Do you feel nauseous or guilty or both at the thought of evangelism? Then this article is for you.
If somebody asked me how many people I have led to Christ, the answer is none. So for a long time, I assumed that this meant I was lousy at sharing my faith, and I came to dread the topic of evangelism. I mean, I really did want people to know Jesus in the freeing joyous way that I did, but I was always hoping that God would use someone else.
I was missing something. Evangelism needs more than just people to present a gospel outline and popping the question: “will you accept Jesus as your Lord and saviour?” Francis Schaeffer called it pre-evangelism. In a recent interview I watched, author Greg Koukl called it “gardening”. The imagery comes from John 4:36-38, where Jesus is talking to his disciples just after the Samaritan woman at the well has left the scene to declare to the whole town that she has seen the Messiah. Jesus says, “Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus, the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.” We think of evangelism as bringing people to faith, that’s the reaping or harvesting part of the image. But there’s another critical role that must be played before harvesting can happen: that is gardening and sowing.
As Greg Koukl explained this idea of gardening, I felt like saying, “Yes! So this is what God’s role for me is! I do have a part to play in evangelism!” If you have tried to grow your own food, you will agree with me that a lot of gardening has to happen before you can harvest anything to eat. God needs some harvesters out there, but he also needs an army of gardeners. Could that also be your role?
I feel like God has only just started training me in the art of gardening. But here are some snapshots of what I’ve been learning to do.
Reaching out: Making opportunities to interact with someone may mean sending a text, making a phone call or arranging a catch-up.
Being a good listener: Taking the time to listen to someone has helped me understand where someone’s spiritual hunger is, or where they’ve been hurt by religion before. It has helped me love them better and pray for them better. You never know how God will use good listening, that says “tell me more” rather than trying to solve the other person’s problems before you even know what they are.
Asking the right questions: It is part of good listening, but it’s also part of moving the conversation beyond small talk, maybe into a discussion about values, and then perhaps onto questions of worldview. Asking the right questions doesn’t directly lead someone to faith, but it can powerfully “put a rock in their shoe” as they are left pondering something about themselves or God or Jesus that they had never really wrestled with before.
Praying and watching: I commit to praying for the people God has put in my life regularly. Praying also helps me listen well for things to pray, but also to watch for opportunities to do some more gardening.
Gardening is not glamorous. You may never see the direct results. But I’m excited about it because I can do it without the same sense of pressure and dread I used to feel about evangelism. I’m excited because it builds my faith that God will work through each small contribution. I’m excited because the gardener and the harvester will be glad together. Will you pray with me this week that God will grow you in the skills and faith to step out and share your faith in ways that God has prepared you for?
Resources: A lot of my first attempts at gardening conversations were helped by 9Marks Evangelism Workshop 2019. For the interview with Greg Koukl that I watched click here. Greg Koukl’s book is called Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (10th Anniversary Edition) published by Zondervan. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s going to receive high priority on my reading list now.