Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Always Prepared to Give an Account

"But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you..." 1 Peter 3:15

I have, admittedly, never been good at evangelism. I have never been able to make heads or tails of the common approaches to evangelism among contemporary churches. The tension seems to be found between a methodical approach and a relational approach to confronting others with the Gospel. Very few things drive me more crazy, make my face become more hot, than those who treat evangelism and those involved as a project. Rather than having a motive which stems from presenting the whole Gospel to the whole person, people are treated as commodities and one more notch on the stick of evangelism successes, i.e. another soul "won for Christ." Rather than investing in their lives, meeting them where they are at in both their personal lives and in their particular culture, methods of approach are based on growth by numbers and not by true repentance. The other approach, as mentioned, is a more relational approach in witnessing to others (the approach I tend to take). This is the approach by which believers do engage individuals in personal ways, ministering to them through various means and in a variety of environments whether at the office, in the classroom, or at a coffeeshop. Yet where and how do you transition into intentionally communicating the Gospel truth to them? Where do you make the connection between their particular issue or circumstance and the only Source of truth and hope? This is not only my approach; this is my struggle.

Last night marked the first of a two-week class I'm taking at school, a class focusing on none other than the issue of personal evangelism. During the typical class introductions, the professor asked us to tell him and the rest of the students what we hope to take away from this particular course. I immediately began thinking of my current work situation, and the people with whom I have been fortunate to work alongside. I began thinking about the general makeup of the individuals within the company, what they represent in light of our surrounding society. The majority of people I work with are fairly comfortable in life. We are a fast-paced, growing, successful company and many give off the appearance of contentment. While I have been more than grateful for this job, there is also potential danger in such a position. I find it easy to simply fit into the common air of comfort, allowing my mind to get lost in the bustle of paperwork and phone calls. I get along with everyone, everyone seems happy, so what more is there to question? It shouldn't take one long to discover why I find it so easy to make excuses for not being more intentional in my approach to those I see on a daily basis... Our first assignment for this class is a two-page account of our personal testimony: life prior to conversion, the conversion experience itself, and life following conversion. While I wasn't the least bit surprised by such an assignment, I began thinking about the importance of a seemingly basic task. If I was presented with the opportunity to do so, would I be able to share my personal testimony of the Lord's saving grace in such a way that was simple yet reflective of His power to breath new life into dead hearts? I spent the better part of last night tossing such questions back and forth in my mind, and the following is what I came up with for a written account of my personal testimony:

My small family was never far from the doors of the church. With my mom as the pianist and my brother and I involved in virtually every program available to children, we rarely missed a Sunday or Wednesday at the Baptist church where I was raised. I come from a long line of Baptists, many of whom proudly wear the title without knowing what it really means. All I knew as a child was that we went to church because it was expected. I can look back at my childhood years and see that there was little evidence of certain individuals in my family possessing a vibrant, growing relationship with the Lord. I learned early on, even before I could actually articulate the issue, that one can religiously attend church and yet never show any fruit of true conversion.
I still struggle at times to recollect details of my salvation experience, the specific moment of conversion, due to my young age. This moment, though, came following a Sunday night at my home church when my family was in attendance at a rockin' Christian band concert. (To this day I seriously doubt that the big-haired guy playing the synthesizer is who won me over.) I was only eight years old at the time, and the most vivid memory I have of this particular night was the feeling I had as I glanced around at the surrounding audience. I remember this gnawing feeling deep in the pit of my stomach as I was overcome with one thought: something was missing. As I looked around the sanctuary, I was struck with the reality that I did not know God personally, and certainly did not know His Son the Savior. All of the songs I had been singing since the age of two, all of the verses I was trained to memorize, seemed empty as I realized that I did not know the One whom the words were describing. Upon arriving home later that evening, I sat on my bed with my mother and shared my thoughts with her. I vaguely remember her asking me questions primarily for assurance of whether or not I was experiencing true conversion. We closed our conversation with prayer, and my mom asked me to pray aloud. I remember asking Him to forgive me of all I had done wrong and to cleanse me as my personal Lord and Savior. I was baptized by immersion only a week or two following the moment of conversion as a biblical mandate and indication of the transforming work Christ had performed in my heart.
Due to my young age at the time, I admit that there were years following when I questioned the sincerity of my conversion. I struggled at times with assurance of salvation, particularly in my early teenage years and around the time when my parents divorced. The question always came to mind of how someone can be a true believer and still battle with anger, depression and frustration. As an immature adolescent, I watched in confusion as my older brother, who once professed the same faith as I did, took a nosedive into a life characterized by rebellion.
Only by the grace of God was I surrounded during these years by godly leaders and friends, many with whom I remain in close contact to this day. The Lord opened my eyes to the truth that He held and protected me through my adolescence, guarding my heart in ways I was unaware of at the time. I cannot look back at the years afforded to me and not be overcome by His overwhelming sovereignty and grace. Not only did He guard me personally in those early years, but I have been able to see how past experiences led up to where I am currently. His Holy Spirit has clearly been shaping me from an early age in such a way that bears witness of the truth and hope found only in Him and in His Word. He has revealed to me through relationships, both family and friends, that He is the only One who satisfies the weary, wounded soul. I could never earn the grace the Father has bestowed, something which He has revealed abundantly in these first months of marriage to my husband. I know without a doubt that I am unworthy of the rich gifts the Lord has provided, of the salvation made possible through Jesus Christ, and that He alone has the power to redeem His beloved. May He receive the glory for all He has done, all He is doing now, and all He will do.

Have you taken time to think through and write out your personal testimony? I am tempted to say that anyone who reads this should consider themselves "tagged," but I won't. However, if you feel compelled to write your testimony out, a written account of Christ's saving work in your life, let me know! Whether it serves as a personal reflection of how you have experienced and seen evidence of His work in your life, or serves as something beneficial in any evangelistic opportunity that the Lord provides, I really this is something well worth time and thought.

"And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6


Ashley said...

Great post!

I certainly understand what you're talking about with the "one more notch on the stick of evangelism success" take on outreach. We seem to forget (disregard?) that Scripture tells us to make DISCIPLES, not converts. We are quick to share the Gospel via the methodical approach (which I personally see as a diservice most of the time), but then we think we've done our part and leave the people hanging. There's no follow-up to encourage them to be Jesus-seeking followers of Christ.

I tend to lean toward the relational approach too, but also struggle with being intentional. Talk is cheap. People can say whatever they want when they are visiting someone they don't know as a result of the methodical approach, but the way they live, the activities they are involved in, and the way they react to situations will speak more to a person than the words they speak when sharing the Gospel. I've heard it said that "you have to live it before you lip it" and I agree. Actions speak louder than words, right?! (Side note ~ Just because I lean towards the relational approach more often does not mean that I discount witnessing to those who you do not yet know well. There are times when the Holy Spirit prompts and that's a totally different story!)

I enjoyed reading your testimony and I'm glad you posted it on here. I will work on writing out mine and hopefully post it soon!

* Sorry for the extremely long comment! *

jennypen said...

I love it when I feel like I can get to know you better even after 14 years of friendship. I will now be tossing these questions around in my mind. Perhaps I will share my written testimony with you sometime in the near future. (And thank you for not ending your post with something crazy like, "If you love Jesus, you should do this too." LOL! Don't you just love those email messages?) I love you, Friend.

Kim said...

I loved reading this! Thanks for sharing it.