When I was in tenth or eleventh grade, a missionary to Cuba spoke at the Free Will Baptist church my father founded and pastored. I was enraptured as he spoke of his work among the native-Americans of the island—I wanted to do that. I wanted to be a missionary.
Some months later, an elderly Free Will Baptist minister also came as guest speaker. After the service I told him I was going to be a missionary, and he asked me how many souls I had won to Christ.
“None,” I said.
We didn’t do things that way in our church.
Becoming a Personal Evangelist
Sometimes our preachers visited someone they knew and tried to persuade them to get ‘saved’, but mostly we invited people to church where there was an altar call at the end of each service. Those under conviction went up to the altar to pray, and many members followed to pray for them; sometimes one or more would actually walk down with them because ‘sinners’ in attendance were often approached by Christians who plead with them to go to the altar and be ‘saved’.
The elderly minister insisted that I should begin winning people to the Lord right away, and he told me how to do it. His method was based on Perceive, Believe, Receive. This sounded very strange; it didn’t reflect the powerful emotions, agonizing struggle, and ‘praying through’ that accompanied getting ‘saved’ at the altar.
It wasn’t until the summer after graduating from high school, however, that I won my first convert. I worked the evening shift at a restaurant, and after closing I spoke to the crew about being ‘saved’. After considerable discussion we knelt on the floor of the kitchen and three of them accepted Jesus.
I was elated; the Lord had given me words to say when I needed them, though by this time I had replaced the Perceive, Believe, Receive approach with The Roman Road technique I learned from fundamentalist leaders John R. Rice and Jack Hyles.
Using Romans 3:10, 3:23, 5:12, 6:23, 5:8, and 10:9-13, this technique intends to show that we are all sinners and cannot save ourselves, that sinners go to hell, and that Christ died to save sinners from hell. This all leads to the sinner’s prayer and a public confession.
Growing as a Personal Evangelist
I was witnessing to people I knew, but that was a limited number. Then I hit on a way to broaden my efforts—hitchhikers!
Any time I saw a hitchhiker on the road, I picked them up and talked to them about Jesus. Some were uninterested, and a few asked me to let them out of the car, but it is remarkable how many prayed the sinner’s prayer.
Joining the Personal Evangelism Community
When I attended Bible college in 1971, I was very excited to join the personal evangelism club. Until then I had been a loner in my efforts.
The activities of the club centered on ‘invasions’; congregations within driving distance of the college invited us to their church for a weekend invasion. We taught classes on witnessing and took members into the community to demonstrate how to lead people to be ‘saved’.
I was excited about the club because I wanted to learn to be a better soul-winner. As a freshman newbie, I was paired in my first invasion with an experienced member. However, as we spoke with candidates, she based her appeal on the urgent need to prepare for the rapture in order to avoid the terrible tribulation period that would follow.
After a few presentations, I suggested to her that the rapture might be 100 years away and that there might be a different way to approach people. She vehemently rejected the idea; the rapture was almost upon us!
In spite of this conflict, I was able to participate in one discussion and led that person to salvation. In fact, I had at least one convert in each of the invasions I attended that semester, and in one of them the only convert was mine.
The summer of my freshman year I participated in an extended invasion in Philadelphia. On one occasion, I led seven people in the sinner’s prayer—one after the other; they had to wait in line.
Encountering Evangelism Explosion
Soon after this, my denomination, and the college, adopted the Evangelism Explosion program of personal evangelism. I was certified and had significant success. Within a few years I was teaching advanced Evangelism Explosion classes for our denomination’s leading congregation in the same city as the Bible college. It was a congregation of 2000-3000–a megachurch in those days.
It was while I was serving in this capacity that I began to have reservations about this form of evangelism. One day, I shared my concerns with another prominent leader in the congregation’s Evangelism Explosion program, and he agreed. Shortly thereafter, we recommended to the Evangelism Minister that we discontinue the program. After some conversation, he accepted and we killed it.
Many people were outraged, and I took a lot of heat.
Ending My Personal Evangelism Career
This was pretty much the end of my evangelistic efforts of this sort, and next time I will tell you why.
Photo Credit: Chris Yarzab via Compfight cc
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Have a great day! ~Tim