I remember in High School the times when my group of highly enthusiastic evangelical friends and I would cruise over to the local arcade and 'witness' to people. I remember the fumbling of introductions, the dry mouth, and nervous hand shakes. The pressure of trying our best to save as many heathen as we could. Before the outings we would pray that God would make openings for us. Then we would launch into the awkward situation of trying to convince a stranger that we were right about God and they were wrong; over the blaring music and sound effects of Bad Dudes killing ninjas on the mean streets.
Looking back I don't know how much good or harm we did. I guess only God knows. The only convert I can notch my belt with was a freshman kid I was friends with my senior year. I invited him to a big revival concert. He contacted me years later and told me he was going to seminary. I think the fact that I had a relationship with him was key.
We had a guest speaker at my church a couple months ago and his topic was about effective evangelism. He said a lot of things that I've been thinking for a long time, so I thought I'd share some of his teaching with you.
There are four aspects of evangelism that many Christians get wrong.
- The Motive of many Christians for witnessing is simply guilt. They know the Bible tells them to, so every once in a while the guilt builds up enough for them to try to do something about it. Our motive should be compassion. We should be leading people to Jesus because we love them and want them to be saved from their sins. Without this motive, everything we do or say will simply be a clanging symbol.
- The Goal of evangelism is not to win an argument or prove that you are right. The Goal should simply be conversation. God's love comes through us when we are in a relationship with others; not a competition. People can tell when you just want to win an argument rather than build a relationship.
- The Perspective we should not have is that our interaction needs to bring a person to salvation. We need to understand that each person is on a Journey. And our job is to help them along. It helps if you picture a scale from -10 to +10, with 0 as salvation. -10 would be absolute hatred for God and +10 would be the best relationship with God that is possible. Now everyone can be charted on this graph. When you encounter a -7, your job is not to get them to 0. It's to get them to -6. That's what the Bible means when is says some sow the seeds, others water them, and still others reap the harvest.
- The Response that you give to their objections to Christianity needs to be appropriate. There are 3 kinds of barriers to accepting Christ. Emotional, Intellectual, and Volitional. Emotional barriers are caused by bad experiences from church or Christians. Obviously the best way to deal with these is to simply demonstrate love to these people. Giving them statistics and charts won't heal their heart. Intellectual barriers are issues like science versus religion, or logical contradictions. This is where facts and figures can actually help. Someone who thinks that all Christians believe the world was made 6,000 years ago doesn’t need a hug. They need facts. And finally, every person has a Volitional barrier. This is simply a matter of God not having revealed Himself to them yet. There is nothing to do about this except to pray.
Often it is easy to tell whether a person has an emotional or intellectual barrier, and to tailor your response appropriately. But there are also times when it is very difficult to tell which it is. Often times an intellectual face is put on an emotional barrier, or visa-versa. And of course most people have some of both. This is where prayer and allowing yourself to be led by the Spirit is of paramount importance. Because when your response is inappropriate, you can end up knocking a -7 to -8. Saying, "Smile, Jesus loves you!" to an agnostic evolutionist is just going to strengthen their argument that Christians are all intellectually feeble. And when a person tells you that their brother was molested by a priest, showing them statistics that prove what a small minority of priests do that sort of thing will just strengthen their argument that Christians are cold and heartless.
Because relationship is key, certain types of communication will work better than others. I see a lot of 'witnessing' happening on the internet. It seems to me like that will work for people with strictly intellectual barriers. Right information can counter wrong information. But how do you really show love on the internet? (Insert inappropriate internet porn joke here.) How do you build relationship? I've noticed that active members on a forum do tend to build what I would call proto-relationships, in a little proto-community. That is: there is the potential for real friendship, but a face-to-face encounter could swing that either way.
But when it comes to building on-line relationships with those who are hostile to the gospel, it seems that a simple attitude of civility and cheek-turning are the best way to communicate love online. I know I've failed at this miserably many times. Heck, I fail at this in real life all the time. But one thing that never fails to amaze me is all the times I see Christians just berating dissenters. I've seen name calling, insinuations of moral and intellectual superiority, mocking, sneering, etc. And I have to wonder, what is the point of these exchanges?