Here’s something worth passing on to other pastors, believers and churches: Billy Graham School of Evangelism. It’s online now!
Those of us who have been through Evangelism Explosion training are familiar with the two diagnostic questions to give an indication of someone’s assurance of eternal life and basis of faith for salvation:
- “Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you know for certain that if you were to die today, you would go to heaven?”
- “Suppose you were to die today and stand before God and he were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’, what would you say?’”
These questions can be potent beginnings of evangelistic conversations and impel people to the most serious soul searching that they have ever done. Moreover, these questions are good to use even if a person sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t have time to go through the whole Evangelism Explosion presentation. I’ve used them as an introduction to briefer evangelistic outlines, such as a one verse presentation based on John 3:16 and a modified Four Spiritual Laws presentation. I’ve also used them in the conclusion to sermons to ask everyone in the congregation these questions. It’s a good idea regularly to share these kinds of questions as part of a preaching and teaching ministry, since showing up at a church service is not a scriptural evidence of eternal life nor a basis of scriptural assurance.
That these are ultimately the most serious questions anyone could ask someone else and questions for which someone had better be in possession of the correct answers, not in correct words, but in correct words and lifestyle, should go without discussion for anyone familiar with the gospel. In fact, Tom Stebbins, past Executive Vice President of Evangelism explosion, shared an experience of someone at an Evangelism Explosion training seminar who had gone through a near death experience. This man shared that he did appear before God, and God did ask him that exact question, “Why should I let you into My heaven?” The primary goal of each and every church, pastor, teacher and believer should be that to guide others into a scriptural basis and assurance of salvation. “And this is the testimony, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the So of God does not have life” (I John 5:11-12).
In personal one on one ministry, though, some people never know what to do if someone gives the correct answers. If someone is part of a team that is focused primarily on finding people with whom to share the gospel, then some sort of brief prayer and parting may be in order, to make the best use of the time together and find someone else who may need the gospel and be open to the gospel. In disciplemaking and pastoral one on one ministry, though, there are three others which may be appropriate to discern and assist real spiritual needs in someone who may have a Biblical answer for these questions.
The third diagnostic question is this: “Again, supposing that you were to die tonight, and you have stood before God and told him that you have put your trust in Jesus Christ for eternal life, suppose God were to go on and say, ‘Tell me what changes have occurred since you received eternal life by trusting in Christ?’” This kind of question would be helpful to find out how deeply into Christ and the Word that person has gone. It may unmask a spurious conversion, or someone who has remained in a state of spiritual immaturity for a long time, or someone who made a profession of Christ at one time but who has since become enslaved to a life-dominating sin.
Depending on the answers to the third diagnostic question, a person could be invited to a disciplemaking small group, or some other form of spiritual growth opportunity, with the sharing of scriptures as Colossians 2:6-7, II Peter 3:18, John 14:21, 23 and II Timothy 3:16-17. Or such scriptures as John 8:31-32, 34, 36 and II Corinthians 5:10 could be shared with those who are complacent in life dominating sins such as in Galatians 5:19-21. The basic idea is to work with someone who may be immature in the faith, who has never been discipled in the Word of God, or who may be complacent in life dominating disobedience to begin to address the spiritual need of that person. In these cases, there are two scriptures that actually do command one on one ministry:
“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone else turns that person around [literal meaning: sometimes translated as ‘convert’], let that person know that the person who turns around a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a boatload [literally, multitude] of sins” (James 5:19-20).
“And have mercy on some who may be lingering in doubts, but others rescue as if you were snatching them from a fire, and have mercy on others in [godly] fear, as you hate even the garment which is stained by the flesh [metaphor for the attending behavior marked by sinful practices]” (Jude 22-23).
The fourth diagnostic question is one which many long time churchgoers may never have faced: “Do you know the gospel of Jesus Christ well enough to be able to explain it to another person and lead that person to eternal life?” There is also a variation of the fourth diagnostic question for believing parents: “Do you know the gospel of Jesus Christ well enough to be able to share it with your children yourselves and lead them to eternal life in Christ?”
The fifth diagnostic question is also one which follows on the fourth: “Are you sufficiently well grounded in your relationship with Jesus Christ and in the knowledge of his Word to be able to guide a new believer in Christ through the first year or so of his or her Christian life?” And there is likewise a variation for parents: “Are you sufficiently grounded and growing in your own relationship with Jesus Christ and in the knowledge of his Word to be able to guide your children to spiritual maturity as they grow up physically?”
Some months ago a friend of mine mentioned to me that most churches no longer have active evangelistic programs aimed at reaching adults. One reason for this may be a misleading statistic that’s been bandied about, about how most believers in our churches came to Christ by their late teens. Child Evangelism Fellowship, for instance, uses this statistic to emphasize the need for support for their ministry, to reach children with the gospel when they are young. Many churches may therefore have neglected ministries to reach adults in favor of ministries to children and youth – and unfortunately, many times these don’t reach very far outside the families of regular attenders and leaders.
I don’t think that this statistic actually means very much as a guide for ministry. It reminds me of the pro football color commentator who said something dramatically about a team, that they would be in trouble if they went into the final quarter of the game trailing in the score, since they hadn’t scored very much in the fourth quarter all year. The truth is that team hadn’t scored very much in the final 15 minutes of the game in a few previous games didn’t form an impassible barrier to them scoring enough to win in the final minutes of the games. If that was linked to something concrete like that team not having sufficient physical or mental stamina to play through the final quarter to win if they were trailing or a deep enough series of plays to do different things to win, then it would have meaning – and then good coaches and teams could deal with that to produce a win. But the previous record of something having happened in a certain way does not mean that it cannot happen differently if the people involved look at the determining factors thoughtfully – and in the case of evangelism, scripturally and prayerfully.
I can remember one source that looked at the same statistic, and came to the conclusion that churches rather need to develop more effective methods to reach adults with the gospel. Certainly that is the more reasonable conclusion in view of the basic reality that that statistic simply is absolutely no justification for any church to abandon evangelistic ministry to adults. In fact, except for the incidents mentioned in the gospels where Jesus placed his hands on children and prayed for them, the ministry of Jesus and the apostles was directed mainly to the adults around them. It was rather the apostolic instruction for parents to evangelize and disciple their own children – to bring them up in the nurture and instruction of the Lord. And Christian leaders and churches throughout the ages who have impacted their communities and nations have put their efforts into evangelizing adults.
For instance, the evangelistic ministry of John Wesley evangelized adults, from the coal miners who came to his open air preaching to the many others who heard the gospel from a man who had come to Christ as a adult, in his account of his famous Aldersgate experience of trusting in Christ alone.
Billy Graham himself, who came to Christ in his late teens, also concentrated on evangelizing adults. Though he also sought to reach students, and held special youth crusades, many, many adults have come to Christ through his crusades.
In addition, Dr. D. James Kennedy likewise did seek to reach students, but he primarily sought to evangelize adults with the Evangelism Explosion ministry. That ministry equipped many for witness and brought a clear presentation of the gospel to many casual church visitors and attenders through a church centered evangelistic ministry. Perhaps many churches need to admit that they let that ministry die more because it became unfashionable compared to the fad of ‘seeker friendly’ churches and because many believers found it required more self discipline than they were willing to invest.
Here are, I think, the factors that come into the effective evangelization of adults, from those that I know who came to Christ as adults:
- Prayer: The Christian relatives and friends who cared about the salvation of someone prayed about it for weeks and months.
- Realization of the ultimate need of salvation for eternity through Christ: The Christian relatives and friends who shared the gospel believed that the real and ultimate need of the person for which they were concerned was eternal life through Jesus Christ – not to be brought into conformity to someone else’s expectations.
- Faith in the power of Christ to change lives through the gospel: The Christian relatives and friends who shared the gospel believed the first and foremost change in the person for which they were concerned would come through Christ, not their guilt trips, manipulations and Christian button pushing.
- Power of the Spirit: those who shared the gospel recognized that the real power of evangelism is the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Complete, scriptural gospel: The people who shared the gospel took care to present the gospel from the scripture and allow the Word of God to speak for itself. There were certainly different presentations and gospel outlines used – sometimes not from an ‘official’ training program, but rather from the scriptures, such as Luke 24:46-49 and I Corinthians 15:-11. The common emphasis was on presenting Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Lord, the Savior and the Son of God, and the response of repentance and faith in him as the scriptural response to receive eternal life. There most certainly was very little attempt to dumb down or over-explain or paraphrase scripture and scriptural terms, but simply to present the scriptural gospel. Often enough, the real cost of discipleship was presented, and those who heard were allowed to wrestle with the claims and call of Jesus.
- Answering questions and objections: There was an honest attempt to explain questions and objections from the scripture, since there was a recognition that there is a real offense to the scriptural gospel when someone hears it for the first time, and the need to deal honestly with objections and questions as a part of scriptural persuasion.
- Patient and loving follow-up with those who had come to Christ: There was a recognition that a person who has come to Christ as an adult does not have every habit destroyed and every difficult personal, family and vocational situation immediately fixed as a result of simply saying the Jesus prayer.
Pretty much these kinds of elements are common now in the Alpha Course, and have been in some other group Bible study programs and materials. Other personal witnessing programs, such as Evangelism Explosion, have incorporated these elements. Historically, though, leaders, churches and the everyday witnessing believer have all found that these elements are well within scriptural teaching and practice and have sought to follow them even without an explicit program and set of steps and formulas.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s many churches had explicit evangelism training programs – many of which were Evangelism Explosion training – but it’s not too much to say that many of them have since been discontinued. I’ve heard that most professedly evangelical churches in the United States do not teach people how to witness for Christ much any more. Here are some ideas to get back some of the evangelistic spark:
Regularly present in the gospel in the preaching ministry of the church. Do this even in sermons that deal with issue that would primarily concern those who have already received Christ. This does not have to be an explicit altar call but rather regularly pray for and seek a fresh way to share the gospel in the course of the sermon. Include also answers to common objections to the gospel in the sermon, such as, “What about someone who has never heard of Christ?” Most pastors would be surprised how much what they say which can be used in an evangelistic conversation might find its way into the hearts and later the conversations of their congregations.
Note how Jesus and the apostles engaged in presenting the gospel during the course of preaching and teaching. During this process it will become clear that they used a variety of openings to deal with people about their most pressing spiritual need, had memorized scriptures and knew the gospel thoroughly, depended on the power of the Holy Spirit and sought and prayed for his working (Acts 4:29-30), would move from human needs and gospel promises to tell people about their most pressing spiritual needs of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and would concentrate on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the center of the gospel (I Corinthians 15:1-11).
Encourage anyone in the congregation over the age of six to memorize John 3:16. This one verse summarizes the gospel, and can be used as the start to many, many witnessing conversations. Many who may have a church background may know the verse, and treasure it for its emotional association with a family and church attendance, but never have understood its real message. Then move to have them include other verses such as Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 6:23.
Regularly include a witnessing testimony in the church services. Have someone share his or her testimony in the church services once a month or so. Start with the currently serving board of elders and other church leaders. Encourage testimonies from a variety of backgrounds.
Encourage the people of your congregation to write down their own witnessing testimony for their own personal use. Even if they do not share it in a church service, they could share it with friends, children, or their grandchildren.
Occasionally include a dramatization of an evangelistic conversation in a church service. Once I participated in a demonstration in a Sunday evening service of an Evangelism Explosion home visit with the pastor and a couple from the church. Avoid making this too humorous. Again, include some variety and some answers to common objections and evasions that people may bring up during an evangelistic conversation.
Regularly pray for the salvation of anyone in attendance at church services and the family members, friends and neighbors who do not know Christ as Savior. The more that the people in the congregation hear this prayer request from the pulpit, the more that they will understand how much they need to be consistently, faithfully and passionately need to be praying for the salvation of those that they know.
Encourage people regularly to pray for the salvation of their family members, friends and neighbors who do not have an explicit Christian testimony. Show them how, and then continue to tell them how. Encourage each prayer meeting, church choir and musical group practice and Bible study to make this a regular part of their praying, much more than any physical needs and ailments (the ‘organ recital’ that has often been a regular part of traditional midweek prayer meetings).
Encourage all ministries of a church to have an evangelistic component, and everyone in public ministry and in the Sunday School to know how to share the gospel. Could the worship leader in your church share the gospel with someone else? Or the piano player? Or one of the ushers? If someone had a spiritual need, would they need to hunt down a pastor to turn over that person to the pastor to handle?
Guide adults – parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers and neighbors – on how to share the gospel with children. Children can come to know Christ at an early age, but too many just take them to church but never discuss the gospel with them. Tragically, it seems also that many who attend churches succumb to the idea in some parts of the culture that they’ll wait until their children grow up and let them choose for themselves. This would be a good example of an evangelistic conversation to model before a congregation yearly, and you could even have an adult stand in for a child for this example. These kinds of evangelistic conversations require the adult to be extremely gentle and loving and to explain everything simply and thoroughly without the use of Christianese. Moreover, experience with these kinds of evangelistic conversations can help believers to be extremely loving and gentle and explain everything simply and thoroughly without the use of Christianese when they are sharing the gospel with adults.
Aim to reach adults with the gospel as well as children. Don’t fall for the statistic that a person is not going to come to Christ if he or she hasn’t come to Christ by a certain age. Who did Jesus reach primarily? Adults. Who did the apostles reach primarily? Adults. The statistic is misleading; it is not scripture. Rather, it may indicate that the adults in our churches generally do not know how to share the gospel with another adult, rarely do so or do not pray for others that they know to come to faith in Christ as a regular part of their prayer time.
Make sure that everyone in every paid ministry and staff position is a believer, adheres to the scriptural teaching that those who do not trust in Christ are lost eternally, and knows how to share the gospel – even support people. I think that churches and denominations lose their evangelistic spark and missionary drive when people come to positions of leadership who do not hold to scriptural convictions about the lostness of mankind and the need of everyone for the salvation in Christ. I don’t think that churches and denominations ask enough about a person’s convictions in these areas during interviews – such common sense questions as, “How would you share the gospel with me if I indicated to you that I was not born again?” or “Have you ever led someone to Christ?” or “How would you lead this congregation to be a witnessing church?” or simply, “Do you believe that someone who has not come to faith in Christ is lost?”