Personal evangelism is the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ by the individual Christian. It is probably the most rewarding of all avenues of Christian service. Every Christian is called to be a witness (Matt.28:19, Rom.10:9,10). Not everyone is called to
be an evangelist in the public sense, but all Christians whether timid or bold, introvert or extrovert, are called to be individual witnesses to Jesus. Our aim is to introduce others to the Lord Jesus Christ. This Crossfire seeks to provide guidelines on how to witness to Christ
within the context of Service life.
Why be involved?
There are two main reasons why we should all be involved in personal evangelism. Firstly it is a command of the Lord Jesus: it is not an optional extra (Matt.28:19,20). If we are obedient to the command to witness to others (Rom.10:9) we will discover that other areas of our lives will benefit. Whether it is in worship, prayer, Bible reading or the simple desire to know Jesus Christ better, all facets of our Christian experience will be enriched as we seek to introduce
others to the Lord. Secondly, in Service life as elsewhere, we are surrounded by men and women who are dead (Eph.2:1), blind (2 Cor.4:4), slaves of sin (John 8:34) and above all lost (Luke 19:10). They are separated from God now and potentially in eternity. They therefore
desperately need to hear the Gospel, as we once did, and it is sheer selfishness on our part to keep silent. They may never again be in close contact with a Christian, and we should remember that one day we shall have to give an account of how we used the opportunities given to us.
How, Where and When?
There can be no foolproof method of personal evangelism since this is first of all a work of God, not of man. The following points are culled from the teaching of Scripture and the experience of Christians, with the Service way of life in mind.
- We must be able, even if only in a small way, to tell of the difference Jesus Christ has made to our lives (Acts 4:20).
- We must pray. Asking the Lord first whom we should pray for - preferably concentrating first on one or two. We should pray for them regularly, then ask for opportunities to speak to them. We should pray daily to be made available to speak to others, and pray even whilst we are in the process of witnessing. A prayer list of names for every day of the week is a very helpful aide to prayer - provided it is not treated too mechanically.
- We must build friendship with those to whom we hope to witness. Within a Service environment this may take time, as we live in a closer community than most. Here our conduct, bothpersonally and professionally, plays a vital part. Others must see that there is something different in our lives, although we may not be aware of it ourselves. On the other hand it is no good waiting until we have attained perfection. We never will. The time to start telling others about Christ is now. If the Holy Spirit is ruling our lives, He will prompt us to speak and then use ourwords despite our failings.
- We must earn the right to speak. This usually comes after we have learned to listen! With a contemporary this may arise fairly quickly, after a shared exercise, perhaps, or during a training course. With someone a little older, or a member of our family, it may take longer. Intheir case actions will speak louder than words, until a time comes when a natural opportunity arises for us to "explain the hope that is in us" (1 Pet.3:15).
- Although we may have to persevere before we have earned the right to speak, we should be sensitive to the unexpected opportunity. It may be someone under our command, a chance acquaintance, or one to whom we are in general unattracted. The Lord may want us to witness
to them, and He may give us only one opportunity. These are occasions which the Lord delights to use, and when the power of the Holy Spirit
is most evident.
- We must apply ourselves to understanding the problems and obstacles hindering men from coming to Christ. The first gift to pray for is discernment, or spiritual understanding (Col.1:9). We need to identify the counterfeit enquiry from the genuine. Examples are questions such as:- "What makes you think the Bible is the word of God?" "How about the heathen who've never heard of Christ?" "What about evolution and Genesis?" These questions need to be answered honestly but briefly, the aim being to avoid being sidetracked (cf. Jesus in John 4:7-26). Although often a smoke-screen, such questions may be genuine and it is only the Holy Spirit who can give us wisdom in this. Other common, often more sincere, questions are:- "Is the resurrection of Christ true?" "Is Christ the only way to God?" "Why do the innocent suffer if God is a God of love?" "Isn't Christian experience only psychological?" "I have done my best to live a good life, surely this is all that God expects?" We should have clear answers to these questions, if not for the benefit of others, at least for our own; even though in the case of some problems, such as suffering, the answer will inevitably be incomplete. A knowledge of suitable books can be vital here. Many have come to know Christ through reading books such as:- Man Alive (Michael Green), Tortured for Christ (Richard Wurmbrand), Basic Christianity (John Stott), God's Smuggler (Brother Andrew), The Cross and the Switchblade (David Wilkerson).
- Just one other person before we broach spiritual matters. Officers in particular don't, as a rule, like to bare their soul in public. We in turn should seek to be as tactful and sensitive as possible, since the offence of the Cross is quite sufficient without the added offence
of our own aggressive or arrogant behaviour. Once in a discussion our aim should be to share the good news, rather than to win an argument. The latter approach is the surest way to put someone off.
- As a general rule it is best to witness to members of one's own sex. Otherwise there is always the danger of an emotional involvement on one side or the other. More insidiously such relationship can lead to a profession of faith for the wrong motives, and so cause deep long term spiritual problems.
- We should be aware that this is a spiritual battle, and our enemy, Satan, is going to use every trick to prevent the good news from being passed on. The ploy he most often uses is fear. We all find it frightening to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ. No one is exempt. Even the apostle Paul sought prayer for boldness (Eph.6:19); so should we. There is no doubt this prayer will be abundantly answered.
Eventually we will be in a position to share the heart of the gospel with someone. There are many ways of doing this but it is vital to have at least one simple way of explaining it. It is however important to start where people are, and for every individual some aspects of the Gospel will need more emphasis than others. Here is one suggested way:
We should, at the end, having explained the Gospel, be clear that the listener had, however dimly, some notion of repentence (Acts 20:21), surrender (Mark 8:34) and the need to confess Christ before others, even if just to one other at first (Matt.10:32,33), Again, however,
we must not feel we have to cover all this at once; it may for some be weeks or even months after their conversion before they see all these aspects clearly.
- Firstly we need to admit our need, to establish the fact of sin, and its consequences for us all (Rom.3:23).
- Secondly we must explain the meaning of the Cross (1 Pet.2:24; Is.53:6; 1 Pet.3:18). thus a person may come to believe that Christ came to die for us, and that through His death we can come to know God.
- Thirdly we must demonstrate the need for personal commitment (Matt.11:29,30; Rev.3:20; John 1:12).
- In addition we should stress the need to count the cost, remembering that Jesus Himself discouraged people from following Him for superficial motives (Luke 9:57-62; 14:25-33).
It follows that effectiveness in this work requires a close personal relationship with Christ, a sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit, familiarity with the Bible and the commitment of at least a few verses to memory. A method such as the Navigators Topical Memory System can be very helpful in memorising verses (available through the OCU office) .
When someone has committed themselves to Christ there is cause for great rejoicing (Luke 15:7), but in a sense the work has only just begun. Our task then is by our prayer and encouragement to build up the `babe in Christ' to mature and fruitful Christian living. This vital topic will be covered in another Crossfire article on `Follow Up'.
We could in summary exhort one another to adopt two final principles. Firstly we should seek to learn from experience. We are all going to make mistakes, we will never stop learning, and there will be discouragements. Here we can profit especially from biographies of great and fruitful Christian workers such as D.L. Moody or Hudson Taylor. Secondly we must be conscious that this is always going to be a work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor.3:6,7). There can never be any room for pride, but just joyful gratitude that God has chosen to use us in this most exciting of all undertakings.
Jesus said that "the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few" (Matt.9:37,38). If every OCU member brought just one officer to Christ a year, every officer in the Services would be a committed Christian within 8 years.
Suggested further study materials:
"An introduction to Personal Evangelism" D.R.MacInnes - Falcon
"Fishing for Men" W.F.Batt - IVP
"Personal Evangelism" J.W.R.Stott - IVP
"How to give away your faith" Paul C.Little - IVP
OCU Tapes numbers 391 & 392 Michael Green
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