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Evangelism 101

By Randy Hurst

In many situations, a preplanned message would be uninteresting and irrelevant. Such an approach presumes that others will respond to us, when the opposite is true: We should respond to them.

God is at work in people’s lives uniquely and individually. And He wants to use us at strategic times to be there for them. Recognizing the right seasons of opportunity for witness is important. But it is just as important to know when not to push for a decision. We need to be on God’s schedule. Only He knows when someone is ready.

Jesus — our example

Our Lord Jesus himself is the greatest model concerning personal evangelism. It would seem that the Son of God — on a mission to save the world and knowing how short His time was — would have a focused, strategic plan for proclaiming His message to as many people as possible. Yet Jesus spent 90 percent of His life in preparation for public ministry and never traveled far from His hometown. He devoted most of His time to 12 men. He did not record His teachings on parchment or stone. The One who had the most and best to say simply said it. He spoke the Word and left it to the hearers to record. He didn’t write it on a temporary medium, but on the only truly permanent one available — the hearts of His followers.

A careful study of the four Gospels reveals an almost startling fact about the nature of Jesus’ public ministry. Many of His most significant teachings and miracles were in response to people and circumstances.

Many of His profound parables were a response to someone’s question. Jesus, the Son of God, lived an earthly life that was responsive to common people — He didn’t mingle with prophets, priests and kings, but with fishermen, shepherds, women and children.

Jesus shaped His words to the occasion and to the people who asked the questions — some penetrating and some simple. But He responded with profound truth to even simple questions from common people — unfolding the mysteries of the universe to reveal the nature of an infinite God in words and images even the illiterate people of His day could understand. Jesus’ life challenges us to learn from Him and to encounter people in our world who are seeking peace, forgiveness and hope — responding to them as He did.

Respond individually

While the basic physical, social and spiritual needs of people are the same, the paths by which they arrive at those needs wind through a variety of personal interests and concerns. This raises a critical point: How can we really know people’s individual interests? The answer is simple. Building personal relationships and even friendships with nonbelievers is the primary method by which we will be able to respond to them individually.

How can we possibly know enough to respond individually to each person we encounter? Our most important “research” comes by listening to people. That will happen only if we spend time with them — to know and understand them. Only then can we effectively share the message of Christ with them. God’s timeless truth must be communicated in a timely manner — with the right words for the right occasion. In many situations, a preplanned message would be uninteresting and irrelevant. Such an approach presumes that others will respond to us, when the opposite is true: We should respond to them.

Most people who come to Christ through personal evangelism are not reached by strangers but by someone they know. Most of our witness will be among people with whom we have ongoing relationships. In these relationships, memorizing an evangelistic routine will not be adequate. We can’t just keep repeating the same things to people we know. We must be ready to respond to them in a variety of ways.

If we are to follow in Jesus’ steps, we should care about people as individuals, knowing that each is known and loved by our Heavenly Father. We must connect with them, not only in their cultural context but also in their personal lives.

Jesus related to people individually and addressed their personal needs, their confusion and their pain. He always had time for people. He had time to go with Zacchaeus to his house … time in the heat of the day to converse with the woman by the well. He had time for children. He had time to rescue the woman caught in adultery. Even in the courtyard of the high priest, in His hour of suffering, when it would have been natural to be occupied with His own self-interest, Jesus had time for others. As the rooster crowed that fateful hour, Jesus gave Peter a look — not an “I told you so” look, but one that conveyed love and forgiveness.

On the cross, Jesus bore pain none of us will ever know. But He still had time to forgive a dying thief and to ensure that His mother would be cared for.

Jesus always had time for people. No one He met was beneath His attention.

A plan of action

You can be a more effective witness beginning today. Effective personal witness requires time — a difficult thing for many of us to give. You will need to spend time in three ways.

• First, spend time in prayer. Ask God to direct your heart to at least one nonbeliever whose life He wants you to influence. Begin praying for that person daily. Know that it will mean a sacrifice of time — both to pray and to share Christ when the Holy Spirit opens doors of opportunity.

• Second, spend time in God’s Word. Because the focus of our witness is Jesus, spend time reading about His life and teachings in the Gospels. Read the Gospel of Mark, followed by the Gospel of John. Focus your mind and heart on Jesus — and be ready to talk with others about who He is and why He gave His life.

• Third, spend time with nonbelievers. Make a specific commitment to become involved in a few people’s lives and to simply be there for them. Building a relationship with someone takes time. Establishing credibility is critical to effective witness in a secular society that is increasingly skeptical of Christianity.

What everyone deserves

Every person should be given an adequate witness of the gospel and the opportunity to make a decision concerning Christ’s offer of salvation.

People are headed toward eternity. And they deserve more from us than canned answers to serious, heart-searching questions. People are not statistics or impersonal souls to be won for the Kingdom. They are individuals with distinct personalities — unique creations for whom God has a personal purpose and plan.

People who are spiritually lost deserve what those who came in contact with Jesus received — a personal response.

RANDY HURST is commissioner of evangelism for the Assemblies of God.

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