I am a Christian. That simple fact places me under a life-long obligation, not only to live my own life according to the divine revelation of God, but also to share it with others. Everyone has sinned therefore everyone needs salvation from sin to truly fulfill their purpose in life and enjoy fellowship with the Creator for eternity. If I am to truly please God and put on the mind of Christ, I must remember what I have been given and desire that all may have the same blessings I have. However, there has only ever been one perfect Evangelist in the history of mankind, and it is definitely not me. If I am required to share the gospel with the lost, I am also required to continually improve myself as an evangelist that I may be more effective in that effort. I will never be perfect, but I should always have goals to work towards that I may be better each day than I was the day before. In order to accomplish this, I must have a very clear understanding of the type of person I would be if I was indeed perfect at evangelism. This will provide a framework within which I can grow.
Effective evangelism starts with my own personal spirituality. I cannot be effective at convincing others to live for God if I am not. Such an attempt would only destroy my credibility and reinforce the perception of many that the church is composed of hypocrites. Thus, I must ensure that in every aspect of my life I am striving to live in the way that I am trying to teach others to live. God must come first in every decision, even at the expense of my own personal desires or those of my family and friends. My schedule must demonstrate spiritual priorities; I must intentionally devote time to spiritual growth including prayer and personal study of Scripture. My character must be consistently godly; I must be fully trustworthy, consistently honorable, and always motivated by selfless love. These attributes may not ensure a ready reception, but without them I cannot hope to attract any but the insincere.
In conjunction with my own spirituality I must also ensure that I am not motivated by pride or personal glory. While this is a part of developing my character, it specifically applies to evangelism because it can be tempting to make my efforts about me and my accomplishments or use my force of personality as the primary means of persuading others to accept the gospel. It can also be easy to take disagreement or rejection personally and thus allow myself to get in the way in a teachable moment. I should certainly develop confidence and be willing to put myself out there, but my mindset should always focus on minimizing me and instead point all things to God and His word. This will allow me to truly develop humility, not self-deprecation, but simply thinking of myself the same as I would about anyone else. This attitude will add greatly to my credibility, while arrogance will absolutely destroy it.
In all things I must communicate true love to my fellow man. Proper doctrine is essential, and it must be taught in due time, however, as is commonly stated, people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. I must remember the utter selflessness that Jesus demonstrated in living and dying for me, even when He did not have to for His own sake. In the end, I am not responsible for the choices of others; if I am faithful to God, I will gain my eternal reward whether anyone else that I talk to obeys the gospel or not. Even so, if I am to be like Christ, I must cultivate a love for the souls of others rooted in their inherent value in the eyes of God. I must remember that I have the most precious gift anyone can possibly have, and I can share it with everyone. I should certainly recognize that I am commanded to evangelize, but if I am doing so only as a requirement it will be painfully obvious to others. Instead, I must cultivate this love sincerely in my own heart so that it is the ultimate motivation behind all of my efforts. This love will provide the fuel for all the effort and sacrifice necessary to continually grow in my skill and effectiveness as an evangelist.
One of the difficulties I have experienced in becoming an effective evangelist ironically stems from the fact that I was raised by good Christian parents in a Christian environment. A strong character was instilled in me from an early age, and I was encouraged to choose Christian friends who would be good influences on me. Thus, the majority of my friends and acquaintances are Christians, and the non-Christian people I know I am not very close to because we do not have many foundational things in common. As a result, I have not had many opportunities to develop personal evangelism skills with those I am close to, because my close friends and family are all Christians. Especially with many of the challenges I faced growing up, this was absolutely essential for me as I needed a strong support group to help me overcome many difficult challenges. However, now that I am at a different stage of life, I must be intentional in creating relationships with non-Christians.
If I am to be perfect in this area, I must start by understanding my purpose. In developing Christian friendships, I am opening myself up to those who share my core values. In developing friendships with non-Christians, I must approach the relationship differently. I cannot create such relationships with the same ends in mind or else I will essentially be unequally yoked with a non-believer. Instead, I must approach such relationships recognizing that my primary purpose is to help the other person, while still being genuinely interested in them and caring about them as a person. I must recognize that it still must develop as a natural and organic relationship, even though it may have severe limitations because of our differences in worldview. I should not think of them as merely a project to be disposed of if they reject my attempts to share the gospel. No matter what their response I should value them as a person and always maintain sincerity. Otherwise, I will be deceiving them and they will eventually pick up on that fact.
In order to create these relationships, I should first focus on all the opportunities I have to interact with non-Christians, even if these opportunities are limited. For example, here at school nearly all of my interactions are with students, professors, and members of various congregations. However, I also am a student of martial arts, which gives me a very effective commonality with many non-Christians who attend the school with me. It is often very tempting to be friendly and interact with such people at the school but limit such interaction to that location. Instead, this provides an excellent opportunity for me to build friendships and trust which can extend even beyond the school and provide opportunities for religious discussion. Other business and recreational interactions can provide similar opportunities which I should make the most of as an intentional way to become an influencer in people’s lives. Even if I cannot create a lasting relationship, I can still try and connect with that person and plant some spiritual concept so that if I am not able to proceed, another Christian can continue the work.
As already stated, these relationships should be developed as natural friendships. While my ultimate goal is to influence these individuals spiritually, it will do no one any good if I am premature or pushy in my attempts to bring up such topics. Instead, I should intentionally live my life in such a way that my faith is humbly evident. I must always be aware of opportunities to insert spiritual concepts and topics of conversation into these interactions without forcing them or giving the impression that the only reason I am interested in a person is because I think I can convert them. I must not feel like I have to discuss every topic at once or rush them to the plan of salvation before they are ready. As urgent as their condition is, such an approach will only push them away and make it less likely that they will ultimately be receptive to the message I am trying to share.
The key to understanding the proper timing in this effort lies in building trust in the relationship and observing them enough to know where they are spiritually. I must start where they are and bring them to where they need to be, but I cannot do that if I do not know where they are in the first place. I cannot effectively learn this by prying because this will simply turn people away. Instead, I must be subtle yet deliberate in drawing out their worldview and establishing what they value and what approaches appeal to them. I should especially be on the lookout for struggles they are facing and meet those struggles with loving assistance as I am able, all the while pointing to the Source of the true solutions to life’s problems. Scripture consistently teaches that those who are struggling in this life are often most receptive to the Lord because they recognize their need. All these elements will allow me to formulate my approach.
Once I understand these things, I can begin with them on common ground and consistently take them to the next step. Every concept should build on the previous one so that they may have an ever-growing foundation in the principles of understanding and applying God’s word. I must be careful not to skip any steps in building their understanding, otherwise their preconceived ideas will likely overtake their otherwise receptive heart and close them off to any further progress. If I work deliberately and in order, they will be so solidly convinced by the underlying principles that they will be forced to change their viewpoint or else revert to intellectual dishonesty. It can be especially difficult when the person brings up a controversial or emotionally charged issue. I must respond without compromising truth but should usually deflect such issues and return to where they need to be until they are ready to tackle more difficult topics. Often this requires skill and a thorough understanding of the person for them to be satisfied. As we progress, I must constantly evaluate where they are, how they are responding, and what works or does not work, so that I may press on in the most effective way possible.
Finally, I must be prepared for the fact that many will decide at some point in the process to reject the gospel I am trying to teach them. There may be many reasons for this, lack of understanding, adherence to tradition, unwillingness to change, aversion to sacrifice, family and friends in a lost condition, and the list goes on and on. I must be fully aware that I am responsible to evangelize to the best of my ability, but if I fulfill this commitment and they still reject the truth, it is not my fault. At times it may even be the case that a mistake on my part provoked the rejection, but even so I must understand that my best is my best, the choice is still theirs, and even if I had acted differently the results might have been the same. Thus, I must approach each effort with prayer and confidence, trusting in God for His blessings and truly believing that, no matter the outcome, my efforts are pleasing to Him.
Let us consider an example of how I might apply these principles in my own life if I were a perfect evangelist. There is a young man of about my age who attends jiujitsu class with me. I believe he is a Baptist who attends at the same church as some of the other Baptists at the school. He and I are frequently partners and we have multiple opportunities to talk. I have not made much of an effort to develop a relationship with him beyond this, but I believe one could be established. My first consideration would be to ensure that my own character and motives are what they should be. I would want to live in such a way that he should see my separation from the world and its activities, my purity of language, my spiritual prioritization of time, etc. I should endeavor to demonstrate this clearly in my interactions, but without any perception of arrogance. I should endeavor to demonstrate a true care for him as a person, treating him with respect and interest and offering to help him if any need were to arise. All these elements would contribute to an initial level of trust and credibility so that nothing about my life would take away from my attempts to discuss spiritual matters with him.
My next step would be to develop my relationship with him. I would be more intentional in engaging him in conversation and learning about his life beyond martial arts. I would eventually try and get his contact information and invite him to engage in activities outside of school, perhaps with Christian friends. I would try and discover common interests and build a closer bond based on these. Throughout this process I would look for any opportunities to discuss spiritual topics relevant to a particular activity or conversation. I would use these to engage him in discussion and better assess his beliefs and our common ground regarding religious matters. The more I began to piece to all this together, the more direct I would be in bringing up spiritual matters in ways I think he would respond to. Eventually I would invite him to study the Bible, not necessarily implying that I was trying to convert him, but as friends. I would work him through the foundational principles of Christianity consistently but in order, making sure to avoid controversy until he had enough of a foundation to be ready for it. Once he was ready, I would study the topic of salvation with him. If he responded well, wonderful, I would help him obey the gospel and continue studying to help him grow. If he refused, I would seek to maintain the relationship on some level in hopes that he might one day change his mind.
I could not hope to address every skill and character quality which Jesus used to make Himself a perfect evangelist even if I were to write books on it for the rest of my life. However, I believe these foundational principles are absolutely essential to evangelism, and if it were possible for anyone to apply them perfectly, I believe their success would be unmatched by any but their Savior. I know I will never be able to apply any of these perfectly, but I want to continue to grow and improve in them that I may be effective in reaching a world that desperately needs Jesus. I pray that I may not allow myself to be distracted or discouraged from these goals but apply them to the best of my ability for the rest of my life.