The Great Commission, it's not an option and I don't treat it like one. Jesus said to "Go" and that's just what I do. I've always wanted to share my faith, even from the moment I walked down the aisle at my church and asked Jesus into my heart. So I went to my Pastor and told him I wanted to get some training in evangelism. Before you knew it, I was joining hundreds of others in a nearby church to learn this new evangelism method that a Christian company had recently put out.
The training was great. I never knew evangelism was so intricate. I admit, I didn't like all the memorization of acrostics. They drilled it into you the first two days and then you had to repeat everything on the little card they gave you exactly as it appeared every time. The few times I messed up, the teacher quickly corrected me and told me to start over. I just figured that these were evangelism pros and all the souls they said they had won to Christ showed how effective their method really was. There was some Scripture throughout the acrostic but they advised us not to push quoting the passages to much, since most people were just turned off by the Bible. With method in hand I was ready to hit the ground running.
I sat down with my Pastor and was soon elected as the Director of evangelism in my church. The Pastor setup a weekly meeting with me to make sure I was keeping on track. The first meeting, he laid out some expectations for me and this ministry. First, he emphasized the importance of inviting every person to whom we would witness to our church. In fact he made it a point to remind me that an invitation to church was just as good, if not better, than just sharing the Gospel with them. If I didn't have time to talk about Christ I should certainly ask them to church. I had never thought of that. I mean, what's the point of evangelizing if you can't get that new convert into your church.
The next point he wanted to make was what he called the "deal closer". He was familiar with the method I had been recently taught and borrowed the laminated card on which it was typed. He pulled out a black permanent marker and circled the section called "The sinner's prayer" at the bottom. "This is what you need every encounter to end with," he said. "Unless of course they refuse to talk to you. You know, we can't force them into the kingdom" This prayer looked familiar since it was close to what I had said to get saved before. "Make sure to have them repeat exactly as you read it to them."
With words of encouragement and a prayer for success I was ready to start our first training session for the rest of the church. The training went great and the enthusiasm was even better. People were looking forward to how our evangelism would bring more people into our church. Sure enough, on our first outing we had 5 people repeat the sinner's prayer. WOW! Each of them were asked to come to church that Sunday to make a public profession of faith. I was a little disappointed that only 2 showed up though. I figured that the others would eventually come and the two who did joined the church that morning.
After several months of evangelism our team had seen 48 people get saved. But out of those 48 only 20 ever came to church. Out of them only 8 are still coming. One of the guys who got saved is living with his girlfriend but the Pastor said that shouldn't prevent him from joining the church. There's no telling what kind of reputation our church would have if we told someone they couldn't be a member. Another teenage girl we had witnessed to became a part of our youth group. She started bring her friends, which was great for our first church lock-in. Some church members asked if anyone had ever gone to witness to her parents but the Pastor reassured them that the girl was now our "missionary" into her own home. I am still a little uncomfortable with the revealing clothing she wears and how she seems to flirt with the boys in youth. Oh well, at least she got baptized the Sunday after she started coming to church.
Our Pastor formed a "Follow-up committee" made up of himself and the Deacons to check-in on those who had signed their salvation cards during our visits. This really helped out numbers because we soon found that more of those we had witnessed to started coming. We really didn't care why they hadn't come in the first place, we were just happy to see them join.
Recently I ran into a few guys in my town who were out on the streets passing out tracts. One of them handed me a tract that was rather upsetting. It talked about Hell and judgment, about being a sinner and failing to keep the Ten Commandments. I was furious at how this tract was worded so I turned around to talk to them. One of the guys, named Steve, talked to me while the other continued handing out tracts.
Ned: "Do you realize how offensive this tract is? How do you expect to get people saved if all you talk about is Hell and judgment?"
Steve: "Actually the tract talks about judgment and grace. Did you not read the entire thing?"
Ned: "No. I mean, how could I? It talks about God being judging and condemning. My God is a God of love and understanding. He accepts people and just wants them to be with Him for eternity."
Steve: "We believe God is love also and that God desires all people everywhere to repent of their sins and trust in Christ."
Ned: "Look, I appreciate what you guys are doing. I do it myself. But I use tactics that are less intrusive. You guys don't even have the sinner's prayer on this thing. How are people suppose to ask Jesus into their heart if you don't at least give them that?"
Steve: "Well, they're not suppose to ask Jesus into their heart. That's not in the Bible. You are probably thinking of Revelation 3:20. But that verse is speaking about a church and not about individual salvation."
Ned: "Revelations what? It doesn't matter if it's in the Bible or not because it works. I've seen it. I myself have helped to save dozens of people. They asked Jesus into their heart, joined the church, and...well some of them stopped coming but others are still attending."
Steve: "Let me ask you something."
Steve: "Would you consider yourself to be a good person?"
What happened next was ridiculous. Steve asked me if I had kept the Ten Commandments. Had I lusted, stolen, hated, used God's name as a curse word, etc. Steve even said that believing that God was just love and not just or angry at sin was committing idolatry because I was making a god to suit myself. What were he thinking.? I had already told him I was a member of a church. Why was he trying to witness to me? I stopped him after a few minutes and handed the tract back to the other guy.
Ned: "Thanks but no thanks guys. You stick with you hellfire and brimstone while I use my method. You guys even carry a Bible around with you. We don't need our Bible when we are witnessing. We have all we need on this nice, little, laminated card. Give me a call in a year and we'll see who more people saved and in their church."
Most evangelism today is structured very much like the scenario you have read. It starts with method, usually devised with numerical success in mind, and sprinkles in Scripture to fill the gaps. Because Scripture is not the starting point, success can only be measured by outward results. If the desired results are not achieved, something must be tweaked. Leading people in a mantra-style sinner's prayer is used to finalize the presentation. If they convince the person to do this, that person is usually declared a new Christian.
Scripture does not give us license to base evangelism efforts on method alone. Method must be preceded by biblical principles. Think of biblical principle as the framework onto which method is hung. If there are no biblical principles prior to methodology then the method will have to be reinforced by something else. This is where success in numbers comes in. If the numbers for one's method are significant then the method is validated in their eyes. If numbers cannot be shown, then likewise, the method is regarded as irrelevant even if it is based on biblical principle.
Some see biblical principles and godly examples as simply antiquated and out of touch with today's culture. This is prevalent in evangelism and has undoubtedly led to countless false conversions as unregenerated sinners are reassured that walking the aisle at church, saying a little prayer, or raising your hand at a VBS or other event has saved them.
Interested in learning the biblical principles of evangelism? Then I recommend checking out Ray Comfort's "Hell's Best Kept Secret" sermon. I would also love to send you a copy of "God has a wonderful plan for your life". Just send me your address via my email: firstname.lastname@example.org
As believers we must take a stand on the Word as our source of teaching for seeking the lost and unashamedly proclaim the full counsel of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Relying on man-made methods and man-centered motives will find us not only in the camp of pragmatism but veering ever closer to the jagged rocks of pride as we think we have found a better way to drive the lost into the Kingdom of God.
Examine your traditions and teachings against the Word. If you, as I had, come to the place where you realize your evangelistic efforts are not based in the Word repent and get equipped to biblically share your faith.
There goes another minute. Get out there and share your faith while you still have time.
Until the whole world hears,