by Tom Alexander
I must begin by confessing that, even as a Pastor, personal evangelism is not something that I find easy to do. I fully know that Christ has commissioned me as a Christian to share the good news of the gospel. I also realize, with a fair dose of guilt, that as a Pastor I am to be an example to my flock in all areas of the Christian life, including the sharing of the gospel. But, as I said, personal evangelism is not a natural activity in my life.
Now don’t get me wrong. I truly believe in evangelism, and I know how important it is within the overall ministries and purposes of the church. So, our church schedules several purposeful evangelistic events every year. I include the gospel, in one form or another, in most of my Sunday morning messages. We provide tracts for our folks and have the gospel clearly available on our web site. We provide training in personal evangelism at some level annually. And we typically see a number of professions of faith through our ministries every year.
But the fact remains that I find personal evangelism to be a difficult task – one that I must continually discipline myself to emphasize in my life. One lesser, but important, approach that I take is to always carry a selection of gospel tracts with me. When I eat at a restaurant I always leave a good tip tucked inside one of my tracts. Not only do these tracts present the gospel in an attractive manner, but we put a label with our church information and web site on them so people can access more information. In preparation for our recent GARBC Annual Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, I made the mistake of forgetting to pack extra tracts. So, when I ran out of the few that I was carrying, I could not share any more. This practice has become such a habit that I actually feel guilty when I am unable to share at least a silent testimony for Christ at the restaurant.
Sharing a tract is pretty simple. But actually speaking up and sharing the gospel verbally is much more intimidating. With our theme dealing with “The Essential Gospel” at our recent conference, I thought it might be helpful to share two opportunities I had on my trip to and from St. Petersburg. I flew to the conference this year, and I had a pretty long layover in Raleigh-Durham on both trips. That means a total of four flights and two layovers. As a busy Pastor I typically take study material with me when I am traveling alone. No sense wasting time! But that practice also sometimes limits opportunities for conversations.
On my trip to the conference, the lady in the seat beside me on my flight from Cleveland slept most of the way – no chance to chat. Then no opportunities opened up during my layover. However, on the final leg of the trip I did have an opportunity to talk with my seatmate. About halfway through the trip both of us took a break from our work, and we exchanged pleasantries. It turns out that this young lady had lived for a time in the Cleveland area while she was employed by some local radio stations. She now had her own business providing marketing and web site development for small businesses. We chatted for quite a while about her business, and how the Internet can provide marketing opportunities. I told her about our church web site, and how we saved money by having my son develop the site for us several years ago. She asked me what software we used. When I gave her the answer she said she was not familiar with it, but that she would like to check it out. Before we deplaned I did something that I have done on other occasions. Rather than giving her a business card, I gave her one of my tracts with our church information. I told her to check out our web site to find the information about the software. What I didn’t tell her was that I was also giving her the gospel, as well as directing her to a place where she could learn more!
After a thoroughly enjoyable and challenging conference it was time to head for home. The fellow beside me on the first leg of the trip was absorbed in his headphones and various electronic gadgets. During the layover I ran into a friend who was also returning to Cleveland from the conference, and we spent the time fellowshipping. When I boarded the airplane for my trip home I found a young lady in the aisle seat of my row. I had the window seat, so she apologized about her overstuffed backpack that was not fitting correctly under the seat and was blocking the floor space. I told her “No problem!” and stepped over it to my seat. That interchange opened an immediate conversation, and before the plane even left the gate I learned that she was a student at a university in the northeast, and that she was going home to visit family. She learned that I was a Pastor (information I usually do not share readily, because it often scares people). Her home was just a half hour from my town, and she was very familiar with our area.
When I asked her what she was studying, I knew that the Lord had made this a Divine Appointment. She told me that she was in her third year of a Ph. D. program, and that she was studying molecular biology. I asked her if her dissertation involved strictly written research, or whether it involved some type of scientific lab experiments. She told me that she was working with a small flatworm that is found in fresh water ponds, and that her research centered around regeneration. As soon as she said that, I knew God had opened a wonderful door. I told her that I also focused on regeneration in my work, but it was a different kind!
We spent the first part of the trip with me asking her questions about her research and her plans. It turns out that this worm is one of a few creatures that, if cut in half, will regenerate the other half. If you cut the worm in the middle, the head will grow a tail and the tail have will grow a new head, and you will end up with two viable worms. If you cut it into thirds, the middle portion will grow both a head and a tail. If you cut it lengthwise, the left side grows a new right side, and the right side grows a new left side. The purpose of their research is to find out what actually causes this to work. If they can determine that, it might help with medical science. She told me that her ultimate goal was to find a way to help people with spinal injuries regenerate the connections and restore their spine.
After asking numerous questions and showing great interest in her studies, I then took the opportunity of a pause to turn the conversation to the gospel. I asked her if she could guess how I was involved with regeneration. After several stabs at an answer, she said something about spiritual renewal. I told her she was on the right track! She had told me that she grew up in a religious family, but that her dad had used their religion as a club in the home. This caused her to turn away from the church of her parents. Her husband came from a different background, and she sort of liked worshiping in the church he was connected with in the northeast.
So I asked her if she was familiar with Bible stories. She said “Yes,” but then admitted that she had never heard of Nicodemus. I told her that he was pretty much a Ph. D. religious leader of his day. In fact, he was viewed as a respected professor in Judaism. But one night he came to Jesus to ask how to inherit eternal life. I told her that Jesus told Nicodemus that even though he was a religious leader, he really had no idea concerning the truth. I asked her how her professors would feel if someone told them they really knew nothing about their field of expertise. She obviously thought it would make them mad! But then I was able to share with her about regeneration – the new birth. Using John 3, and especially verse 16, I was able to clearly share the gospel with her. She became thoughtful and asked some good questions. Finally she asked what it would take to make this gospel truth hers. I had the opportunity to share about belief – that you must know the truth, you must believe it to be true, but you also had to commit yourself to that truth.
About that time the plane was beginning its descent into Cleveland. I gave her a copy of my business card (I was out of tracts) and wrote the references to a couple of key verses on it. She was obviously interested, and probably under conviction, so I asked her to call me or e-mail me with questions and we could continue our chat. I also invited her to visit our church while she was home. Then I remembered that Baptist Mid-Missions had a missionary team in her city. I told her that I could also get their contact information and send it to her so that she could have a contact when she got back to her home in the northeast. She was pleased that I offered all of these opportunities.
The bottom line is that I had a clear opportunity to share the essential gospel with a young lady that the Holy Spirit had obviously put in my path. As we talked on the plane I noticed at least one other passenger sort of listening in, so there’s no way to know how many other people may have heard. No, personal evangelism does not come easy to me. But it would have been a shame to spend an entire week at a conference talking about the gospel, and never once sharing that essential gospel! And you want to know something? Sharing the gospel with her didn’t hurt at all! In fact, it was really exciting!
Tom Alexander is pastor of First Baptist Church, Wellington, Ohio, and a member of the GARBC Council of Eighteen.