Evangelism is a Process
Evangelism is a process, not an event!
Paradoxically, “the process” is made up of separate events which God uses in an individual’s journey to faith.
Jesus’ parable of the soils in the Gospels sheds light on this reality:
On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
“Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23).
We’re called to sow gospel seed, which is the Word of God, and that takes time. The soil is the condition of a human heart, as Jesus explained, and is where the seed lands. As one Bible commentator notes, “The soils do not represent individual moments of decision as much as a lifelong response to God’s Word.”
I was in college the first time I heard the gospel. My initial responses were outright rejection of that message. However, people kept coming and the Holy Spirit kept working on my heart. Four years passed between the time people began witnessing to me and the day I trusted in Christ in December of 1987.
By understanding that evangelism is a process, we will gain confidence and be able to balance the urgency of sharing Jesus while respecting people enough to give them time, space, and margins to process the truth.
Years ago I was at Brooklyn College talking to students about Jesus. While sharing the Messiah with an orthodox Jewish student, I asked him, “Have you ever heard this [gospel] message before?” Perplexed, he said, “Never in my life!” He certainly needed time to begin processing the gospel message, previously unknown to him. As you can imagine, it would have been quite fascinating to have been a fly on the wall that night at the dinner table. “So how were classes today?”
We don’t know the condition of a human heart, and we may not know a person’s previous exposure to truth or to a Christian witness. But God does! Yet, we’re commanded by the Lord to be His witnesses, to engage people, and to sow gospel seed.
To add, we also sow (and water) evangelistically in prayer and through the demonstration of God’s love, both of which we’ll cover in future posts.
It’s good to remember: “One sows, one waters, but God gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). The Lord simply calls us to take the initiative in the power of the Holy Spirit to sow and water, leaving the results to Him.
One summer several years ago, my family and I tried gardening for the first time. Biting into that first spring onion was thrilling! As we waited for our thumbs to turn green, we learned that the process of gardening is important. When you’re gardening, you have to plant seeds at the right time, you have to water just enough, you have to tend your garden regularly, and you have to believe that your hard work will yield a harvest.
This understanding applies to our witness.
You see, giving too much information too soon, or sharing all your biblical knowledge and everything you know about Jesus and the gospel is counterproductive in witnessing. It’s possible to nullify seed that’s been sown. How? Well, a reasonable amount of water is necessary for growth as in a light summer shower or controlled watering. But a deluge from a big storm or a fire hydrant will wash the seed away. What’s true physically can apply spiritually. I can tell you, personally, there have been times I have blown some people out of the water and opened the proverbial fire hydrant – while they were thirsty for just a glass of water!
We don’t have to overdo the process and upload everything we know in one sitting or event! Instead, we sow and water as the Holy Spirit leads, while leaving the results to God. Research has shown people who trust in Christ typically need several exposures to the gospel message before believing in Him.
Even Paul, though saved in a moment on the Damascus Road, heard the gospel in Acts 8 from Stephen’s testimony even as he consented to Stephen’s stoning. Paul’s persecution of the church wasn’t due to lack of gospel understanding but rather because of it! He simply rejected the truth until his conversion in Acts 9. One other note – there may have been believers who tried to share with Paul and who may have even been praying for his salvation (Matthew 5:44).
Every person is on a journey, including you and me, and evangelism is a process. So enjoy the journey, understand the process, and trust in the Lord as you sow and water – leaving the results to Him!