(Picture from https://thepreachersword.com/)
In business around 20% of the staff are typically involved in sales, more in small companies. Within the membership of a church it is not unreasonable to think that 20% of the members could be gifted in evangelism, for one in five of the church-building roles Paul lists in Ephesians are evangelists. However, just as sales staff are trained, so I believe that most Christians need to be trained to share the gospel effectively. A very few Christians such as the martyr Stephen are such natural salesman that they can begin to evangelize without further instruction as soon as they join the Kingdom of God, but even they will learn to do it better as they work at it.
For most Christians however, learning to share the gospel effectively may take time. It took St Paul, who was already a trained Rabbi, seven years from his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus to work out how he was going to carry out his ministry as an apostle. I don't believe it will take most real Christians anything like that time, but don't assume that because you want to be an evangelist you can start evangelizing straight away. Share your commitment to Jesus straight away, yes! Tell people what difference he has made in your life, yes! But before you can lead others into faith and discipleship you may have some more to learn first, both from the Scriptures and from life.
Here are the necessary steps in learning to be part of Jesus's sales team as I understand them. If at all possible, follow these steps with at least one other person, so that you can encourage each other. Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs on their first training trip.
- First of all, read my tongue-in-cheek blog article, "The culturally relevant church". I believe you have to make a decision about the truth of the Bible before you can be effective in any role within God's kingdom. Billy Graham became an effective evangelist only after he had made a decision that he was going to believe the whole Bible as the true word of God, without compromise. His first UK mission to Harringay was characterized by his repeated declaration, "The Bible says..." When he was challenged in an interview, "Your version of Christianity will put the church back 200 years" he replied, "If I do that then I will have failed. I want to put the church back 2000 years!" That was when church growth was at its fastest in history. Furthermore, it is important that whatever church you belong to is equally committed to the truth of God's word, otherwise any new Christians you introduce to it will not be fed a diet on which they can grow into the likeness of Christ, and they may even shrivel up and die.
- Join the company staff. Before you can think about helping others to be born again as a citizen of the Kingdom of God you yourself must be born again. There's currently a freebie "The Way, the Truth and the Life" on my website. You can download it if you need help on this. People will believe a salesman who has himself bought the product he is trying to sell them.
- Product knowledge and belief in it. Effective salesmen have to know and believe in the product they are selling. So get it straight in your head and heart what the gospel is, and if necessary ask for help in this. Understand how seriously people need to hear the gospel. An atheist said to an evangelist, "I don't respect people who don't proselytize. I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and hell and that people could be going to hell and not getting eternal life or whatever and you think it's not worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward how much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn't believe it there would come a point when I would tackle you. And this is more important than that."
- Product details. Effective evangelists quote relevant Bible verses to support what they say. This is very important, since the Holy Spirit uses the word of God to convict people of sin and judgement and salvation. The word of God is able to discern and expose the secrets of men's hearts, and it is the seed by which alone people are born anew. People are born anew throught the living and abiding word of God. (1 Peter 1:23) Learn relevant verses by heart so that you can quote them. It's as essential as it is for a car salesman to be able to quote all the stats of a car he is selling. Some evangelists learn the Bible references as well, but that's not essential unless you are sitting down with someone to show them what the Bible says and you have to find them. The writer of Hebrews said more than once, "It has been said somewhere...", so evidently he or she couldn't remember which book of the Old Testament they were quoting from!
- Answer objections. Prepare short answers to possible objections to the gospel that you may encounter. e.g. "I don't believe in God," "I don't believe the Bible is true," "Life evolved - it wasn't created like the Bible says," "How can a God of love consign people to never-ending torture just because they have never heard of Jesus?" I've provided answers to these and other questions in my two books, Z: The Final Generation and Z: Answers for the Final Generation. Knowing that you have answers will give you confidence, like preparing properly for a job interview.
- Sales presentation. Work out how you will explain your understanding of the gospel to an unbeliever. There are different kinds of unbeliever, so more than one approach might be necessary. John Wesley once preached to some upperclass people in London on the text, "You snakes, your viper's brood: who warned you to flee from the wrath to come"! When asked which text he would preach on to a bunch of obvious sinners he replied, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
- Building rapport. It may help to think of some possible conversation starters and learn them. People appreciate someone who takes a genuine interest in them and does not simply see them as a potential customer or scalp! Listen to what they say and respond to that: don't just continue with what you were planning to say anyway and effectively ignore them. If you can discover something you have in common with them it will help. Jesus met people's immediate needs as well as their principal need to be saved from eternal death. If you can find out what people's immediate needs are this may provide a bridge to faith in Jesus. If not, then of course you will seek to show them that their principal need is salvation.
- Initial training. Like sales trainees, actors and politicians do, practise explaining on your own the good news to an imaginary person or crowd, perhaps in front of a bedroom mirror! Do this until you feel confident about it.
- Further training. Then practise doing the same thing in role play, with Christian friends taking the roles of various kinds of unbeliever - atheist, agnostic, searcher for truth, person in need of help, very bad person, old person, young person, etc. Ideally involve all your home group or other small group in similar training, so that you can all practise on each other. OK, this takes time and effort, but think about how long and hard potential Olympic Games medallists train for success. You are seeking to achieve something far more important than a medal hanging round your neck.
- Closing the deal. Next you need to work out what you will say to someone who accepts your message. This is equivalent to telling a potential customer who decides he wants to buy your product how to buy it. Will you pray with them? Will you give them some guiding literature? Will you advise them to buy or download a Bible to read? Will you invite them to come with you to church - perhaps offer to meet them beforehand and go with them - or advise them how to find a suitable local church? This is just as important as delivering the gospel message. At Pentecost the convicted crowds asked Peter, "Brethren, what shall we do?" You must have an answer to that question. George Whitfield was a contemporary of John Wesley and an even more effective evangelistic preacher, but many of his converts did not continue to follow Christ for long because he did not incorporate them into house groups as John Wesley did into his 'class meetings'. Wesley likened Whitfield's work to making a rope out of sand.
- On the job learning. If possible accompany someone who is already an evangelist to see how they do it.
- On the job yourself. Then go with them and try it yourself, first to individuals, then perhaps to a crowd if that is something you want to try.
- Ongoing learning. Make notes of what happens, particularly where you get into difficulties, and work out better ways to deal with similar situations in the future. It is a case of practising, persevering, learning and doing better. Like medal winners at sports events do. Be imaginative in what you say and do. If you can't answer what appears to be a genuine question, ask if you can contact the questioner again when you have found an answer to it. If someone in a public meeting heckles you, you might ask him a question. (e.g. In response to, "God doesn't exist!" you might try, "How do you know, sir?" or "Why don't you want to believe he exists, madam?")
- Specialization. It may be that God has gifted you to share the gospel primarily with one particular group of people, e.g. children, students, old people, the homeless, even prisoners. Keep that in mind.
- Equipment. Jesus told his disciples not only to preach the good news but also to heal the sick and cast out demons. Participating in the Great Commission requires the help and power of the Holy Spirit - "Apart from me you can do nothing". "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth." Don't stick rigidly to a formula. Let the Holy Spirit lead your conversation, and be prepared to speak or act in unexpected ways. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and try to think what he would say or do.
- Appointment to the sales staff. While Jesus is the company owner, appointments are made by the managing director, who in the church context is the lead pastor. All your training and your activity as a church evangelist should take place under the lead pastor's authority. But Jesus remains the one who ultimately commissions us and who promises us his all-sufficient help. "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
- Train others. Once your evangelism starts to bear fruit, always try to have new trainees with you to learn from you. "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do..." (Philippians 4.9)
Jesus's disciples returned from their first training trip with joy. You will do the same!
Many Christians in the UK believe:
- that Christ's return really is near (I believe probably in 2033 - see Z: The Final Generation)
- that there will be a final spiritual revival in our land once we have left the EU
- that this revival will be led by powerful evangelists.
Some six months after the day of Pentecost, Stephen was stoned to death. The new believers in Jerusalem fled to other parts of the country where they preached the word. (Acts 8.1-4) But suppose that they and every subsequent believer had been willing to keep moving on in order to continue to share the good news of Jesus where it had never been heard before. And suppose that each believer led just one other person to believe in Jesus each year and that every new believer did the same. The astonishing fact is that if that had happened then within just sixteen years the first group of 3000 Christians who were baptized on the day of Pentecost would have multiplied to almost 200 million, the estimated population of the entire world at that time! Just sixteen years!
"Be fruitful and multiply," God told Adam. Jesus is telling you and me today to do the same thing spiritually. "Be fruitful and multiply." We can do it!
This morning I discovered in Psalm 51 an amazing prayer of commitment to evangelism.
The bit about bloodguiltiness was probably a reference to David's arrangement for Bathsheba's husband to be killed so that David could have her as his wife. However, in the context of this being a prayer to teach transgressors God's ways and to ask God to open our lips to speak his praises to them, it has another powerful meaning. In Ezekiel 33.8 God says to the prophet, "If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand." That's bloodguiltiness! "His blood I will require at your hand." Wow!!! But then God gave Ezekiel - and us - a strong positive encouragement to get on with the job. "But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way; he shall die in his iniquity, but you will have saved your life." (Ezekiel 33.9) "Every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven," Jesus said. (Matthew 10.32)"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will return to thee.Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance.O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise." (Psalm 51: 10-15)
"O God, put a right spirit within me; make me willing to do your will. Fill me again with your Holy Spirit, so that I can do it. Teach me to teach transgressors your ways; so may sinners return to you, that together we may share in the joy of your salvation."