Honestly, evangelism was never something I felt comfortable with since it was not my gift and since I am not a natural salesman. Like most "nice-for-you" people, I don't like to shove the religious pill down anyone's throat and I don't like it when I am being coerced to change the way I am. Even when my wife tries to correct my driving, she gets a response like, "No, I am not driving too fast, you just need to close your eyes if you think I am getting too close. There's a distance of 2 car spaces, dear."
Photo Credit: Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Growing up, evangelism training meant memorizing some fundamental verses and going out to the mall. Pray hard and you will win some souls! Tell everyone you meet: “You're a sinner. Jesus is the answer. Take this free sample of Miracle Jesus, and if you get hit by a car on your way home, the ‘Sinner's prayer’ will be your get-out-of-hell insurance policy.” If that doesn’t work, throw the 10 commandments at them and corner them into an uncomfortable position.
Reading the Biblical stories of how the Jesus won people's heart - like the Samaritan woman at the well, the paralytic man, the woman caught in adultery, etc. - I found that Jesus never used the weight of their sins to convince them of His importance. Instead, He asked questions like, "What do you want from Me?" and "What do you seek?" Only after Jesus had done the impossible, miraculously meeting their need, did he finally address the sin factor: "Go and sin no more." He didn't shame them or use scare tactics. Women and men who were healed couldn't stop sharing what Jesus did for them. They were excited! They were transformed. There was no shame any more. The truth set them free.
Transformation stories offer both elements of struggle and hope, and when people hear or see them, they can’t help but pay attention. He looks great! I didn't recognize him at first! What did he do?! Something is different about her! She's such a changed person!
Personal transformation has changed the way I think about evangelism. Now, I intentionally try to insert my transformation story into my conversations with people I meet when the opportunity arises. I think of it as my personal gospel story, the good news in my life that I can share with others. Here it is:
Most people see me as an easygoing person. However, after I received the gift of my first child, I realized that God wanted to remove from within me a condition that has been plaguing my family for 3 generations. Suddenly, I found myself being short tempered and having constant, daily outbursts of anger. At times, my wife would tell me to get out of the house and go to the patio because of my mean spirit. This pattern was seen in my grandfather towards my mother and in my father’s discipline of my siblings and me. As a result, and without excuse, I passed on what I was taught as a young father. In summary, my last 3 years have been a journey of finding freedom from these strongholds in my life. This healing came from multiple support avenues through community, lots of prayer, my wife, and feedback from my children.
Today, I am a perfectly calm father who speaks with the gentleness and wisdom like the father figure of Laura Ingalls in 'Little Town on the Prairie'.... JUST KIDDING! Let me remove the smokes and screens.
First, I want to note that parts of this blog post are actually being contributed by my eleven year old son. Upon my dictation, he scribbles down the sentences on his notepad as I drive the two of us past the Grapevine on our return trip from L.A. to San Jose. This is his quote: “Today he is the father of 5 children and is improving from the angry father he was, to a kind and loving person he is today.”
My eldest son gave me his consent to print that. Obviously, I am far from perfect. BUT, Jesus has stepped in by setting me free from shame and teaching me to regularly ask for forgiveness from my children when I become overly critical or get easily irritated.
Many of my friends have heard some version of this story. I share openly with strangers at the airport, co-workers, relatives, and even to my parents and in-laws; I am able to have an honest discussion by first sharing my weaknesses. Although I should not be surprised by now, I continue to be in shock when people, in return, reveal open wounds in their marriage, struggles with their fathers and mothers or children, etc. The conversation tends to end with me encouraging them that hope was given to me and there is hope for them as well.
Evangelism is no longer a strange Sunday school story I need to convince people is true. Jesus is no longer a miracle pill I’m trying to get people to swallow.
At Christmas, we celebrate Christ’s birth, God’s choice to enter our lives so that he could set us free. Therefore, in light of the upcoming season, I encourage you to internalize what the miraculous birth of the baby Jesus Christ has done for you. What things can you ask Him to set you free from (e.g. idols, pornography, pride, shopping addiction, relationship wounds, any addictions, entertainment, etc.)? Then, only once you have experienced fresh, personal transformation in your life, will you boldly and without fear offer the free gift of God as HOPE to receive and not a religious pill to swallow.
John, his wife Angela, and their five kids have been part of the River Church Community for many years. John works in tech and is a dedicated volunteer leader with the River Youth Group.