It can be annoying when you don’t have the right tool for the job. I remember once deciding to use a knife as a screwdriver when I couldn’t find the real thing, only to have more success opening the flesh on my finger than any screws. The scar on said finger is an unfriendly reminder to go and get the right tool next time.
When it comes to evangelism, there is no shortage of ‘tools’ to help the church become effective in its witness. These tend to be resources that help an individual or the body at large in the task, and my own work developing Advance Groups are one such tool in that mold. Yet, as brilliantly helpful as these things can be, I wouldn’t suggest that any particular resource is necessarily essential to evangelism. The usefulness of a resource is always dependent on things like context and culture.
But there are a number of ‘tools’ for evangelism that transcend any resources we might produce. Their efficacy does not hinge on context or culture. These tools are essential to evangelism because they directly affect the faithfulness of our witness and the fruit that comes from it.
The tools I refer to are actually spiritual practices, but like all good spiritual practices, they are profoundly powerful and practical – for our own lives and for those with whom we share. And yet, these things can be easily neglected when it comes to evangelism, perhaps because we view them as spiritual practices more so than as specific tools useful for the ongoing task of witness into the world.
So let’s take a look at three such tools across the three parts of this series – prayer, listening, and thanksgiving – and seek to utilize the best tools for the precious task of evangelism.
Neglected Tool: Prayer
It might seem odd to have prayer on this list of neglected tools but here we are. The truth is, even though our prayer lives might be thriving in general, our enthusiasm to get up and go with the gospel can leave us neglecting the need to spiritually sow the gospel. But as Billy Graham reminded:
“Prayer is crucial in evangelism: Only God can change the heart of someone who is in rebellion against Him. No matter how logical our arguments or how fervent our appeals, our words will accomplish nothing unless God’s Spirit prepares the way.”
Outworked in the following ways – in preparation for and participation in evangelism – prayer (along with the truth of the gospel itself) is the bedrock for Christian witness.
As we pray we put the power where the power belongs, in the hands of God, the only one with the power to save as Paul reminds us in his stirring statement of gospel unashamedness (Romans 1:16). We ask God to move beyond our limitation, to soften hearts, to reveal himself in our witness, to move miraculously, to save. Prayer enables us to go as an empowered people.
We are to be a holy people who carry a holy message, but unlike our holy King we are not perfect. To paraphrase William Secker, we should not fall into the trap of blushing over confession more than the sins we commit. As we make mistakes in life and fall short of God’s standard, we can confess to our Lord and know his forgiveness and restoration. Prayer enables imperfect messengers to go as carriers of the holiest message.
If Jesus makes no difference to our lives then the gospel we proclaim into the world has no integrity. As already noted, we will make mistakes along the way, but we don’t want to be making the same mistakes over and over. We don’t need to be perfect to share the good news, but we do need to be experiencing something of its transforming effects in our lives for it to be revealed as truth, first for ourselves, then for those we share with. D.L. Moody said that “the bible was not given to us for information but transformation”. Likewise our evangelism is not information sharing, but an offer to receive God’s transformational good news by those experiencing it for themselves. Prayer enables us to go as a transformed people.
There are many prayers of supplication we can pray when it comes to evangelism, but perhaps the best of all is for opportunity: God would you provide opportunities for me to share my faith today. As we then head into these opportunities we can pray for the provision of boldness, compassion, clarity, wisdom, and more. Prayer enables us to go into every opportunity as an equipped people.
In failing to prayerfully prepare for evangelism we are preparing to fail in evangelism. I don’t mean that praying guarantees everyone will get saved when we proclaim, but that in the place of prayer we can prepare to be faithful to be ambassadors of the gospel, and it is only in faithfulness to the task by which we as messengers can claim success in evangelism. So let’s get intentional about praying for those who don’t yet know Jesus, and then intentional about taking up the opportunities that come our way.
There are so many ways in which prayer can be used practically during evangelism, but these two are a good place to start.
I like to prayer walk my neighborhood every week, to invite God to move among the people who live in the streets surrounding my own house, and to make myself available to be an answer to that prayer in opportunities that arise day by day. Funnily enough, those opportunities often come while I’m out prayer walking. People will say hello, conversation flows, an explanation of what I’m doing and why is expressed, and the opportunity to share faith naturally follows.
In conversation with people, I often offer to pray for them, either there and then or if they are not comfortable with that then when I am alone in prayer at another time. Here we see the most obvious use of prayer as a ‘tool’ for evangelism, where the prayer itself becomes an opportunity to show the gospel heart we have (loving-kindness) and the gospel power of God (as he moves in response to the prayer).
Many of us might not think we’re neglecting prayer in our evangelism, but upon reflection, we may be surprised to discover that we don’t press into the power of prayer in all the ways we might. Paul’s prison-based prayer request to the Ephesians was not for freedom from his circumstances but boldness to proclaim the gospel in the opportunity before him (Ephesians 6:18-20). Likewise, let us pray that whenever we speak we might receive the words and power we need to fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, and offer that same prayer power to those we speak with.