I will be the first to admit that I do not have the ‘gift’ of evangelism. I am envious of those who do. I know people who can witness to a stump. I know people who are excellent at ‘cold call’ evangelism. There are many days I wish I were one of those people.
I came to Christ while on a youth witnessing trip. I was trying to share ‘my faith’ and realized I didn’t have anything to share. I had grown up in the church, I knew the language of the church, but I didn’t know Him personally. When that startling revelation swept over my heart, I took a walk by myself and realized, for the first time, I had made a decision, but I had never put my faith in Christ. I couldn’t share my faith because I had no faith to share. That night, I surrendered my life to Christ.
After I came to know Christ, I knew I needed to share my faith. I can remember handing out tracts at the Sears’ parking lot in Pascagoula, Mississippi. I was rebuked by one man in a pickup truck. He said I shouldn’t be forcing ‘religion’ on people. I remember one night when several of us ventured to the Beach Club, a bar that once stood at the end of the beach in my hometown. That night, I unrolled an entire roll of toilet paper and rolled it up again – this time with dozens of tracts inside. I guess I’ll have to get to glory to find out if that method worked.
I’ve had the door slammed in my face. I’ve been called names I can’t repeat to a church crowd and I’ve been spit on and cussed at. That’s okay, it goes with the territory. Being salt and light isn’t easy. The alternative is to let the darkness and decay of society win by default.
I’m not what you would call a good personal soul winner. I love to tell people about Jesus. I’m not ashamed to talk about my faith, that’s not the issue. I just battle within myself the image of the ‘turn or burn’ folks I’ve run into at times. Also, I believe that salvation is a work of God and grace. That should never be used as an excuse for not witnessing. I don’t know who is going to be saved, so I share and leave the results to God. Some water, some plant, but God gives the increase.
I am very supportive of evangelistic ministries like Billy Graham, Campus Crusade, Evangelism Explosion and others. I’m a certified leader in CWT, the Southern Baptist evangelism program. I’ve used tracts like the 4 Spiritual Laws, I’ve told people that God loves them and has a ‘wonderful plan for your life.’ I’ve used the Roman Road and a marked New Testament. I was a counselor supervisor at a Billy Graham Crusade in the mid 1970s. I’ve planned evangelistic events and preached evangelistic messages. I had a ‘Here’s Life’ bumper sticker on my car during that national campaign.
I’m writing to people who know what I’m talking about. We’ve all participated in some form of evangelism training. We all have used some system to try to tell people about Jesus. We’ve all invited people to attend an evangelistic event. I don’t think we are losing our society for a lack of information. I think we are losing it for lack of inspiration.
The Seeker movement has been a big emphasis in churches over the last twenty years. There are many pastors and churches that have bought into this philosophy of ministry. However, what’s happened is the Seeker movement was started with an emphasis on personal evangelism, now there is a drift toward event or enticement evangelism. The idea is, ‘Bring your pagan friends to this event and we’ll do the work for you.’
Another threat to our taking personal responsibility for evangelism is the church growth movement. We can easily become consumed with growing the church and buy the lie that transfer growth from another church is growth. It’s easier to attract a disgruntled member from another church than it is to evangelize a pagan in the office next door. As one writer says, “Evangelicals hardly noticed that much of our ‘church growth’ was merely crop rotation – we easily recruited bored boomers from their less ‘exciting’ churches into our own ‘more motivating’ environments. Let’s be honest, our churches are growing but our country is more lost today than ever.”
It’s easy to buy the lie of winning and wooing potential prospects from the sister church. Our programs, bells and whistles don’t impress pagans who spend their time and money on worldly entertainment. Our hand lettered poster boards don’t stand up to multi- millions in advertising dollars the secular world is spending to attract people.
Now, I fear we have convinced ourselves that attendance is equal to conversion. If we can just get them to come, over time, by osmosis, they will be saved. Conversion brings about a changed life. We’ve substituted counseling for conversion, recovery for redemption, positive attitudes for repentance, twelve steps for turning from sin to God, and cleaning up on the outside for a changed heart. Our substitutes will fail. We have nothing more than a form of godliness without the power.
The time has come for each of us, gifted or not, to take seriously the Great Commission. The command is to ‘Go!’ God has given us a message that will put a marriage back together, clean up a drunk, deliver the homosexual, set the captive free and replace guilt with grace. That’s good news. When’s the last time you told someone?
We are in the business of changed lives. The gospel transforms people. While most churches offer some kind of training in evangelism (and you should be trained if you aren’t confident or need more confidence) you don’t need a manual to tell someone, “I once was lost, but now I’m found.” Just tell people what Jesus did for you. What He’s done for you, he can do for others. If you don’t have a story, maybe you are like the person I was – you know the language, you come to church, but you’ve never truly been saved by the grace of God. Who knows, it’s possible some of our members need to be saved. How about you? Do you know Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? I’m not talking about religion, I’m talking about an intimate relationship.
We need to regain our focus. I’m not interested in growing a church off of another church. I want us to grow it the old fashioned, New Testament way, evangelism. It means we’ll have a lot of baby believers around, but hey, there’s nothing like a new baby to make a parent smile. As you go – tell someone that Christ can deliver them from their old habits, old attitudes, and change them from the inside out. Think about it today. Do something about it tomorrow.
©2002 MCC Used by permission. This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use. Reproduction for any other purpose is governed by copyright laws and is strictly prohibited.
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.