A spiritually natural approach to
By Randy Hurst
The airline had lost part of our luggage on the flight to London. I
thought, God causes all things to work together for good, but I had
no idea how in this circumstance. I would learn.
Checking in two weeks later for our flight back to the United States,
I noticed the airline station manager was exceptionally kind. "We are
so sorry about misplacing your luggage," she said. "We would like to
make it up to you." She upgraded us and our friends, the Dean Andersons
and the Gayland Hendricksons, to first class.
The flight attendant who served us fresh orange juice had a warm smile,
and her demeanor gave an impression of happiness and confidence. It
was a while before the food was served, so she stopped by our seats
and we began to converse. Gayland Hendrickson was seated beside me.
The flight attendant learned we were ministers, and the conversation
turned to spiritual things.
As we talked, I sensed a clear impression from the Holy Spirit. Finally
I said, "I have to tell you something. Ive never flown first class
from London to Dallas. Im a preacher and cant afford it.
But the airline misplaced our luggage, so they bumped us up to first
class. I believe God arranged this, but not so we could have a nice
ride home. He put us up here for you. You just went through a divorce,
As she nodded her head, I continued. "Before you were born God had
a plan for your life, but it isnt happening. And it cant
happen until you receive His forgiveness and surrender your life to
Christ." Gayland and I continued to talk with her. Finally I said, "Could
Gayland and I pray with you right here to receive Jesus Christ as your
"Yes!" she replied, "because I have something to tell you. Ive
never flown first class from London to Dallas either. Another flight
attendant called in sick, and my supervisor called and asked if I would
fill in for her. On my way out the door of my apartment, I did something
I hadnt done for many years I prayed. I said, God,
You know my life is a mess, and Youve got to show me on this trip
what to do."
Gayland and I each took one of her hands, and I led her in a prayer
to receive Jesus. Her face beamed with the joy of the Lord. She gave
me her address, and I wrote her the next week and sent a New Testament
and some materials to help her begin her new life in Christ.
A couple of years later I received a phone call at my home. The woman
said, "You dont know me. My pastor gave me your number. Im
a flight attendant. This week I met another flight attendant, and we
discovered we were both Christians. When we shared our testimonies with
each other, she told me that she accepted Jesus on a flight from London
to Dallas and mentioned your name. I told her that you had preached
in my home church. She asked me to try to contact you and tell you shes
still serving Jesus and attends church faithfully."
God is working in peoples lives even before we share the message
of Jesus Christ.
Working with God
Whether we came to Christ because of a sermon or one-on-one witnessing,
most of us can remember that even before we heard the message, God brought
about circumstances in our lives to prepare our hearts to receive the
Just as He prepared us, He is preparing people all around us to receive
Ephesians 2:8,9 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through
faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
not by works, so that no one can boast." But the next verse explains
that God saved us by grace for a purpose: "For we are Gods workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance
for us to do."1
God is preparing us for good works. He is also preparing the good works
for us. Before we were born, He had a specific purpose for each of us.
Part of that plan is that God has divine appointments for us, both with
strangers and in the lives of friends, family members, neighbors and
co-workers with whom we relate regularly. And those encounters will
happen whether were ready or not.
The Bible clearly shows that personal witness is not for a few especially
gifted for evangelism. It is the responsibility of every follower of
Christ. The evangelist is a gift to the Church.2 But
evangelism is not listed in the New Testament as a spiritual gift just
for certain people. We are each responsible to share our faith with
those outside the body of Christ. We are all to be the salt of the earth
and the light of the world.
For many years I was ineffective and even intimidated in personal witnessing.
I didnt have the confidence that I could persuade anyone to receive
Christ. Then I learned from Gods Word that, as believers, our
responsibility is not to persuade people to become Christians but to
share the message of Jesus.
We must understand our part in the evangelism process and also realize
what only God can do. Understanding His work is essential to having
the faith to do our work. We will fail in our part if were trying
to do His. He is God. Were not. He assigned our part to us. And
He doesnt command anything that we cant do with His help.
Although God has chosen to involve us in the evangelism process, our
part is only possible because the Holy Spirit is working in people even
before we share the message.
The apostle Pauls approach
Evangelism isnt an option how we do it is. The same Bible
that commands us to reach people with the message of Jesus Christ also
tells us how.
To the Colossian church Paul gave a profound yet practical teaching
concerning effective Christian witness. His final instructions in the
letter concerned how Christians should relate to unbelievers, whom he
appropriately calls "outsiders":
"Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude
of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will
open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery
of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it
clear in the way I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward
outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always
be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how
you should respond to each person."3
I like to call Pauls approach "response evangelism," taken from
the wording of verse 6.
In Pauls instruction, we find that effective witness involves
both dependence (vv.2-4) and discipline (vv.5,6). We must discipline
ourselves to do our part in personal evangelism while at the same time
remaining dependent on God to do what only He can.
Paul expresses this divine/human interaction in the early part of his
letter, "I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works
within me."4 Notice that Paul advocates human effort
("I labor, striving") that depends on God ("according to His power").
Pray for open doors
that God will open up to us a door for the word
Paul begins his instruction to the Colossians exhorting them to pray.
Prayer is essential in evangelism; because, unless God works in peoples
hearts and lives, our work will not produce lasting results.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: "I planted, Apollos watered, but
God was causing the growth."5
Gods work in the spiritual harvest is clearly distinguished from
that of His human servants. The time factors Paul describes in this
process are very different. When Paul and Apollos planted and watered
the seed (the message), the tense in the Greek verbs used indicates
specific time frames. For a period of time, Paul planted the seed. For
another period of time, Apollos watered it. But when Paul describes
Gods activity in this process, the verb clearly reveals that God
did not merely work after the seed was planted and watered, but all
along "God was causing the growth."
After telling His parable concerning the sower and soils, Jesus explained
to His disciples that the seed in the spiritual harvest is the word
of God.6 The Holy Spirit prepares the "soil" of peoples
hearts to receive the "seed" of the message. The believers work
in evangelism is to enter into Gods work in peoples lives.
As Jesus said to His disciples, "
the saying is true, One
sows and another reaps. I sent you to reap that for which you
have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their
A revealing example of Gods working with one of His messengers
is found in Acts. When Paul and his companions went to a riverbank outside
Philippi to pray on the Sabbath day, they sat down and began speaking
to a group of women. "A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira,
a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the
Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul."8 Paul spoke the message. The Lord opened Lydias heart!
We have the privilege and responsibility of sharing the message. But
only God can open a heart.
We are dependent on God to open the doors of opportunity, to bring
understanding to the hearers minds and move their hearts to decision.
Make the message clear
that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak
Paul said the message he must speak is the "mystery of Christ."9
The focus of our message must be Jesus.10
John Bueno, executive director of Assemblies of God Foreign Missions,
was called as a missionary to El Salvador in 1961. The first years saw
steady but slow growth. The church grew from 100 to just 300 in nine
years. Then came a breakthrough. John felt led to preach the same sermon
on the lordship of Christ 13 weeks in a row. Within six months the church
was packed with 2,000 people each Sunday. People were confronted with
who Jesus truly is and His claim upon their lives. When they were called
to decision and challenged to discipleship, they entered a new dimension a greater level of commitment. In 11 years the church reached
22,000 in Sunday morning attendance.
Missionary Bernhard Johnson saw more than 1.8 million people come forward
for salvation in evangelistic outreaches in Brazil. I once asked him, "What do you believe accounts for the great numbers who respond in your
He replied, "I always exalt Jesus Christ."
Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would glorify Him.11
It is the Christ-centered message the Holy Spirit will honor and use.
Be wise with "outsiders"
"Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders
After telling the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer, Paul instructs
them to act wisely with outsiders. The word outsiders is significant.
We have all been in settings where we have really been "outside." The
insiders have private jokes and expressions we dont understand.
We are left out because the meanings are private.
Pauls term outsider is an appropriate and practical
way of describing where unbelievers are in relation to the church. And
for a variety of reasons, most unbelievers with whom we will share Christ
today are farther outside the Christian context than ever. In a rapidly
changing secular environment, we cannot expect people to have the same
goals, desires and fears as the majority of Americans had even a decade
ago. In America, Christianity is a progressively diminishing moral and
social influence. We cannot assume that unbelievers have a commitment
to Christian values or even an understanding of them.
The church now faces the challenge of communicating the message of
Christ more interculturally, much as missionaries to foreign countries
do as they learn to communicate the gospel across cultural barriers.
Two major challenges we face are cultural diversity and secularism.
A nation of immigrants, America has been called a "melting pot." This
is a meaningful image, but not a true picture of what America has become.
More accurately, we are a multicultural society in which people strive
to retain their cultural identity while becoming a part of American
society as a whole.
With most unbelievers, we must recognize that we are communicating
from a church culture to a secular culture. We are communicating with
people whose American culture we share. But, if we have spent much of
our lives in the church, we have acquired the perceptions, values and
even vocabulary of the church. The Christian and the unbeliever may
both speak English, but the Christian often uses church terms that are
unfamiliar or mean something different in secular culture. When we use
Christian jargon freely with unbelievers, we erect a communication barrier.
We understand words such as saved, gospel, and anointing, but they are
confusing to people who are unfamiliar with those terms. Unbelievers
must be reached through their vocabulary, not ours.
Unbelievers must be interested in what we have to say. Our conversation
should address their interests and concerns. Peoples interests
are different. But one subject in which almost all people are interested
is themselves. We must listen to them and learn about them. That will
only happen if we spend time with them.
Paul was committed to personally identifying with "outsiders." To the
Corinthians, he wrote: "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make
myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews
I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.
To the weak I became weak,
to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all
possible means I might save some."12
making the most of the opportunity
Opportunities are framed in time. The common saying, "Opportunity doesnt
knock twice," is true. An opportunity may never arise a second time.
Each opportunity is unique, because people and circumstances are different.
We need "truth on call" understanding of the truth that is both
relevant and ready, to be recalled as the moment requires. Jesus promised
that the Holy Spirit would call things to our remembrance.13 We need to always be "increasing in the knowledge of God,"14
so the truth is in our minds for the Spirit to use.
Gods timeless truth must be communicated in a timely manner,
with the right words for the right occasion. A prepackaged routine can
produce a sense of security because we think we will always know what
to say. But in many situations, our preplanned message would be uninteresting
and irrelevant, expecting others to respond to us when we should respond
Being prepared to respond to people is not accomplished simply by memorizing
a group of Scriptures or completing a witnessing course. Those can help.
But knowing the truth that enables us to respond to people individually
in a variety of situations requires an ongoing lifestyle of learning.
It means growing in a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. We never graduate.
We are all on a spiritual journey. And what we are learning personally
can sometimes be shared with a freshness that is convincing to unbelievers.
Many feel inadequate to witness because they feel they cant retain
all the information they believe is necessary. They cant remember
all the Scriptures they think they should. Even if they did, they arent
confident they can recall them when needed. But every believer has a
personal testimony. Sharing our personal experience and relationship
with Jesus Christ with sincerity and conviction can be the most compelling
argument of all with some people.
One of the most opportune ways of ministering to unbelievers is prayer.
When they express problems, ask for the privilege of praying with them.
If we truly believe God answers prayer, we should practice our belief
by praying with and for people, believing God to answer. Hearing a believer
pray can have a significant effect on unbelievers. When genuine believers
pray for a need, people can tell they are sincere and have a relationship
with God. And when God answers prayer, it can be the means of opening
hearts to the message of Christ.
Season conversation with grace
"Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt
Not only what we say is important, but also how we say it.
Much of our interpersonal communication is nonverbal. If there is a
contradiction between what someone says and the way that person says
it, we will believe the way its said every time. An apology can
be given with exactly the same words in two different ways and be perceived
as either sincere or sarcastic. Voice inflection and facial expressions
can send mixed messages that contradict the words we say.
Many of those we are trying to reach in the United States have a negative
history with the church and are defensive or even hostile to Christian
witness. Others are emotionally scarred and have become insensitive
to spiritual matters. The Christian with personal grace and credibility
will help counteract the mixed signals people have received from those
whose lives have been inconsistent with their message.
As salt seasons food, a spirit of grace should season our conversation
with unbelievers. We must not compromise the truth. But we can communicate
the truth with kindness.
that you will know how you should respond to each person."
Which of us has not been frustrated trying to deal with a company on
the telephone and being prompted through a series of choices for prerecorded
answers? As customers we believe we deserve more. We want someone who
can personally give us the specific answer we need. In this day of impersonal
electronic voices, people need personal relationships.
Most people who come to Christ through personal evangelism are not
led to Christ by strangers, but by someone they know. Most of our witness
will be among people we know and with whom we have ongoing relationships.
In these relationships, memorizing an evangelistic routine will not
be enough. We cant keep repeating the same things to people we
know. We must be ready to respond to them in a variety of ways.
Relevance is an individual issue. In our efforts to understand and
act wisely toward outsiders, we must never forget that each outsider
is an individual. Learning the mind-set, values, concerns, interests
and desires of people in various cultures and generations is very helpful.
But generalizations can be misleading because every person is unique.
Baby boomers, busters, or gen X-ers, members of a post-Christian or
post-modern culture these profiles and stereotypes are tools,
not personal realities. No single mold exactly fits every person within
a particular generation or ethnic group.
When Paul says we are to respond to each person, it implies that we
will respond differently, because each person is an individual. Effective
evangelism is not merely a clever routine with predetermined, memorized
answers. We should try to be sensitive to each persons needs.
Those who are lost and headed toward eternal judgment deserve more
from us than canned answers to serious, heart-searching questions. People
are not just statistics, not merely souls to be won for the Kingdom.
They are individuals with distinct personalities unique creations
for whom God has a personal plan and purpose. Gods kingdom is
built one person at a time.
God, who cares about the sparrow that falls and numbers the hairs on
our heads,15 values each person on earth for whom
His Son gave His life.
Jesus our example
The greatest example of Pauls teaching about responding to
people is Jesus. Jesus teaching was clear to His hearers. He used
vocabulary and word pictures that came from the daily life of His audience.
He identified and connected with them, using language they could understand
and concepts to which they could relate.
In New Testament times, one of the greatest social barriers was between
Jews and Samaritans. To Jews, Samaritans were outsiders. Yet Jesus penetrated
that barrier. When He dealt with the Samaritan woman at the well, He
communicated in ways she could understand. He dealt clearly with the
issue of sin, but He did it by centering the conversation on the womans
needs and interests. Jesus guided the conversation but did not totally
control it. He responded to the woman, as Paul exhorted the Colossians
We should remind ourselves that the most quoted verse in the Bible,
John 3:16, was not part of one of Jesus sermons. It was in a conversation
spoken softly in the night to Nicodemus, as Jesus responded to the Pharisee
with the searching questions.
Though He taught the multitudes, Jesus focused on people as individuals
and responded to them. People who are lost deserve what those who came
in contact with Jesus received a personal response.
Those who called Jesus "a friend of sinners" meant it as an insult.
God the Father sent His Son Jesus to seek and save the lost. And Jesus
as the Father has sent Me, I also send you."16 If we are to reach people as Jesus did, we also will become "friends
of sinners." We will spend time with them to know and understand
them. Then we can share the message of Christ effectively with them.
The response evangelism approach puts a burden on us and lifts
an even greater burden from us.
The burden response evangelism places on us is that we must be prepared
to respond to people as individuals. It demands more than merely learning
a witnessing routine, because we dont totally control the conversation.
It involves not just speaking but listening and being ready to answer
unbelievers questions and responding to their interests and concerns.
The burden response evangelism takes from us is that it frees us from
the wrong assumption so many have that it is our responsibility
to convince people to become Christians. Evangelism is not merely a
work of human persuasion; it is a work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised
that the Holy Spirit would convince the world concerning "sin and righteousness
"17 We are responsible to clearly
share the message. The Holy Spirit persuades the heart of the listener.
Response evangelism is possible because God takes the initiative in
salvation. When we understand His work in evangelism, it enables us
to be bold depending on His persuasive work. We can also be patient
trusting His timing rather than trying to push people to a premature
decision. It will free us from anxiety and allow us to be neither hesitant
nor hasty as we deal with people.
Everyone our friends and family members, our neighbors and co-workers,
and every person we meet will spend eternity in heaven or hell.
And every person should be given an adequate witness and the opportunity
to make a decision concerning Christs offer of salvation.
God has given each of us the awesome privilege and responsibility of
having a part in evangelism. We have no excuses. God will do what we
cant if we will do what we can. Because God is already
working in peoples lives, every believer can be an effective witness.
This article is adapted from the new book Response Evangelism
by Randy Hurst, available from Gospel Publishing House. To order call
1-800-641-4310 and ask for item #03EZ6552.
Randy Hurst is commissioner of evangelism for
the Assemblies of God.
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1Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)
2Ephesians 4:11; all Scriptures are from the NASB unless
51 Corinthians 3:6
10Read Colossians 1:13-23, 28 and 2:9-15.
121 Corinthians 9:19,20,,22 (NIV)