The accidental evangelist
From time to time people are kind enough to tell me of something that I’ve said to them in the past that has had a profound impact on them leading to significant change. As a preacher and evangelist it’s important to hear this feedback, if only for my own authentication. The only problem is that I can never remember saying those words and cannot fathom how I in my own wit and wisdom would have said those things. Additionally, these life altering words more often than not were not uttered during a sermon but in passing during otherwise innocuous encounters.
Despite spending countless hours crafting sermons, illustrating them with killer graphics on Powerpoints slide shows, translating original Hebrew and Greek and thumbing through the best commentaries – my most profound utterances are unplanned and unconscious.
So what does this tell us about the nature of ministry and also evangelism? Should we give up on all the hours spent preparing what we think is effective teaching and presentation? Not necessarily. It’s humbling to think that what I think is profound may not be to other people (this is a key realisation preachers need to arrive at).
At the same time it’s liberating to accept that the pressure is not on me to come up with profundities that lead to change. It is however our responsibility as an ambassador for Christ to put myself in the spaces and proximity to people whereby we can be used as vessels of the Spirit for God to achieve through us, purposes that we may not be cognisant of.
We tend to measure things through metrics. Evangelism is often measured through the metrics of ‘conversions’. We may never know just how many people we have helped along the journey of faith, and we may only ever see a small fraction of those journeys reach the end destination in our presence. We may never know how much profound impact we’ve had on people’s lives, in terms of God speaking through us. It may well, often, not even be spoken. It can be a helping hand, an act of service or mercy, or simply people reading our lives like a letter (from Christ).
There are metrics that we can never know. The things we count can only be the tip of the iceberg, especially if we intentionally place ourselves in proximity to people outside of the bubble of the church fellowship.
It was my privilege to sit down last week with someone who has been given the responsibility of leading community engagement for a church that has been established since the 70’s but never really engaged with its own local community, due to being a ‘regional church’ that attracts Baptists from all over a regional city.
My hope is that there won’t be any undue pressure to see immediate ‘results’ in terms of the traditional metrics. I’m sure that the more people that immerse themselves into their local community, and the more relationships that are built, the more instances of ‘accidental evangelism’ there’ll be. That’s because in our planning, training, strategizing we tend to always forget the critical factor of partnering with the Holy Spirit in ministering to others. Our best moments in ministry and evangelism may well turn out to be moments we had nothing to do with from an intentional point of view.
Stan Fetting, June 2017