As I interviewed the new converts for my research, I frequently found myself marveling at what “worked” in the evangelistic efforts to reach them. Some things should not have worked. Some lines were too corny or too blunt or too poorly worded for God to use. I’m speaking tongue in cheek, of course, but I did find myself wondering how such bad efforts could have such good results.
One young woman told me of her next door neighbor inviting her to a Bible study even though they hardly knew each other, did not share much in common, were of different ages, and did not first engage in light conversation. She was standing outside smoking a cigarette when her neighbor came out of her house, walked up to her and said, “Would you like to come to a Bible study?”
I asked, “Were those really the first words she said? Didn’t she first ask how you were doing or say what a nice day it was.”
“Nope. She just asked if I’d like to come to a Bible study.”
“How did she ask that?” I inquired. “Did she describe it as anything other than a Bible study? Did she call it something like a ‘discussion group’ or a ‘time when we get to know each other’ or a ‘safe place to discuss spiritual things’ or anything like that?”
“Nope. She said these exact words: ‘Would you like to come to a Bible study?’”
I thought “that shouldn’t have worked!” I didn’t say that to her. Instead I asked, “What did you say?”
“I said, ‘I would love to come to a Bible study’” and smiled as she remembered the moment.
I said, “Did you really say ‘loved’ – ‘I would love to come to a Bible study?’”
“Why did you say that?”
“Because nothing else in my life was working. I had been reading the Bible on my own for over a year and I couldn’t figure it out. I figured a Bible study could probably help.”
Again, I thought about all the “research” I had read insisting we need to establish “trust” or “build friendships” or “earn the right to be heard” before sharing the gospel or doing something as direct as inviting someone to a Bible study. I thought such a blunt approach couldn’t possibly work.
But then I remembered that conversion is a miracle. Jesus said, “No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). And Paul said that we “were dead in [our] transgressions and sins… but… God… made us alive with Christ” (Eph. 2:1–5). In other words, every time anyone comes to saving faith it’s a miracle! It requires God to do the impossible—raise the dead. When we meet someone who has come to faith, we know something supernatural has transpired before our first interaction with them.
Lesson 10 – Evangelism is a beautiful interweaving of human effort and divine miracle.
There’s something tremendously liberating about this, isn’t there? When we step out and ask God to use us in the spreading of his gospel, we use all the intellectual capacity we have, seek diligently to listen carefully, draw upon all our knowledge and wisdom to answer questions, and plead earnestly for people to understand what we’re saying so they can respond well.
We also get a front row seat to watch God do what only he can do—open blind eyes, soften hardened hearts, and make dead people come to life.
Please hear me carefully. I’m not saying we should be rude or insensitive or uncaring as we reach out to people. In most cases, developing friendships or building trust or getting to know a lot about people does pave the way for proclaiming the gospel. And there must be some unwise things we should not say or Paul wouldn’t have told us to “be wise in the way [we] act toward outsiders” and “let [our] conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:5–6).
But we also need to remember that we’re not alone in the evangelistic process. God superintends, intervenes, and translates our words and actions and uses them in ways we could never orchestrate, predict, or arrange. Let’s step out in faith and ask God to use us as part of his doing his impossible work. And let us marvel at the wonders he creates along the way.
Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.