It was an ordinary enough day.
I walked out of the grocery store towards my car in the parking lot and that’s when I noticed him. He was standing in a certain part of the parking lot, and as he realized which car I was headed to, he turned and headed towards me.
All of a sudden all kinds of thoughts began to cross my mind:
“What does this crazy fool want?!”
“Do I remember my kata’s from my third grade karate lessons?”
“What’s the best way to stab someone with a car key?”
I thumbed my key securely and readied it in the jab position.
“Are you a saved?” he asked nervously. I was thrown completely off guard by his question, but began to relax as I realized he seemed harmless enough.
“I actually am, thanks!” I said as I readied to go into my car. Either he didn’t hear me, or he wasn’t convinced that I was a real Christian, so he decided to launch into a pre-packaged “gospel presentation” in any case.
I’m staring at him as he’s speaking to me, but it’s as if things were moving in slow motion. I’m watching him. He’s all wild-eyed and frenzied. Sweaty. Rushed. He had that distant look like he was reading from a screen. You know, that look when someone is looking at you, but they look like they’re looking through you. Every once in a while I’d notice a “Romans 3:23 says…” or some other Scripture as he continued with his presentation. I was grateful when he finished. I can’t remember how I responded. Perhaps with an, “ok, thanks!” as I went in my car and closed the door.
How did I feel?
A part of me was impressed that he would be so bold. I suppose he left that encounter feeling proud of himself. He saved someone today. If only he knew what I really thought.
Is this really what it’s about? People memorizing Scriptures, phrases, and canned presentation, and spiritually vomiting them upon unsuspecting people? Is this really how we should be training and encouraging our people to do “evangelism”?
I used to teach and promote a class on witnessing where people would learn to do one of those little bridge illustrations where there’s a chasm representing sin and their life, but then a bridge–through the form of a cross–comes down and people can get to the other side. Here’s the question: do people really come to faith in that way? Do people come to faith because a stranger, whom they’ve never had a conversation with, quotes a few Scriptures to them? I’m not convinced that this is the right way. In fact, in my years of pastoral ministry I’ve only used the bridge illustration once, and that was a week after I taught the evangelism class.
So what do I suggest?
Have a conversation with someone about their story and your story. This I’ve done dozens and dozens of times. On airplanes, buses, classrooms, restaurants: sometimes the topic of Christianity or faith comes up, and they ask me the why question–why are you a Christian or a pastor? It’s actually very rare that a stranger will ask you “how can I be saved?” But it’s quite common that people will ask you why you’re a Christian. In those cases, I simply and briefly tell them my story:
“I was biology pre-med in college because I wanted to make money and have the admiration of people. I began to think, though, that maybe there was more to life than this, and I began to read the Bible for the first time. I started in the book of Matthew. But as I read, I began to sense that God was doing something inside of me. He began to change me. He became more than just some myth, God became real to me for the first time. And God made it really clear to me that He wanted me to prepare for the ministry.”
That’s the shorter version. If people follow-up with more questions I give them more details. For example, some people will ask, “well how did God make it clear to you…what is it that happened?” Then I share a little bit more of the details. I might preface it by saying that “some of this might sound a little strange to you, but this is what happened to me.”
After I finish sharing my story, I ask them about theirs: Have you ever read the Bible before? What brought you to the position of being an atheist?
I’m not there to show them my apologetic expertise. I genuinely want to understand their position. I want to learn. I want to understand.
Is this THE method for personal evangelism and witnessing? I’m not sure. Will people be in heaven because a stranger shocked them with some Scriptures? I’m sure some will. I’m just not convinced it’s the best or the most biblical way. It places way too much pressure on people to memorize certain things and get a presentation the right way. It diminishes people into targets and objects.
Instead, you can relax. Tell people what God has done for you. The Spirit will be guiding. He is at work. The best evangelist is the testimony of a transformed life.
Note the story of this guy in Luke 8:38-39:
“The man who has been freed from the demons begged to go with Him. But Jesus sent him home saying, “No, go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you.” So he went all through the town proclaiming the great things Jesus had done for him” (NLT).
Note the story of this woman in John 4:28-29:
“The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah? So the people came streaming from the village to see Him” (NLT).