Many pastors have told me that their church’s soul-winning program is weak or nonexistent. With the overemphasis of easy-believism and evangelism at any cost, it seems that we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. While a correction in emphasis was warranted, it is time we readjust our focus to a Biblical rather than a reactionary outlook.
Holy Spirit Conviction vs. Apologetics Alone
Apologetics has its place, but an old-fashioned, confident dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Word of God will serve us well in our churches. John 16:8 teaches us that the Holy Spirit is working with our witnessing. While we teach men about sin, judgment to come, and the inherited righteousness of Christ, He convinces them of what we are saying.
I was talking to a suicidal man in the psych ward of a local hospital who asked me how I knew what I was telling him was true. I responded that all I had to do was to tell him what the Bible said and I was sure that the Holy Spirit would speak to his heart and convince him that it was true. I explained to him that the Holy Spirit didn’t speak out loud but was like a still, small voice inside of him telling him, “What that man is saying is true.” I further explained that sometimes it feels like He is squeezing our heart. He looked at me strangely and said, “That explains it! I have felt weird ever since you came in here.” The next day he was gloriously saved.
Last month I got a thank-you note from my friend Karlton Childress. He wanted to write on the first anniversary of beginning his new relationship with Jesus. The first question Karlton had asked me when I visited in his home was, “So, do I have to believe this Adam and Eve stuff to have a relationship with this God of yours?” He told me that he felt that God was a creation of weak men because they needed a crutch. Those Nathaniellike statements were not the only thoughts in his mind, though. Karlton had developed the belief that men are basically good and there is no such thing as God or inherent evil. I discovered that it was a look of rebellion in his two-year-old daughter’s eyes one day when he was trying to correct her several months earlier that set him to questioning these basic atheistic tenets.
Though Karlton seemed very skeptical, his questions were sincere, and after our initial visit Karlton and his wife Michelle agreed to do the Inquirer’s Bible Study with my wife and me. After our first Bible study Karlton was so skeptical, his wife apologized to us, and my wife suggested that I get him a book on apologetics that might lend some credibility to our witness. We reminded ourselves of God’s promise to convince the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment and that the Word of God was alive and powerful to bring men to faith. We were meeting every week, and Karlton continued to be in church each Sunday, so we agreed to stay the course and let the gospel show itself powerful in Karlton’s life.
The following Sunday I preached a biographical message on Noah. In passing, I mentioned the Lord’s statement, “My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 6:3). I explained how the Spirit of God spoke with a still, small, inaudible voice, squeezing our hearts, confirming the Word of God and convincing us of our need of Him. That Sunday morning found Karlton walking to the front during the invitation. His first statement this time was very different. He calmly said, “I don’t need to finish the Bible study. I know God is real and is speaking to me, and I don’t want to risk that He will stop. I want to make the exchange with Jesus now.”
He bowed his head and humbly told Jesus that he couldn’t get to Heaven on his own, that he believed He had died in his place, and that he wanted Him to forgive his sins and exchange his sinful record for Christ’s holy one.
Karlton has since completed Learning to Live with God, has been baptized, and is continuing to grow as he faithfully attends our church. Though apologetics has its place, an old-fashioned, confident dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Word of God will serve us well in our churches.
Relationship with a Person vs. Response to a Plan
Rather than being intent on getting through a presentation of the plan of salvation, may we remember that what people really need is an introduction to God as a person with whom they can have an intimate relationship. They need to know that He is holy and cannot tolerate their sin. He is just and cannot overlook their sin, but He is loving and has reached out to them. He has provided a way for them to be close to Him that satisfies His holy, just nature. They need to know that He is gracious and offers salvation as a gift. When we introduce salvation as a relationship with a holy, just, loving, gracious God, it is not difficult for them to see that just like any relationship, once it has begun, time and effort must be put into the relationship in order for it to grow.
Multiplication vs. Addition: Making Disciple Makers
If we will see our end objective as making disciples instead of just seeing people saved, it will help. It is true that if everyone would win one and teach that one to do the same, we would reach the world in our lifetime. Two gifted evangelists adding a thousand souls to the Kingdom every week would see 1,664,000 people saved in sixteen years. Two determined disciple-makers following the “each one win one and teach that one to do the same” method successfully every six months would see over 8 billion saved in the same time period using multiplication instead of simple addition. Note the change of the word “added” in the early chapters of Acts to “multiplied” from chapter 6 to the end of the book. “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
Go, Find, Invite vs. the Success Syndrome
Some Christians avoid witnessing, believing they won’t succeed or that people will reject them. While it is true that every determined disciple-maker will face rejection, it is also true that “success” is not necessary for us to have obeyed the Lord. By not obeying the Lord in our soul-winning responsibilities we are in effect saying that our Lord’s command is an unreasonable one. Through a parable in Matthew 22:9 Jesus teaches our responsibility. “Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.” This is the simple task He has given to us. While I am convinced that those who consume their lives going, finding, and inviting men to meet Jesus will see hundreds come to Him, simple obedience is all He asks of us. If no one ever responds positively, we have done what our Lord has commanded.
Theme of Themes vs. Pure Obligation
We cannot afford to view the Great Commission as purely an obligatory responsibility. The following story of an early twentieth-century soul winner ought to help motivate us.
As a young professional, Clay H. Trumbull worked as an office clerk and lived in a boardinghouse. One day he got a letter from a friend back home. He went to a small map-closet at work where he could be alone while he read the letter. It told him clearly how to be saved and made a personal appeal to receive Christ. He knelt on the floor of that map-closet and readily prayed the sinner’s prayer. The next day on the way to work he took the opportunity to introduce a coworker to his newfound joy and urged him to make the same decision.
The man’s response burned another decision deep into Trumbull’s heart. He answered with shame and conviction, “I’ve been a Christian since a child, but never said a word that caused you to suspect it. I see now that you would have no doubt received Christ if I had but opened my mouth.” That day Clay Henry Trumbull made this resolve that he kept the rest of his life.
Whenever I am in such intimacy with a soul as to be justified in choosing my subject of conversation, the theme of themes shall have prominence between us, so that I may learn of his need, and if possible, meet it.
Let’s analyze his resolve. In what way does this resolve guard against haphazard or discourteous efforts? In what circumstances does this resolve call for boldness? Why should each Christian make this same resolve? What is this resolve’s definite and declared purpose?
Here is the resolve simplified.
I resolve to direct every conversation I possibly can to the theme of themes, learn of that soul’s need, and if possible meet it.
Will you make this your life’s resolve? In what ways do you think it will change your life?
Jeff Musgrave is the director of The Exchange, a ministry training Christians for Spirit-filled, relational evangelism and discipleship.
(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 2006. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)