That Awful “E” Word (Jul – Aug 1993)

By Matt Dabbs

by Sally Jane Shank
July – August, 1993

Everybody feels guilty about it. The awful “E” word. “I can’t do it,” we claim, as we try to avoid even singing it. “I don’t have that gift,” we rationalize. But somebody has to say it. Somebody has to do it. Evangelism.

Perhaps the major problem with the “É” word among average people is that they set their expectations too high. Even Paul, who gets an A-plus on the “E word, talks about evangelism in terms that the average person can understand and practice.

At the end of Colossians, Paul reveals his approach to evangelism: “And pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ” Colossians 4:3). Three essential elements of evangelism – open doors, prayer, and proclamation – emerge from these verses. Rather than three separate entities, these resources work together like the legs of a three-legged stool.

Most of us are not like Paul. Three friends of mine, Karen, Jane, and Frances, certainly aren’t. They don’t preach. They don’t lead churches. They haven’t gone to the mission field. Yet, all three use the same three resources to evangelize.

EVANGELISM THROUGH OPEN DOORS

As part of her work in the church visitation program, Karen knocked on a door one Monday afternoon. A young woman greeted her. As the two talked about the young woman’s visit to the church the previous week, they learned they were both pregnant.

With that new-found common ground, the two started to see each other weekly. Karen introduced her new friend to other Christians. Their conversations revolved around everything from childbirth and pediatricians to Jesus and Christian living. The casual relationship grew into a friendship.

A homemaker, Karen had no particular training in evangelism. She wasn’t the outreach minister, and elder, deacon, preacher, or involvement minister. She just took advantage of an opportunity.

Jane McWhorter, in her book Now I Can Fly, writes, “We do not wait for great opportunities. We make our own as we walk through life.” Karen made an opportunity when she decided to call upon a first-time church visitor. She didn’t have to. She didn’t know the woman. Eight months pregnant, everything took extra effort. Instead of excuses, Karen made an opportunity.

Imagine the preacher, an elder, or even the apostle Paul knocking on the young woman’s door. Even with a greeting as warm as Karen’s, the chance of a friendship developing would be slim. Through the friendship of an average Christian, the young woman eventually came to Christ. What began as two strangers meeting on a doorstep resulted in two lives knit together in friendship in the Lord.

EVANGELISM THROUGH PRAYER

Prayer works hand-in-hand with opportunities. First, prayer helps provide opportunities. Second, prayer opens eyes to see opportunities. Third, prayer enables us to act on the opportunities.

Like Karen, Jane looked for opportunities to help people know God. She invited the unchurched to services. No one came. She talked to people at work. No one seemed interested. With every door closed, Jane began to pray, making these entries in her spiritual journal:

“I pray for an open door to reach others.”
“I want to talk with somebody who wants to know you, Lord. Show me the right person. Lead me to some soul today.”
“Let my purpose be to bring you glory and bring others to you.”
“What are your plans for me, Father? Who do you want me to share with? Open my eyes.”
“I pray that the opportunities that come my way will be opportunities sent by you.”

These excerpts from Jane’s spiritual journal between August and December of last year reflect the direction of her prayer life. The year ended. The door remained closed.

Unknown to Jane, a single woman living in the same city also prayed that fall. She asked God for spiritual direction.

One evening in January, Jane and the young woman met. They talked. They met for lunch. They exchanged personal stories. When the single woman found the answers in God’s Word, she became a follower of Jesus.

A few weeks after her baptism, Jane received this note from her new young friend: “I prayed for a friend who would accept my level of spiritual understanding and encourage me to move beyond it to a deeper relationship with the Lord. I know God arranged it all. I praise him for answering my prayer.”

Then Jane understood. Their meeting didn’t happen by chance. God answered both prayers. The young woman wanted a friend. A counselor or minister could offer spiritual direction or theological understanding, but she prayed for a friend. Jane, an average Christian, became that friend.

Never overlook the resource of prayer. Prayer helped Jane in three ways. (1) it enabled God to provide an opportunity; (2) it allowed Jane to see; and (3) it empowered her to act.

Evangelism begins with prayer. Pray for opportunities and let God open the doors.

EVANGELISM THROUGH PROCLAMATION

Doors opened by prayer eventually lead to proclamation. Karen, Jane, and Frances would all say, “I can’t say anything about my faith. I’m not a proclaimer.”

Proclaiming Jesus sounds hard. It can be difficult. But not all proclamation requires a certain method, vast Bible background, or ready answers to difficult questions. Proclamation can be easy in two different ways. Every Christian knows both of these simple kinds of proclamation. It’s as simple as telling… stories.

Frances was an average Christian woman employed outside the home. Like many working women, she went home in the evening to cook, do laundry, and take care of her family. Her coworker lived with a drug dealer and filled her non-working hours with parties, alcohol, and drugs. Her life empty, the chemicals and parties became less satisfying each week. Both women worked for a large paper supply firm.

“Why are you always so happy?” her coworker asked Frances one day at the office. That question gave Frances a chance to share the first story, her personal story of what Jesus meant in her life.

“I’m happy and have real joy because of Jesus. He gives meaning and purpose to life, even while working at the paper company.” Frances also spoke of God being part of her marriage. Her story was not long, flowery, or filled with religious words. She simply shared what the Lord had done in her life.

“Go home and tell your friends what the Lord has done for you,” Jesus instructed Legion after completely changing his life. Frances followed those instructions.

Every Christian can tell his story. One’s background and experiences in life make the story unique. Tell a personal story by including the before, how, and after. The before describes life prior to Christ. The how tells about conversion. The after communicates the difference Christ makes in daily life.

Sharing her story led to further questions and spiritual conversations. Frances invited her coworker and boyfriend over to eat. During the evening, the conversation turned to spiritual matters. Frances used the opportunity to tell the second familiar story, the gospel.

Frances simply told the story of the trip to Calvary. Later she added how Christ had been a substitute for her. Frances quoted the line of the song: “I owed a debt I could not pay. He paid the debt he did not owe.”

A few weeks later Frances introduced her coworker and boyfriend to a Christian who studied the Bible with them and answered some of their difficult questions.

They began to change. They got married. Jesus replaced alcohol and drugs. They looked forward to Sundays with Christians rather than partying. Both became Christians. The wife now has a new story to tell, one about her empty life, meeting Frances, hearing about Jesus, becoming a Christian, and the difference Jesus made in her life. It began with an average woman sharing her story with a coworker.

Those who desire to evangelize can tell two stories about Jesus, first our personal experience of what Jesus did to us, and second, what Jesus did on the cross.

Paul used opportunities, prayer, and proclamation to reach the lost in the first century. Average Christians like Karen, Jane, and Frances use the same techniques to bring others closer to Jesus.

Ben Gay and Stephen Williford, in their book The Winner’s Edge, tell a fable from the Near East about a man riding his camel across the desert at night. While crossing a dry river bed, he heard the ground crunching under the camel’s hooves. Suddenly a voice ordered him to get off the camel. The voice directed, “Pick up some gravel from the river bed.” The man obeyed. “Now go on your way,” the voice told him. “In the morning you will be both glad and sorry.”

At dawn the man looked at his handful of gravel. It wasn’t gravel at all, but precious gems! He was glad when he realized the worth of his possessions, but sorry he couldn’t go back and retrace his tracks.

The “E” word can make us both glad and sorry. Glad because of the great joy that comes when, through opportunities, prayer, and proclamation, we help lead someone to know God. Sorry because we let the “E” word scare and intimidate us so long.Wineskins Magazine

Sally Jane Shank

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1581 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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