Evangelism Takes Time (Newsletter 3-10)

Evangelism Takes Time
Earl Palmer

We need to listen, explain, and walk alongside people who are interested in Christ.
Proverbs 25:15

Evangelism, like sanctification, takes time. Therefore, we must take the time it takes.
When we relate to people, we must remind ourselves that we are on a long journey together. The idea that this is my only chance to talk to this person is a great detriment. Even on an airplane, we should speak as if we’re going to know that seatmate for the rest of our lives. After all, to quote C.S. Lewis, “Christians never say good-bye.”

Too many preachers try to say too much all at once. I’ve found the same tendency in counseling situations. Somebody comes into my office and begins sharing his life. I listen very closely, trying to listen with my heart as well as my head. My mind is soon flooded with impressions, statements, Bible verses that I can hardly wait to unleash as soon as my turn comes. “Look at this … let me tell you this story … read this book … what you need to do is …”
But in evangelism, people do not need to be admonished as much as they need to be carefully heard. Once I’m listening, I range through their arguments to find out where I can agree with them. Very often the “God” they’re rejecting I would reject, too. Why not let them know that?
I’m not saying we should not be urgent. But the gospel has its own urgent edge and does its own convicting of sin. Isn’t it good that the Holy Spirit takes care of that as we simply witness to the truth?

We have to make room for people to struggle, because the stakes are so big. We should not be too pleased if someone comes to Christ with little struggle—it may mean this is simply a compliant person, and the same compliance that eases them into Christianity may also ease them toward the next thing that calls for them.

The Next-to-Last Word

The more sensitive we are to journey evangelism, the more we will recognize pre-evangelistic preparation. So many things in our culture are pre-evangelistic. Whether Robert Frost was a Christian, I don’t know; but “Mending Wall” is most definitely a pre-Christian poem. It raises all the right questions.

Evangelists who ignore the person’s journey are missing something important. We make the mistake of listening once—and then freezing people in that state of rebellion. They may have spoken more outrageously than they believe; they may have only been trying to shock us; or they may have moved on from their first rejection of Christ. We must keep hearing the clues and moving along as they move.

Our Part in the Mystery

In the Bay Area where I live, I sometimes make jokes at the expense of a small town called Milpitas. Once while speaking on radio, I said, “You know, Beethoven is not on trial when the Milpitas Junior High Orchestra plays the Ninth Symphony. And Jesus Christ is not on trial when you or I, or even C.S. Lewis, tries to express the faith in a conversation or a sermon.”
Then about a year later it occurred to me: But were it not for the Milpitas Junior High Orchestra, who would hear Beethoven? Even if badly played, it is better than not playing at all.

Who plays Beethoven perfectly?

Some people trudge from church to church looking for the perfect rendition. They’ll never find it. W.H. Auden once observed that even though the line is smudged, we can read the line, and that is the mystery of evangelism: even though we smudge the line, it can still be read.
Evangelism is far greater than any of us. That is why it takes time. But without us, it would take an eternity. And human beings do not have that long to make up their minds.


Excerpted from Mastering Teaching, © 1991 Christianity Today International. For more articles like this, visit CTLibrary.com.

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”