Sunday, May 01, 2016

Evangelizing No More - Eleanor Shepherd

           
As Glen and I were driving along in the car, we were discussing a workshop that I will be facilitating soon on my book, More Questions than Answers, Sharing Faith by Listening. Writing the book taught me some important principles about evangelism. Here are some of my discoveries.

God is at work in a person’s life long before we come along, drawing them into an awareness of their desire for Him. We need discernment to probe this so we can cooperate with His purposes. For example, if someone is struggling with fear, we can provide a secure environment to examine the reasons for their fears. With their self-discovery, we may have occasion to assure them God knows their fears and will not abandon them to their enslavement. 

Perhaps, our friend struggles with loneliness. While we can try to be available to them, we can assure them that when we are not nearby, they are never completely alone. God is always as near as a prayer. They can be confident that He will send those they need to be with them, when they need them. Whatever we face, we need never face it alone or be overwhelmed by fear. The Lord has promised His presence, when we reach out to Him in our need.

Another discovery about evangelism is that it is not a separate exercise divorced from the rest of our lives. It is a part of the journey. From the time that we are born God is ready to welcome us into His forever family. For some of us it takes a long time on the road before we finally really hear and respond to His invitation. Along the way, the Lord continues to send people who provide opportunities that encourage us to move closer to Him. Someone takes the time to listen to our real frustrations about the way our life is going and the way our dreams are not being fulfilled. Knowing they hear us creates an opportunity to face ourselves, learn more about who we are and to gain a better understanding of our real needs.

On this journey, when a person comes to faith, rarely is it a result of a single conversation with a single individual. The Body of Christ is composed of many members. Usually several of them play a role in helping us respond to God’s call to open our hearts to Him. Someone may casually share some key truth that has transformed his or her life, just on the way by, and that thought launches us on our search for truth. Another may recount the transformation that has taken place in their own life, as they have tentatively begun to put their trust in God. That makes it seem feasible for us to do so. Someone else might offer evidence of an answer to prayer or share a Scripture that has been meaningful to them. They authenticate the spiritual disciplines. Another friend may point to a glorious sunset or majestic peak and recognize these as gifts from a Creative Father. 



            When I was younger, I had the impression that each of us, as individual Christians was responsible for bringing a number of people to faith, on our own. As I have grown in my faith, I discovered my importance was far less than I imagined. What really counts is what God does in bringing people to faith. He allows us to play small parts in the cosmic drama that unfolds in a person’s life as they come into a relationship with the Eternal One. Knowing all He does, and my small role in His life-giving project, effectively remove all the pressure from me and enable me to be genuine in my interactions with others. There is no need for me to go around evangelizing. 
Word Guild Award
2011   
Word Guild Award
2009

6 comments:

Peter Black said...

Thoughtful, insightful and authentic, Eleanor. Your decades of service, walking with God and observing the way He works to bring people to Himself, show here. Thank you. ~~+~~

Donald said...

How interesting, Eleanor, that after many years of ministry and frequently feeling frustrated and somewhat guilty because I was not able to see and count heads that would be in the Kingdom thanks to my efforts in evangelism, I came to similar conclusions. I would simply and modestly add a couple further thoughts to your position. First that we will in any case never convert anyone. It is the Spirit of God alone Who is able to give new birth... the Spirit who like the wind blows where He will, when He will. If we pressure someone into a decision we run the risk of actually driving them off. Better far to let the Lord do the convincing. Secondly, if our witness is used by God to help someone discover Jesus, we have been given a gift by the Lord. I have often used the illustration of a litlle boy watching his Daddy build a house. At some point the loving father allows the lad to pick up the hammer and bang in a couple nails (watching closely so that the child not injure himself in the process !). The boy goes proudly home because he has helped Daddy build. So are we sometimes lovingly allowed to help in working with our Father, but we must remain humble... We are not the builders, He is. We witness when He allows us to do so but He alone is the SAVER ! Thirdly, evangelism which as you have pointed out is a process in which the community of believers is involved, will often be triggered by simple acts of love. I have many times over the years been brought back to the words of one of the verses in the old hymn "Rescue the Perishing".
"Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more."

Anonymous said...

So true. We are a small part of a much bigger picture and God is the One who works in each life and we are a wonderful, unbelievable part of that.

Eleanor Shepherd said...

Thank you both for your comments. I agree completely. I think these discoveries free us to be authentic followers of Jesus.
Your remarks greatly encourage me. Thanks for taking the time to think through these things and respond.

Glynis said...

"God is at work in a person’s life long before we come along, " I thought this a bit of a brilliant statement, Eleanor. It's not like we're rounding up rascals for Him. He's already begun the good work. We are allowed a hand in the process, but it's nothing we do to 'win people to Christ'. I never liked that term. Thanks for a matter-of-fact well thought out piece. Blessings.

Belinda Burston said...

This resonates so strongly with me and is a confirmation of what God was saying through Acts 9 to me this morning. Saul was converted and immediately in his characteristic zeal began preaching in the synagogue. Logically that is good, but the result repeatedly was murderous rage (and possibly greater danger to his fellow believers.) Eventually the believers sent him away home..."the church then had peace...and with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers." God has used Acts 9 and affirmed through Eleanor's devotion, to emphasize that while he has made me a "chosen instrunent" with a particular message, I need to remember that instruments are in the hand of their Maker to be used as and when he chooses, and that I need to focus on the deep work of knowing him, being in tune with his purposes, ready when needed, reflecting his grace, wisdom and gentleness.

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