The Approach to Getting Home Bible Studies
J.C. Macaulay & Robert H. Belton
In the actual operation of personal evangelism, there are four steps-the approach, the instruction, the appeal, and the follow-up. That is the order, and any attempt to reverse it will end in catastrophe.
A. Importance of Right Approach.
The approach is tremendously important, because first impressions count, for good or ill. A wrong approach is likely to arouse resentment and predispose the one so approached to determined resistance, while a proper approach may prove completely disarming. Even one who is sympathetic and has a heart hunger for God will shy away from a crude approach, while one who tends toward antagonism is frequently won over by a gracious word.
1. The Right Mental Attitude.
The battle of the approach must be won on the field of one’s own mental attitude. To begin with, we must rid our minds of any sense of superiority. If that exists, it cannot be hidden, and we are defeated before we begin. No man is going to accept our superiority, not even the derelict on Skid Row. Evangeline Booth looked for something in which she could affirm that the people with whom she dealt were ahead of her-even if it were only in the knowledge of sin! The “holier than thou” attitude is fatal to soul-winning. As for the “wiser than thou” attitude, that belongs to the unbeliever. Let him have it. “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” By the same token, we must avoid a false, sentimental pity. Our attitude must be neither, “You old sinner,” nor “You poor sinner!” We must see men as souls for whom Christ died, and yearn over them with a solicitude void of superiority.
On the other hand, a sense of inferiority will kill our efforts. If we quail before men’s superior position, or superior learning, or superior ability, we shall greatly weaken our witness. We want to remember the words of Hezekiah: “With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us.”
2. The Right Qualities.
This matter of approach cannot be reduced to mechanics or an algebraic formula. It is a matter of the heart, and the more natural, the better. The studied approach can so easily degenerate into something professional and formal, and lose the appeal of the spontaneous. Nevertheless, there are some qualities which everyone ought to cultivate, especially if he has a tendency to the opposite.
a) For instance, the approach must always be courteous. In an automobile establishment to which I take my car for repairs a motto hangs: “We are never too busy to be courteous.” I have never known them to belie that slogan. If business concerns demand courtesy of their representatives in their contacts with the public, how much more should we who represent the God of all grace show courtesy at all times, and especially when we are engaged in His business? This was a marked feature in our Lord’s dealing with individuals. Consider the case of the woman at Sychar’s well, whom the rabbis would utterly have spurned on three counts-that she was a woman, and a sinner, and a Samaritan. But see with what refinement and grace our Lord spoke to her, beginning with a request for a drink of water, and leading her step by step into the knowledge of Himself.
The apostle Paul also preserved proper decorum of speech, and addressed men in the terms of courtesy befitting their position, while never mincing his message through respect of persons.
b) The approach must be made tactfully as well as courteously. Tact means touch. If a doctor has a coarse touch or an uncertain touch, he instills fear in the patient, but if he has a touch at once gentle and confident, he inspires assurance, and quiets fear. Now we readily admit that one can make a fetish of tact and become so tactful that he never makes contact. There may be occasions when the best tact is in being completely frank and straight forward, so long as there is no sting or barb in our hook. A good example of this straightforward tact was seen in the conversion of the Scottish attorney, Cordon Forlong, in 1851.
In that year this noted lawyer, whose textbook, Epitome of Scottish Law, was a standard for many years, but whose attitude to Christianity was one of antagonism, went to London to establish a Bank of Character and Skill similar to the one he had organized in Scotland. Among others to whom he applied for assistance in this charitable work was Mr. George Hitchcock, a London merchant and a Christian, who listened carefully to the young Scotsman’s story and responded with a substantial gift. As he handed the check to the delighted pleader, Mr. Hitchcock said quietly, “What a pity, Mr. Forlong, that you are not a Christian!” The shocked lawyer made some attempt at self-defense, but found himself void of a case, and agreed to read a little book which Mr. Hitchcock gave him, The Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation. This he did as he sailed back to Edinburgh in a coastal vessel. By the time he reached home he was a rejoicing believer. Thereafter his passion was to make Christ known, in which task lie spent his remaining thirty-eight years, being mightily used in Edinburgh, then in London, and finally for twenty years in New Zealand.
Tact, then, is not “pulling your punches,” but it is making the contact in the most effective manner. To do this, we shall have to seek that “wisdom that is from above,” which God promises to those who ask as the portion of those who are filled with the Holy Spirit.
c) Wisdom should be used with regard to the when of our approach as well as the how of it. To embarrass a person in the presence of another is only to prejudice the situation. We cannot always wait till we find the object of our concern all alone, but we should do our best to separate him from others before we broach these matters. This is especially necessary if the third party is unsympathetic and cynical. We remember how the apostle Paul was up against this difficulty in speaking to Sergius Paulus of Cyprus, although he was summoned for that very purpose, so that he was under the necessity of silencing Elymas the sorcerer before he could proceed successfully with his witness. I have known mothers who played an effective game of interference when their boys were being spoken to and were manifesting real interest. Their most devastating interference was usually their insistence that “Tom is a good boy,” when I was trying to show Tom from the Word of God that he was a sinner!
B, Types of Right Approach.
The approach can, in genera!, be divided into two types, the direct and the indirect. These scarcely need definition. The direct approach comes immediately to the central question, while the indirect leads to it by a more circuitous route. Both methods have their virtues and their dangers. The direct approach frequently shocks the sinner into an aroused interest, while sometimes it repels him and induces him to retire from the scene. The indirect approach is calculated to win confidence and arouse a more lasting interest, but its danger is to become lost before it reaches the goal.
1. Indirect Type.
An outstanding champion of the indirect approach was H. Clay Trumbull, whose son, Charles, organized and presented his father’s principles and methods in an excellent work, Taking Men Alive. The elder Trumbull believed that winning a man to oneself was a necessary step in leading him to Christ. It is certainly true that if a man is suspicious of us, or prejudiced against us, we stand a sorry chance of helping him. We must win his confidence. The two methods suggested by Mr. Trumbull are commendation and common interest.
Commending sinners may seem like precarious business and certainly calls for care. The commendation must be sincere and honest, else it will lack the approval of the Holy Spirit, and the sinner himself will discern the hypocrisy. Mr. Trumbull tells of a friend of his who started a conversation with an old colored stone-breaker by telling him that he was doing a good piece of work-the first time in twenty years, as the old man affirmed, that anybody had given him such encouragement. Condemnation will put one on the defensive, but sincere commendation, especially where it has been little known, will more often prepare a heart for a true confession of sin.
Common interests often create a bond which makes frank and sincere conversation easier. Discovering that you both come from the same part of this or another country, that you both play golf or use the rod, that you both read poetry or are radio hams, can be an opening wedge. Or if you fail to find common interests, make yourself interested in the other fellow’s interests. Mr. Trumbull tells of George Williams’ plan for winning a braggart infidel named Rogers, who was furiously persecuting the Christians in the business house where he held a responsible position. Discovering that Rogers had a passion for oysters, Williams suggested an oyster supper, to which Rogers was to be invited, but at which no attempt at his conversion was to be made. The persecutor, amused at the “frivolity” of the Christians, took the invitation as a dare, and accepted. The behavior of the group deeply affected him, and he was brought under such conviction of sin that after several days he sought out the Christians and became one of them.
2. Direct Type.
The direct approach is well represented by such men as Hebich of India, and Dad Hall, the “Bishop of Wall Street.” An illustration of Hebich’s direct approach is his dealing with a certain major of the British engineers in India. Seeing Hebich approaching his bungalow, the major told his servant not to let the “padre” in, but tell him the master was not at home. But Hebich had caught a glimpse of the major, and pushed by the boy into the house. Searching all the rooms of the house, Hebich did not find his man until he returned to the living room and looked under a sofa which had drapery with fringes down to the floor. “Come out, you coward,” demanded the missionary. The major obeyed. “Sit down, you coward,” was the next command. Again the soldier obeyed. “Hear God’s message, you coward.” Then Hebich launched into a veritable sermon on hiding from God, citing Adam in the Garden of Eden. Soon the major was on his knees, crying for mercy.
3. What Factors Determine Approach?
What factors will determine the type of approach to be used?
a) First, one’s own disposition. Saints are no more built on the assembly-line pattern than are sinners. Some of us are so constituted psychologically that we do everything with a direct plunge, while others are careful in the laying of plans. One youth proposes with a blunt, hearty, “Maggie, let’s get married.” On the other hand, we have heard of the bashful lover who puzzled for weeks over the method of approaching the delicate subject. Finally he hit on a plan. One lovely Saturday afternoon he took his lady-love for a walk-through the cemetery! He led her to the family plot, and told her of all the dear people who lay there-grand parents, great-grandparents, and so on. Then, with great trepidation he added, “Susie, how would you like to lie there?” Now if we transfer these two into the realm of personal evangelism, you will expect that the first would use the direct approach, while the second would be more likely to employ the indirect approach-let us hope with more wisdom! I can hardly imagine Hebich arranging an oyster supper for these British officers in India, with instructions that the topic of their salvation was not to be introduced; and I can scarcely visualize George Williams forcing his way past a servant into another’s house, excoriating him for his wickedness and demanding instant repentance. Disposition will play a large part in this matter.
b) In the second place, the particular situation will some what determine the type of approach. How much time is at our disposal? Is death imminent? Is this a casual meeting or a more or less permanent association? Is there evidence of a work of the Holy Spirit begun? Has the person in whom we are interested some knowledge of the things of God, or is he totally ignorant? Have we met in a situation which spontaneously makes men think of God? These and many other questions can be asked of the occasion. Sometimes the repeating of a verse of Scripture is as much as the situation allows, but if the object of our evangelism is a new neighbor, we shall begin by showing kindnesses and letting our light shine.
c) Finally, the approach must be determined by the leading of the Holy Spirit. This calls for a life of walking in the Spirit, for preparedness of heart, for sensitivity to the voice of the Spirit, for spiritual wisdom. The one who is much in the secret place will qualify for this delicate task.
C. Suggested Ways Of Right Approach.
It would be impossible, even if it were in the province of this book, to give an exhaustive list of ways to approach this greatest of all topics. A few examples may stir the student to alertness in the matter.
1. Current News.
Frequently the outstanding news of the day may be the opening wedge. A miscarriage of justice or the inability of the police department to track down the perpetrator of a crime offers opportunity to speak of the sure judgments of God. A catastrophe suggests the greater tragedy of a lost soul or the need to be ready to meet God. The death of a prominent person indicates that death is no respecter of persons, and here Hebrews 9:27 may be applied. A big sports event may recall the sports passages of the New Testament. Even a boxing match may draw the comment, “Did you know that the apostle Paul was a boxer?” Then refer to I Corinthians 9:27, where the word translated “keep under” in the King James Version means to bruise, to beat black and blue. This may lead to a discussion of the spiritual conflict which is raging in every man’s soul.
2. Daily Occupations.
A conversation of any length between men usually touches on their several occupations. That may be the point of con tact. For teachers, Jesus is the great Teacher; for doctors, He is the Great Physician for whom no case ever proved too difficult; for lawyers, He is the great Advocate or Solicitor who has a watertight case on behalf of every client who applies to Him, and the Judge who has a foolproof case against every sinner who refuses to repent; for the baker, He is the Bread from Heaven; for a rancher, He is the Good Shepherd; for fisherman, He is the Master of the craft, under whose direction experts who had failed brought in the fish by the boat load. Remember that these are only “openers.”
3. Public Bible Reading.
Some object to reading the Bible in a public conveyance, lest it should seem like Pharisaism. On the other hand, it may make openings for the Gospel. On the occasion I was on a long train journey, traveling Pullman. I could not waste the hours, for I had work to do. I asked for a table and began writing the lesson article for the Sunday School Times. My Bible was on the table, along with the other equipment. The presence of that Bible made two passengers stop and talk, so I had two very profitable conversations as a result of having my Bible open.
We must be ready, prayerful and alert.
Questions and Exercises
1. Why is the approach so important?
2. Discuss the statement: The battle of the approach must be won on the field of one’s own mental attitude.
3. What are the characteristics of a good approach?
4. What are the two general types of approach? What are the values and the dangers of each type?
5. By what means did Dr. Trumbull suggest that we gain men’s confidence as preparatory to witnessing for Christ?
6. What factors will determine the type of approach used? Explain.
7. Prepare a list of possible approaches to imaginary characters in imaginary situations. (Be realistic, however!) Do not use the examples in the lesson.
Excerpted from ‘Personal Evangelism’ by J.C. Macaulay and Robert H. Belton
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.”