This is part of a series of articles on evangelism that is being written by Pastor Elliott for the St John Lutheran Church newsletter, Champaign, Illinois. We thought it a good reminder of the some of the misconceptions about our role in spreading the word. It is also a nice lead up to the soon to be published 4th issue of the Steadfast Quarterly which will focus on confessional evangelism.
When we think of evangelism, many of us think of some slick television evangelist making a persuasive appeal to his audience. It often seems like such an evangelist is attempting to convince or convert his audience based upon the use of his own charm. This type of glitzy evangelist tends to rely on the strength of his own personality to motivate those who are watching. Often those who tune in to this type of television ministry will end up having as much admiration for the charismatic evangelist as they have for Christ. Perhaps this is what has led many of us to assume that you have to have a television preacher’s personality and persuasive stage presence in order to be an effective evangelist for the Lord. And so we think to ourselves, “Don’t I have to be dynamic and outgoing to share the Gospel?” Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Remember when God hand picked Moses to be His spokesman to Pharaoh. Moses thought God was making a big mistake by selecting him. Moses knew that he wasn’t a public speaker. In fact, Moses stammered when he spoke in public. While Moses had been raised in Pharaoh’s palace, since then Moses had spent the last 40 years of his life in relative isolation — herding sheep. And yet in spite of this, God chose the stuttering Moses to be the man to share His message.
In the same way, when the Lord called Jeremiah to be His prophet in order to speak His Word to Israel, Jeremiah immediately balks at the assignment. Jeremiah protests saying, “Lord I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” Jeremiah imagines that the Lord would surely want someone more assertive and dynamic if people were going to listen to the Lord’s message. And yet, so many times God selects the least likely person to become His messenger.
God has His reasons for picking the quiet, the humble, the weak, and those without great speaking skills to speak His Word. For the Lord wants men speaking for Him who realize that it’s not by their powers of persuasion that people believe in Jesus. Instead it’s by the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in God’s Word that converts people and convinces them to trust in Christ.
The Apostle Paul understood this. His enemies said that while Paul’s writings were quite impressive, that his preaching skills were sub par. It seems that Paul didn’t make much of an impression to those who listened to him preach in person. On top of this, Paul was small of stature, and had some type of physical disfiguration that made him look insignificant, unattractive, and weak when people gathered to listen to him.
Yet Paul could have cared less that he wasn’t a dynamic and persuasive speaker. Paul says, “Brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony of God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness, and fear, and with much trembling. My message and preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but were a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor 2:1-4). Paul understood that the power to persuade hearts to believe in Jesus and to serve Him comes from God and not from the eloquence of the person sharing the Gospel.
In our day God has commissioned every Christian to share the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone we meet, irregardless of our personality traits. There is no one ideal personality type best suited for doing the work of an evangelist. God uses all kinds of personalities to reach all kinds of people. God especially uses those people who know their own limitations and weakness in the area of communications. For this causes them to rely on the Holy Spirit. He, not we, has the power to use the things that we have to say about Jesus in order to turn hearts back to God.
Most people would guess that the outgoing and persuasive person would just naturally make the best evangelist to share the love of God in Christ with others. But God often does things that are counter-intuitive. For this reason, God often chooses the weak to shame the strong. God often uses the stuttering person instead of the articulate person. God uses the person with little or no self-confidence over the person with bravado and tons of self-confidence. Because God wants us to understand that the power to save comes from the Gospel itself, and not from our persuasive and powerful delivery.
For this reason God uses the witness of common, average, ordinary, everyday, and real people just like you and me to share God’s great love for the world in Christ. Why? God wants to continually make it clear that the power to cause others to believe does not come from us. The power to change hearts resides within the Gospel itself, which we proclaim. St. Paul calls the Gospel the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). The Word has its own intrinsic power, and dynamic authority to convert sinners and to change their lives. This power isn’t contained in us but in the promised Word of life which we proclaim. For the Gospel of Jesus Christ bestows God’s grace whether we present God’s message flawlessly or with much fear and trembling.
If we mistakenly assume that we have to be dynamic speakers in order to effectively share the Gospel, then we have wrongly concluded that we are responsible for the outcome, or results, of our Christian witness. No wonder we often say so little about Jesus? We are putting far too much pressure upon ourselves if we think that the Christian conversion of others depends upon our powers to persuade. We will procrastinate in sharing the Gospel if we think that the conversion of others depend upon our powers to impress or persuade them to believe. Looking at it in this way makes the thought of doing evangelism very frightening.
On the other hand, if our witness meets with success we may also be giving far too much credit to ourselves for the Gospel’s success. We can quickly become filled with spiritual pride if we forget that while we speak God’s Word to others so that it enters their ears, it’s God alone who causes His Word to penetrate their hearts.
Successful salespeople are often very dynamic. But Christians who do evangelism are not in sales. For the Gospel is God’s underserved love. It is not earned or deserved. It is given away, not sold. Jesus tells us, “Freely you have received, now freely receive.” We are not persuading customers to buy into the Gospel. We are simply proclaimers reporting what Christ has done for sinners. If a person rejects our witness to Christ it is not our fault, anymore than it’s to our glory when sinners receive the Gospel of Christ that we freely share with them.
Yes, people hear the Gospel from us. And yet it’s important to remember that God is the One who works faith when and where it pleases Him in those who hear the Gospel. It doesn’t take only one personality type to share the Gospel. It takes us all. But once we have planted the seed, it takes God to make faith grow.
Rejoicing with you in sharing the good news of the cross and empty tomb,
Pastor Mark Elliott