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A Modest Lesson in Evangelism

by on July 12, 2017

Guest Blogger: Jason Andersen

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” – Hebrews 13:7
“Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” – Psalm 96:3

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” – Romans 1:16

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It was Saturday morning, about 6:00am. I had arrived in Bettendorf at about 8:30pm the night before. I was fairly tired, having stayed up well beyond midnight visiting with Pastor Mike in his home. Pastor Mike had invited me to go with him to meet brother Tony early for breakfast at a restaurant near the church before the morning men’s Bible study. I was eager to oblige. After all, I had not driven all this way to sleep.

This was my second visit to Grace Fellowship Church. I had come on my own this time, leaving my wife and children at home. All of us had visited together a few months prior, through a series of events which I will attribute to God’s gracious providence. But that is a story for another time.

We arrived at the restaurant to find brother Tony already seated. We were welcomed warmly. I had met Tony once before, but only briefly, and I was looking forward to spending a bit of time with him. I was eager to hear from him personally to learn how he had come to move from southern California to such an obscure place as eastern Iowa.

I looked around the restaurant. It was a simple place, with an unremarkable small town vibe. Being an Iowa native, such a quaint atmosphere has always felt pretty familiar and comfortable to me. Yet I imagined how foreign it must be for this Californian sitting in front of me. What made this man uproot his family and come all the way here?

As we sipped coffee and ordered food, Pastor Mike related to Tony a bit of my story — what it was that had brought me back there that weekend. I shared with Tony what had recently transpired in my life: the events leading up to our decision to leave our church in Ankeny, the sorrow in leaving behind beloved pastors and church family, and how I was soberly contemplating what the next chapter of our lives would look like.

Pastor Mike believed that it would be edifying for me to hear a bit of Tony’s testimony. I listened intently as Tony shared with me about his life — about the lack of personal shepherding he had experienced throughout his many years in the church, and other things that influenced his decision to move to Davenport. My heart was greatly ministered to. I won’t speak exhaustively of our conversation though, as that is not the focal point of this writing.

After we had eaten and visited a while longer, the clock was nearing 7:00am. Tony said that it was time for morning Bible reading (for those who don’t know, Tony leads a morning Bible reading time live on YouTube six days a week). I assumed that this was our cue to adjourn our meeting. Surely, I thought, Tony was going to go back to his car or head home and host his Bible reading from there before heading to Bible study. But as I was nearly ready to get up from the booth, I noticed Tony was getting his phone out. His Bible had already been on the table. Then it occurred to me. We were going to do this right here.

Moments later, we were live on the internet. In a public restaurant. With an open Bible. That we were about to read out loud. With strangers around.

Tony greeted folks as they joined his livestream, and waited a few minutes for people to finish coming in.
Tony looked at Pastor Mike. “You want to lead our time in prayer?”

“I would be happy to,” the reply came.

As Pastor Mike prayed, I contemplated this situation. “This is remarkable,” I remember thinking. “Here I am in a public setting with these two,  and we’re about to read the Bible. This couple sitting next to us is going to hear the word of God read aloud. That waitress is going to hear it. Those people behind us are going to hear it. Those people across the room will hear it.” This was a thing unheard of to me.

But at the same time, I also felt a swell of discomfort. “Is this OK to do? Will people find this a nuisance? Will the staff receive complaints? I’ll bet the staff is probably used to Pastor Mike by now, and he still seems to be welcome here. Maybe they know what to expect.”

I felt very out of place, in a couple of ways. First, I recognized that my flesh was recoiling with a cry of self-love. This came as no real surprise. My flesh really loves itself, and hates the idea of looking foolish. Because that’s what the word of God is to the world — foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18).

But the second out-of-place feeling was very different. As I sat in the booth with my head bowed in prayer, I recognized that I was in a sort of company right now that I had never experienced before. I was in the company of men — older brothers in Christ — whom I knew to be men with a tangible, palpable passion for evangelism. I had been around both of these men long enough to see that preaching the word of God to a dying world was not a theoretical activity to them — it was truly a way of life. And I found myself unable to relate.

My life as a Christian has been well-comprised of personal Scripture study, listening to and relishing sermons, reading blogs, meeting for coffee and breaking bread with friends, praying together for the needs of the saints, helping brethren in need. These things are all great. Yet I would refer to them as “internal” dynamics of the Christian life. That is, they serve my own growth and upbuilding, and they serve toward the edification of others in the church. These things take place inside the church.

But what about “external” or “outward” dynamics of the Christian life? What about those outside the church? What are we, as the church, actually doing to deliberately obey the great commission? Do we actually want to see the world evangelized? What am I doing to that end? I have heard many pastors speak with a great sense of urgency regarding the great commission; of making disciples of all nations, of preaching the gospel to every creature on the earth; but I’ve never been introduced to what that looks like in practice. How do we put feet to that? I’ve never seen it leave the realm of the abstract. Evangelism in our day has essentially been reduced to being an upstanding, moral citizen and occasionally discussing Jesus with the people around you if he happens to come up. But this doesn’t seem like enough; it doesn’t line up with the vision I see in Scripture.
Surely, I can say that I’ve engaged in a number of gospel conversations with unbelieving coworkers and acquaintances over the years. And these are good. It ought to be only natural that we look for ways to broach the gospel with the people we spend most of our time with. But the context of being at work tends to inhibit these interactions, and rightly so, because Christians ought to be working hard when we’re at work (Col. 3:23, Eph. 6:6), not neglecting our work in order to preach.

I’ve spent a number of evenings preaching at a homeless shelter (albeit to men who had no other choice than to sit and listen or be expelled from the place). This, too, is good. Yet there is a different dynamic created when these men feel like they are stuck there listening to your preaching as a sort of payment they must give in return for the hospitality of a warm bed for the night. To them, this makes both the preaching and the hospitality seem rather pretentious. Even so, I trust that God has used these times, for his word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11).

So I’ve preached the gospel to men who were cornered by need into listening to me, and I’ve discussed the gospel at times with coworkers (being mindful of what could get me fired). But what about other contexts? The wrath of God abides on all who are outside of Christ — not only homeless men, and not only my co-workers. There are countless people out there who are living their lives as though everything is just fine. These people aren’t looking for the gospel, nor are they forced to suffer it, but they need it. How will we get it to them?

I’ve often thought about Acts 17. We are told that Paul went into the marketplace every day to preach and to reason “with those who happened to be there” (paratygchanō). Think about that. He was going into a public place, with the singular, premeditated purpose of presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ to strangers. In short, he was breaking all the rules of modern American evangelism. What he was doing is considered taboo by those in the modern church. He preached Christ in the middle of the street, out in the open, unashamedly challenging the worldviews of pagans as they went about their daily lives by heralding to them the good news of Jesus Christ, calling them to repentance and faith exactly where they stood:

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but know he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31).

Paul didn’t wait until he had “formed relationships” with these people. He didn’t first try to smooth these people over so that they “knew that he cared before he shared.” No. He preached Christ crucified. That’s what people need, and they need it now. Paul’s sole mission in every town that he went was to love sinners by proclaiming to them the gospel. The modern paradigm of good-deeds evangelism is not something we find in the example of Paul. The gospel must be preached (Romans 10:14). It is news to be heralded (Matthew 24:14), and that takes words.

To be certain, Paul definitely did form relationships with the people in the cities where he spent time preaching the gospel. In his letters, we see him very affectionately greet and address a number of individual, beloved brothers and sisters (Col. 4:15-17, Phil. 4:2). He had a deep, personal affection for the people in the churches throughout the regions he visited — people that knew him, and were known by him. He often spent substantial time in these cities, living among the people, loving them day by day, laboring to establish the health of their faith, as a loving mother nursing a child (1 Thes. 2:7). He gave them not only a word but an example to follow (1 Cor. 11:1). He spent eighteen months in Corinth alone (Acts 18:11). But all of these relationships began with the preaching of the gospel. He did not form pretentious relationships with them in order to maybe later hopefully have a chance to share the gospel. The gospel was front and center, always.

Paul regarded himself as a prisoner and a slave of Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:1, Philemon 1:1, Romans 1:1). Paul saw himself to be under a divine obligation to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16), such that he said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” For if he did not, how then would he answer to his master? Paul would never have risked standing before Christ and having to testify, “Well, I spent months and years trying to form relationships with people, but I never really had a good chance to discuss the gospel with them.” On the contrary, Paul made up his mind to know nothing but Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul’s testimony before Christ concerning all of the churches would be, “I am innocent of the blood of these people, for I did not shrink from declaring to them your whole counsel.” (Acts 20:26-27).
The gospel must not only be spoken. It must not be whispered. It must not only be given honor in our church gatherings. It must not only be contemplated in the comfort of our own homes. And it must not only be shared with those whom we suspect would like to hear it, lest we forget that the gospel has no natural audience (1 Cor. 1:22-24). No. This gospel must be heralded unto all creation. Jesus commands nothing less.
What license have I, therefore, to be ashamed that these restaurant patrons would overhear the words of the Living God?

Pastor Mike finished praying. Tony donned his glasses and began reading in 1 Samuel 13.

As Tony read, I noticed that he wasn’t whispering, as he might have done if he were ashamed or otherwise afraid to be regarded as a nuisance by those around us. Neither was he going out of his way to shout, as to cause a ruckus. But if you know anything about Tony, you’ll note that his voice is pretty distinct. Not only is his voice deep, but it also seems to bend all the rules of acoustics. Even with his normal speaking voice, there was no doubt in my mind that the entire restaurant could hear everything he was saying.

Looking down at the table to my phone, I quietly followed along with the reading of the text. I wondered what the people around us must be thinking. There was an older couple at the table immediately adjacent to us, spreading jelly on their toast, sipping coffee. I noticed the woman sort of glancing over at us. My thoughts wandered to the people behind us. To the waitress. To those people over in the opposite corner. Surely, someone in this restaurant was casting an eye-rolling glance in my direction. “Those foolish Christians.”

Tony continued to read. Chapter 13 came to an end, and he moved right on into chapter 14. It was clear to me that Tony had not the slightest bit of shame in what he was doing. He had no need to apologize. This was the holy word of God. The eternal, authoritative revelation that the King of the universe has disclosed to mankind. And people need to hear it. Tony was not ashamed of the word of God.
And I shouldn’t be either. And neither should you, Christian.

Although God had already been working this conviction into me prior to this morning (through contemplation of texts like Acts 17), it was in those moments with Tony and Pastor Mike that I came to conclude that there was something seriously lacking in the way I had thought of and approached evangelism in my life. Through the mere reading of the word of God in a public place (which isn’t really that dramatic by itself), as well as through other exposure to the brethren at Grace Fellowship, I found myself to be witnessing a kind of passion for the heralding of the word of God that I’d previously only read about. It convicted me. It provoked me in a holy way (Hebrews 10:24) And it was resolved in my heart that I need to be around the example and fellowship of men like these.

Tony continued through chapter 15, then ended for the day. Pastor Mike then closed by giving some brief thoughts from the text. Minutes later, we drove to the church to meet the rest of the men for Saturday morning Bible study.

I share this anecdote not to give praise to Tony and Mike. They are imperfect men; broken, redeemed vessels. Moreover, the Lord hates a flattering tongue (Psalm 5:9, Prov. 29:5). I share this story only as a testimony of how God used this particular morning as a sort of culmination to an overarching work he has been doing in my heart, and I pray some may be blessed by it.

Jason

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