One morning at breakfast, Rob shared Christ with his friend Taylor. After listening politely, Taylor flatly rejected the gospel. Guilt, discouragement and a sense of failure blanketed Rob for the next two days. Not realizing it, he unconsciously decided that he’d not talk about Christ again.
Kate listened empathetically to Lyn’s tale of marital disaster and said, ‘Oh, let me talk to Jesus for you…’ but Lyn cut her off before she could get started. Kate went home telling herself that she was not a ‘good witness.’ What had she done to turn Lyn away?
Chris met his buddy Tom before work for a handball match. Afterward, getting out of the shower, Chris said, “Hey, you know that sale I’ve been praying for? Well, God said, ‘No.’ I didn’t get it.“ Tom immediately wanted to know why God would say ‘No’ if he loved Chris. For the next ten minutes, they discussed how God answers prayer. As he drove to work, Chris thanked God for the chance to witness to Tom and once again asked the Lord to save him. He was so pumped – he couldn’t wait to tell his wife Jenny about the talk.
Kate and Rob felt failure and false guilt from viewing outreach as an EVENT – a one-time occasion when all the marbles are in the ring. On the other hand, Chris celebrated because he saw evangelism Biblically – that it is a PROCESS rather than an event.
The first lesson that Jesus modeled to his disciples was the very one that Rob and Kate needed to grasp: evangelism is a process. John 4:27-42 records several principles about the progression of evangelism. The woman at the well believe and promptly became a witness at which point the Samaritan villagers flocked out to see Jesus (28-30). As they made their way across the fields toward him, Jesus used a harvest analogy to tell his learners that the fields were ready for harvest. And those fields were the Samaritans, for the wheat or barley still needed four more months to mature (35).
But why were the Samaritans ready to harvest (believe)? Because others had sown (38). The Samaritans present receptivity came from their past study of the Pentateuch in their synagogues. Evidences of this prior planting include the woman’s knowledge of some traits of the coming Messiah (25), her questions about worship (19-20) and the villagers hope for the Promised One (42). An evangelistic harvest is the result of a process of sowing the seed of the Word and waiting for the harvest to come.
Outreach is also a team process that is hard work. Others had toiled in planting and now the disciple’s partnered in their labor as the Samaritans believed (35-38).
So the principles that Jesus taught his men include that (1) evangelism is a team process, (2) the process involves teaching the word and allowing it to germinate in the heart, (3) it takes time to reach the point of harvest, and (4) evangelism, especially planting the seed, is challenging work.
And guess what? Evidently, Jesus taught Paul these same principles at Arabian Desert Bible Institute (Gl 1:11-18). After all, Paul used the analogy of a plant, water and harvest team to describe his evangelistic work in Corinth (1 Cr 3:5-9).
Evangelism is not an event – getting a decision from a sinner. No, outreach is a process. Sometimes we sow the gospel seed for the first time. At other times, we water what others have planted. And periodically we gather the harvest as people respond to the saving grace of Christ.
Now, how can this ‘process principle’ help you create a positive evangelistic culture in your fellowship? Model and teach your folks that any mention of truth to a lost friend, like those of Rob and Kate above, is successful evangelism – it is planting and watering – so celebrate and affirm. Do outreach together – we all need the encouragement and some plant well while others are better at watering. Be patient – it takes a long time for certain people to trust Christ. And keep planting and watering the process principle – you’ll eventually harvest a guilt free, shame free outreach atmosphere in your church.