September 9, 2009

Evangelize? Who, Me?

2009 1525 page28 cappening my front door, I saw my neighbor and fellow church member Michelle beaming at me as she held up a stack of yellow flyers. “I’ve decided to start a neighborhood Bible study!” she announced, her words tumbling out in a rush. “Will you help me distribute these flyers?”

“Um, I guess so,” I replied, unable to muster nearly as much enthusiasm as Michelle was exhibiting. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to share my faith with others; I just didn’t feel comfortable knocking on strangers’ doors throughout the community to invite them to something.

“Oh, come on!” Michelle urged. “It’ll be fun!”
Maybe for her, I thought, but she’s an extrovert. An introvert like me dreads this sort of thing.
“Failing” at Evangelism?
Once again I felt like a failure at evangelism. I genuinely wanted to answer Jesus’ call to share the gospel message with others—but whenever I tried to force myself to do it, I didn’t get very far before my anxiety forced me to stop. Some others I knew seemed to have no problem giving out tracts to shoppers at the mall or beginning spiritual conversations with people sitting next to them on airplanes. But these activities just don’t come naturally to me, so I started to think I wasn’t cut out for evangelism. That was until I discovered that I’d been evangelizing people without even realizing it.
2009 1525 page28Soon after I walked through our neighborhood with Michelle that day handing out flyers (feeling too guilty to say no to her request but too nervous to engage in meaningful conversations with the people we met), a coworker of mine gave her life to Christ. She told me she made the decision after thinking and praying about conversations she and I had had during the past few months—just simple discussions in which the topic of faith had naturally come up a few times. Who knew? I was an evangelist after all!
More Than One Way to Evangelize!
Evangelism is for everyone, and there are as many ways to do it as there are different personalities. If witnessing feels like a chore, or if it’s something you dread, you’re probably going about it the wrong way. Freeing yourself from the pressure of conforming to a particular evangelism strategy opens the door for you simply to be yourself as you share your faith. Then evangelism will happen naturally.
Here are some ways you can make evangelism a natural part of your life:
• Ask God to show you whom He would like you to reach, and ask Him to bring those people into your life at the right times and in the right situations. Trust the Holy Spirit to reveal when and how to talk with each person about Jesus and to empower you to do so.
• Be willing to invest the time and energy needed to build meaningful relationships with those you want to reach. Instead of looking at people as projects to work on, view them simply as people to love. Accept them for who they are, in spite of their faults. Ask them questions about their lives and listen actively as they talk. Show genuine interest in their stories. Find common interests (sports, hobbies, business) with people you’re trying to reach, and spend time together pursuing those interests. As you talk with them and earn their trust, you can gradually and naturally direct your conversations toward spiritual issues.
• After you learn about others, tell them about your own life. Then share the story of how and why you began a relationship with Christ and how that relationship has made a difference for you. Be sure to back up your testimony by living out your faith (treating people well, working hard, making decisions with integrity, and so forth) so others can see by your actions that you mean what you say.
• Pray for people. When others share their needs with you, ask if they would like you to pray about those needs. Ask God to show you specific ways He wants you to intercede for people you’re trying to reach. Consider writing down what you sense God is telling you during your prayer times. Share some prayer requests with others who will help you intercede for the people for whom you’re praying.
• Speak to people’s hearts. Attempt to understand who people truly are and what needs and desires are in their hearts. Identify the ways they’re trying to find fulfillment apart from God—such as through food, alcohol, sex, gambling, overwork, or other addictive behaviors—and keep that information in mind when helping them discover God. Whenever you encounter someone who is suffering in ways you yourself have suffered, identify and empathize with them, and use what you’ve learned in your own life to minister to them with compassion. If you meet someone who’s grieving and you’ve experienced the death of someone close to you, talk about how Jesus helped you deal with grief.
• Discuss how the gospel message relates to people’s individual points of need. Don’t assume that people already know the gospel. Be willing to explain it to them, and give them time to process the message on a personal level.
• Remember that it’s God—not you—who does the work of saving souls. Your job simply is to be faithful in ministering to people as God leads you to do so. Leave the results up to God. Rather than pressuring people into making decisions when they’re not ready, give them the time and space they need to work through all the issues they need to deal with so their faith will be genuine. Relax and trust that God Himself is at work in the lives of everyone you’re trying to reach for Him.
• Help others grow. After people begin relationships with Jesus, do all you can to support them so they’ll grow in faith. Help them connect with a local church and begin reading the Bible. Be available to meet with them regularly to pray, answer their questions, and study the Bible together.
As you follow these simple methods, you’ll find—perhaps surprisingly—that evangelism is for everyone! Just ask God to show you ways to evangelize that will work best for you. 

Whitney Von Lake Hopler is a freelance writer and editor living in Virginia.