Evangelism is often a long haul. The gospel is not an instant quick fix. How often do we feel that we, or the gospel, has failed when friends, family, folk we witness to, don’t respond immediately? What keys will unlock the secrets of long-haul evangelism?
In 1 Thessalonians 2: 7-8, Paul gives us two keys:
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
Keys that open doors
The first key was Paul’s willingness to share the gospel. He summarises its importance in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-4:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
It is of first importance. We must guard and share the gospel. Romans 1:16 explains his willingness to share it: ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…’
The second key is that all his Christian life Paul was ‘willing to share not only the gospel of God but also [his] own [self].’ Sharing the gospel and seeing fruit means long term, lifelong commitment to the gospel and people. We are to show others the ‘hesed’ love shown to us by the Lord – a one-way love expecting nothing in return. It is an unbalanced and unfair love which gives and gives again. It is vital to add that real love includes prayer – tenacious prayer!
These keys work. They open doors.
Here are some real life examples of brothers and sisters across the world sharing the gospel and their lives, even in seemingly impossible circumstances.
A hardened atheist
I was brought up in a family where my father was a member of the Rationalist Press Association, now the British Humanist Society. He had all their literature and was a convinced atheist. I went to university with the same mind-set. Yet a classmate shared with me something of his Christian faith (as I dissected a horse!). Eventually I read the gospel of John. I became a Christian. It took time. From that day on I prayed for my family, in particular for my father, every day. Many years of prayer followed. One day he came to hear me speaking in church. God did an amazing work in his life and he believed on the Lord Jesus! I still have his Bible with the comment ‘in memory of a great event’ and was dated 8 July 1956. Many years of seeking to be faithful to the gospel, loving him and my mother, then God answered my simple prayers.
Michael Clarkson is Emeritus Professor in the School of Veterinary Science at the University of Liverpool.
A deeply religious person
I was born in Tibet but had to move to Bhutan. I grew up a Buddhist working for the Dalai Lama for seven years. I worked with a Christian who so impressed me that I was drawn to explore who Jesus was – someone I’d never heard of. I came to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. But now, as Christians, my family would not come and stay with my wife and I.
My grandmother’s husband died when she was in her 60s. She was heartbroken and could not understand why any ‘god’ could take him. She became a Buddhist nun. For over 20 years she would visit my wife and I (but never stayed) doing everything she could in many centres and temples. However there came a day when she told me that she could not connect with God and asked me for help. I explained how Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. She became a Christian and found the God she had been searching for.
Dawa Bhutia works with pastors across India.
Dr Robert Reid Kalley (1809-1888) was born in Scotland where he studied, then practised medicine. He came to faith through the serene life and death of one of his patients. In time Kalley became a missionary. When his wife developed tuberculosis, they moved to the island of Madeira in 1838 to a milder climate. There he worked as a medical missionary, unsupported. He learned Portuguese and opened a clinic. He treated the poor for free, sharing the gospel with his patients. He organised worship in his house and started schools teaching literacy, enabling folk to read and understand the Bible. He knew great blessing, but disaster was near.
As a result of his gospel work he was imprisoned in July 1843. Even his life seemed in danger. He was released in January 1844. However, the persecution of Christians became so great that again Kalley feared for his life. He escaped the island disguised as a woman in order to reach a departing ship. His library and home were destroyed, Christians were expelled from their homes and had to settle in distant countries. Kalley’s work seemed to be a disaster – his ministry in tatters!
Eventually he moved to Brazil. Again he shared the gospel and his life. A new church was born, and the Lord blessed with many coming to trust the Lord Jesus Christ. Churches he planted still stand as a testament to God’s undefeatable purposes. A small Baptist church has been growing slowly in Funchal, Madeira, over the last 40 years. Its founding pastor has recently moved back to the USA after faithfully sharing the gospel and his own life for 40 years. The gospel continues to be shared in Madeira and Brazil.
Many troubled families
In Hereford, Christian churches resurrected Hereford City Mission and called it Vennture. As a result of gospel-centred work with Street Pastors and a project to eliminate unnecessary night time A&E admissions, Vennture were asked to consider helping a government initiative to turn around troubled families.
Carefully recruited and well-trained link workers and volunteer family pastors now work with over 40 families; the outcome is to help families to help themselves by giving meaning to the power of Jesus – love in action not words. In lives where everything’s broken and people are numbed by unimaginable pain it is amazing how being there consistently – and without judgement, makes a difference. Just like Jesus with the woman at the well – hurt people are drawn to unconditional love, very slowly they regain trust. The team are learning afresh the power of praying patiently and loving unfailingly.
The impact exceeds all expectations. Children are being kept out of care and away from crime; school attendance is improving and workless parents are getting jobs. One parent told external evaluators, ‘These people are always there for you, even when you don’t want them to be.’ Another told how her family pastor had stopped her taking her own life. Some ask about God.
It’s all about realising God is at work in the darkest circumstances. There are no quick fixes and there is no sermonising. When one family chose to be baptised recently, they shared how God had been bringing them into contact with church and Christians over many years and hundreds of miles apart. Our team never saw they were part of something bigger: one was sowing, another reaping.
It was a wakeup call. God gives the increase. Jesus is making our lives count for him in ways we may never know.
Robert Thomas is the Lead Executive Officer of Vennture.