Maybe because they hunt, when they should be fishing! I know about hunting because I used to do it. But not often. Like most Christians, I was uncomfortable invading people’s privacy and imposing religious conversations they did not want. A person’s religion in our culture is considered a private matter–no one else’s business.
Yet we are taught an intrusive kind of evangelism–even, confrontational. We choose a victim, start with a clever opening, and then proceed with a pre-packaged little sermon. Almost all of the evangelism books in my bookcase suggest better ways to hunt.
Yet in Scripture we see Jesus and the apostles fishing. A quite different approach. Both Paul and Peter describe evangelism as primarily answering questions people ask. We explain the gospel to people who want to hear it! What a difference! It makes evangelism enjoyable!
One problem with hunting is that we have to approach people indiscriminately. We do not know what is going on in their hearts. It is a stab in the dark. We may accidentally find a seeker, but more often our victims will be indifferent or hostile to the gospel–or they may just act that way because we have taken them by surprise. We hate to be rebuffed.
But the approach in Scripture is to fish out seekers from among other non-believers and focus on them. But how do we spot seekers? By their questions. How do we get people to ask questions? By our wholesome, attractive Christian lifestyle and our occasional fitting words about the Lord. In the ocean of this world’s people each of us is assigned to certain ponds–our extended family, our neighborhood, our workplace or campus, our professional circles and social clubs–wherever non-believers have a sustained opportunity to observe our lives. The gospel must be seen as well as heard.
What is the bait that lures seekers? Paul emphasizes four things. 1. Personal integrity, honesty, truthfulness, patience, moral purity, etc. 2. Quality work at our places of employment, as though our employer were Jesus Christ himself! Wholehearted, conscientious, thorough, creative work. 3. Caring relationships with people around us, especially hurting people–giving not just the gospel, but ourselves as well. 4. Fitting comments about God–not punctuating every sentence with religion, but saying the appropriate words at the right time.
Look at Col. 4: 5, 6: “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one.” Paul emphasized a godly lifestyle even in an immoral, idolatrous neighborhood and workplace. The next clause means not only to be zealous, but to make use of every opportunity. (Time there is kairos.) Then our speech should be gracious in every situation, but not saccharine sweet. Rather, it should be thought-producing and question-inducing. For Paul, evangelism is lifestyle and answering seekers’ questions.
Paul expected converts to evangelize the people around them–especially, in the workplace (and on campus). He demonstrates how to live a holy life in a cesspool society–none had ever seen a Christian before! He demonstrates a biblical work ethic, which was essential if idlers, thieves, pilferers and unworthy slaves were to become strong believers, to have healthy families and produce independent churches. Most of all, he models unpaid, lay evangelism–an approach that was ideal for the workplace, and would not turn people off.
Look at 1 Peter 3:14-17, where Peter teaches the same fishing approach, not just because it is ideal for working people, but because it is also ideal in severe persecution. “Have no fear of them nor be troubled. . . ” Fear of whom? The persecutors, the authorities. They cannot touch you without God’s permission! We must believe it. “But in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord.” Be conscious of his presence. Be in an attitude of worship. Depend on him in the crisis. “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” Graciously. “And keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” Lifestyle. Question-inducing conduct and speech. What is it the seekers would ask about? The Christians’ hope. How could these Christians be patient, gentle and hopeful in the face of physical persecution, economic discrimination and property loss?
There are many other benefits to this fishing evangelism that both Paul and Peter teach. It allows the seekers to pace the initial conversations as they are ready. The seekers’ questions show you exactly what answers they need–what they are ready for. You discover what the Holy Spirit is already doing in them, so you can patiently collaborate with him, instead of running ahead of him.
Do not fear the questions. Always answer as learners, not authorities. You will seem less threatening, and it will take the pressure off of you. You never said you had all the answers. At times you may say, “Let me think about this until tomorrow so I can give you a clear explanation.” After the first three or four questions, say, “I am not an authority on this subject, but would you like to see what Jesus said about it?” (Or Paul or John?) Then do a brief one-on-one Bible study of two or three verses. This will raise more questions. Suggest getting together the next day to study a longer passage. These little studies usually become weekly, with the seeker inviting other seeking friends. These evangelistic–or investigative–Bible studies, are the most effective ways to win seekers to faith in Jesus Christ, because they are patient, thorough and hand-tailored to the individual.
If you are a student, a working Christian, or you hope to go abroad as a tentmaker, you may wish to order the following materials, including two GO Papers by Ruth Siemens:
- Workplace Evangelism: Fishing out Seekers: These 30 pages explain and illustrate fishing evangelism, list 15 benefits of this approach, add several other helpful suggestions for bringing seekers to commitment. It briefly describes a variety of seekers and how to approach them: nominal Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, cults including post-modern, New Age and people from non-Christian religions, etc.
- Investigative Bible Studies. We have seen more people find Jesus Christ in evangelistic Bible studies than in any other way. But to be effective, these studies must be quite different from the usual Bible study. For example, the majority of the participants must be non-believers. The atmosphere should be comfortable for them. The discussions should be question-led. Use primarily narratives from the Gospels. Focus on Jesus, the shortcut in evangelism.
- A Lifeguide study: Evangelism, by Rebecca Pippert and Ruth Siemens. A Bible study guide for group discussion on how Jesus and the apostles evangelized. IVP
- Out of the Salt Shaker and into the World, by Rebecca Pippert, a very helpful book on evangelism. IVP