21 Evangelism Lessons for the 21st Century – Lesson 21
Throughout this series of lessons, I’ve tried to connect my findings from interviews of recent converts to the task of evangelism. I wanted to see if new Christians’ experiences could encourage us who want to proclaim the good news to non-Christians we know or meet.
I conducted the interviews and have posted these blogs while continuing to speak at churches where people wanted training and encouragement in evangelism. I’ve been at this long enough to see some long-term promising trends.
On the receiving end (if I can categorize new converts’ experiences that way) God worked in amazing ways to raise the dead. I saw many displays of God drawing people irresistibly, surprisingly, and powerfully. On the sending side, God used new expressions from unlikely spokespeople to convey the timeless message of the gospel.
And I’ve noticed a change in motivations of the proclaimers. For many years, I think, Christians wanted to learn how to evangelize because they felt guilty. They knew they should witness but they came down with cases of spiritual lockjaw whenever opportunities arose. And it didn’t help when they heard bold evangelists tell them how easy it is to just share what was on their hearts. Apparently, the passageway from heart to mouth had some blockages.
Then, for a while, people’s motivations changed from cowardice to arrogance – not a good development. There was a period of time when churches were growing, famous people were getting converted, and apologetic evidence was mounting. Christians “knew” they could win any argument, out-debate any skeptic, and “crush” any atheist. Lord have mercy!
But now I hear a different motivation and tone – one of compassion and love. Increasingly, I hear from Christians who don’t know what to say but feel they must speak up because they care so deeply about their lost friends. They see the effects of sin on the lives of people they love and that the gospel is what their friends need. They just don’t know where to begin.
And the timing couldn’t be better because, as I heard repeatedly in my interviews, many people are desperately seeking love. Sadly, they often look in places where they find something else.
For example, consider some excerpts from my interview with a young woman who began her story by talking about her parents’ divorce. She realized:
“I started to get more and more anger towards my father. When I saw the marriage failing, I basically just felt like with divorce – love doesn’t exist (cuz clearly my parents wouldn’t be getting divorced if love existed). So if love doesn’t exist then God doesn’t exist. And so as I saw my dad abandoning me as a good father I saw God abandoning me as a good father. So, basically through high school I became an atheist.”
When she spoke about her experiences at a large university, she recounted, “I had a lot of anger issues. So living away at college, I could just turn to drinking. It was really easy. I worked on campus … where I met a lot of college friends and … like drinking was my escape. It was my outlet…. I had a lot of issues going on and not a lot of good that I was turning to. I think with my parent’s divorce, I had a lot of “father hunger” and so I looked to guys to fulfill me. I just wanted someone to like me for who I was and so it was easy for me to just turn to guys…for affection or what I thought was affection.”
Her story was painful for me to listen to, given the depths to which she fell. But both her face and her words began to change when she recounted:
“At that point I was living with my boyfriend and I kicked him out when the relationship was over and I was just really lonely. I worked at the hospital…[with] four other people working 40 hours a week together and that made a lot of conversation … Two of the people I worked with were Christians…and so it was just their genuine caring for me… It had been so long since a guy just wanted to hang out with me just for who I was… I told them that my boyfriend and I had broke up and they were like, “Let’s go play racquetball after work.” Or “Let’s go out to eat after work.” As a group they just befriended me and cared for me…One Tuesday they were like, “Oh, do you want to go to Bible Study?”…And at that point my option was to go and be alone for the next 12 hours or wait until it’s time to go to work again or go with them and I just said, “well, I might as well.” I didn’t want to be alone. So I went and I just felt a peace. I felt welcomed. I felt a community and … it was just really interesting to be back in that world and be open again to the idea of God and so I continued to go and I enjoyed it a lot.”
The 21st evangelism lesson for the 21st century is probably the most important one: Our proclaiming of the gospel must be flavored with the love of the gospel.
We need to find words to express our concern for people that sound like beautiful music rather than angry tirades. We need to learn ways to express concern so that people feel it. And we need to show people how the cross is the greatest expression of love ever known. Hopefully, many will become “rooted and established in love” and “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and [will] know this love that surpasses knowledge.” (see Ephesians 3:17-19)