“Offenses ought to be pardoned, for few offend willingly, but only as led by some excitement”
— Hegesippus, 300 BC.
When a book on evangelism methodology starts with a quote about pardoning offences, I wonder why the author feels the need to start there with his reader.
I finished reading Evangelism in the New testament after writing a response [Evangelism with Strangers] to a review I read of this book.
The author was kind enough to send me a copy for my own review.
The quote from Hegesippus is used to show how one who is overflowing with a love for Christ might unknowingly offend other Christians. If we Christians are offended by an evangelist who is busy sharing their faith, we should excuse them for their excitement.
I’ve been in that place a few times myself – so full of overflow with my relationship with the Lord that I can’t help but share it.
Sometimes, I’ve probably been a little reckless, or even obnoxious, in my enthusiasm.
Sometimes, I know that I’ve made other Christian’s uncomfortable in my enthusiasm.
Where is he coming from?
Jon acknowledges that his material and methodology are influenced by Ray Comfort’s Way of the Master stuff.
Thus I expected a certain theological bent, language, and argument as I read his book. If you are not into Comfort’s stuff as a model for evangelism, this book will likely bother you or frustrate rather than help you.
I enjoyed the quick read. It’s a short booklet, under 50 pages, and reflects some research that the author has done that contributes to the discussion on evangelism.
He even invites reader interaction to study the way he uses Scripture to support his views and communicate to him where he might be exegeting passages incorrectly – a gracious invitation, rarely seen in authors on any topic.
Where is he going?
Jon’s basic premise is explain and demonstrate the value “contact evangelism.”
His stated goal is to
“encourage churches and individuals to reconsider contact evangelism as a serious model of evangelistic ministry. . because contact evangelism has been mostly neglected by otherwise well intentioned Bible preaching churches” (12,11)
What is contact evangelism?
Jon describes contact evangelism simply:
“direct witnessing with strangers.”
In his study He asks:
“When evangelism took place in the Bible, what was the primary method?” (10)
This is where Jon’s work contributes to the discussion on evangelism.
His statistical insight laid out in chapters 2 and 4 is that personal evangelism happened as a conversation that took place between strangers, or recently introduced people who have known each other for a brief time.
- In the Gospels: 86.5% of the 89 encounters he counts are between strangers (14)
- In Acts: 82.6% of the 46 encounters he counts are between strangers (24,25).
Thus he concludes that contact evangelism is the dominant pattern and that contact evangelism should be a model that the church should utilize.
He goes on to cite some great preachers and their reflections on contact evangelism, eventually stating
“No succeeding Scriptural injunction has removed the present day Church from its responsibility to do likewise” (20).
What about Friendship Evangelism?
He doesn’t want to diminish or
“demean those who faithfully share the biblical gospel within the context of friendships” (11).
The friendship evangelists shouldn’t ignore or demean the contact evangelists.
One should not be neglected at the expense of the other.
Jesus talked with strangers, and Jesus did open air-preaching. The apostles did open-air preaching and one to one contact with strangers.
Speed also suggests that contact evangelism will help friendship evangelism. He suggests that if you can practice explaining the gospel with a stranger whom you might never see again, you’ll find greater confidence in talking with your friends.
“But Contact Evangelism is not effective!”
I’ve read the statistics that argue that this method produces little fruit or it’s not effective. Speed expects this objection to contact evangelism.
He argues that effectiveness in contact evangelism is measured on four criteria
- Was the true gospel proclaimed?
- Was the true gospel understood?
- Was Christ glorified?
- Was the attitude of the Christian godly while communicating the gospel?
Effectiveness is measured by a “true gospel,” which sets up his assertion that
“what we communicate about the gospel is of greater importance than how we communicate it.”
To get it wrong produces false converts (which is a big theme in Comfort’s material).
Speed’s criteria for effectiveness is not
- not growing disciples,
- not new members in a church,
- nor any evidence of conversion.
Discussions of how one measures effectiveness leads to a theological discussion way beyond the boundaries of this review.
I admire Speed’s passion for evangelism. That clearly runs through the text.
He and I share a passion to equip churches to do the work of evangelism.
Likewise, Jon is quick to point out that those who do contact evangelism need to do so in partnership with a local church (21-22). They are not to be out there as lone rangers. I teach this to all the short-term mission teams that I work with.
I also admire his respect for trusting the sovereignty of God over the results of every contact, and the sovereignty of God in those whom God might bring before one who does contact evangelism.
It’s clear that Jon is an evangelist who is gifted in this style of evangelism. He does it, lives it, practices it.
In a prior post (see Evangelism with Strangers) I raise the question of seeing one’s own passion in the text.
For example, if my perspective was from the “signs and wonders style” of evangelism, I’d point out that several of those witnessing encounters with Jesus involved healing the sick and or casting out demons.
The apostles healed the sick too, so we should be busy doing the same.
Thus I could make the case that we can do the same as a biblical form of evangelism.
Ultimately, this is why I’m glad Jon wrote that he wants the church to reconsider contact evangelism as “a model” of evangelism.
The implications for training
I don’t dispute that contact evangelism a model of biblical evangelism.
I do it occasionally, and more frequently in a cross cultural and mission context in partnership with a local church.
Contact evangelism remains very scary for a lot of people.
Even after going through the training, I know people who continue to fear this form of evangelism because it doesn’t work for them.
It’s like putting on someone else’s shoes. From the human side, they can’t find the guts to do it. Training them to memorize a ten commandments script and go forth to speak with strangers is just too intimidating.
I know that Ray Comfort’s ministry (and all the influenced ministries) has had great success in helping some people for whom this style is very comfortable. I know people who like this style and am glad that there are other evangelism trainers out there.
As a trainer, how can I help people overcome their fears if this methodology seems to inspire fears (at least in the people that come to my trainings)?
I won’t disregard Jon’s book. It’s very handy if I’m training people in this style of contact evangelism.
But if you know that contact evangelism remains a highly uncomfortable practice for you, this book may not be for you.
Pick up a copy of this booklet over at One Million Tracts.
No matter what your form or methodology is, the encouragement is to grow comfortable in how to talk about your faith and share the gospel.
Let me ask you this?
If contact evangelism doesn’t work for you, what form of evangelism works for you?
Then, how often do you share your faith in that way?