majority of them never do.
I think perhaps an argument could be made that the last example is worse than all the rest. If I fail to read my Bible, or to pray, or to attend church I hurt myself; if I fail to witness I hurt the entire world.
Jesus died for that world. He died for you and me. The least we can do is open our mouths and speak a word for Him.