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Lame evangelism

God powerfully works through even awkward attempts to reach the lost

ON A SNOWY SUNDAY MORNING IN COLCHESTER, England, 1850, a 15-year-old boy made a detour from his intended destination and stumbled into a Primitive Methodist Chapel. The usual pastor was not in attendance and had constrained a member of the congregation to preach. The uncertain pulpit-filler read the day's text (Isaiah 45:22: "Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth")-and then, having no second act, read it over and over again, with different inflections, for 10 minutes. Noticing a new face in the pew, he gazed at him and said, "Young man, you look miserable. Look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look!" The young man did. His name was Charles Hadden Spurgeon.

I am collecting lame, awkward, fumbling evangelism examples. The one above fits my criteria in some ways but not others: It at least has actual Scripture in it. I heard a lamer one recently at a Bible conference in New Jersey, where the speaker, Rick Phillips of Florida, once a hard-living cavalry tank commander, told how a woman he carried a box for from her Philadelphia apartment tossed off the following: "If you're ever looking for a good church, try Tenth Presbyterian." Lame. She must be kicking herself today. But Rev. Phillips remembered the name a few months after the encounter, made his way to 17th and Spruce, and was converted under the preaching of James Boice.

Then there's my first Christian roommate, Susan J. It was the early 1970s and she was hanging out on the Boston Commons when someone approached her and said the lamest thing you can say if you want to convert somebody: "Hey," the interloper called to the burnt-out hippie, "want to come meet some normal people?" Susan followed at once. Just like Andrew and Peter.

Are you starting to feel better, too-like maybe you don't have to be a sure-footed Ph.D. in apologetics to win souls for Christ? Like maybe there is something strange, unearthly, going on here? Could it be that the gospel is a living, breathing thing (Hebrews 4:12), a force that "overtakes" (Zechariah 1:6) like a thundering posse? A bristling, pulsating, throbbing, shimmering power (think Frodo's ring, but for good), so poised to strike and conquer that it will surge into the slightest crack like electricity, unembarrassed by the vehicle it rides in on?

The old Puritan Richard Baxter was on that wavelength: "The work of conversion is the first and great thing we must drive at; after this we must labor with all our might. Alas! The misery of the unconverted is so great, that it calleth loudest to us for compassion. If a truly converted sinner do fall, it will be but into sin which will be pardoned.... But with the unconverted it is far otherwise. They are in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity, and have yet no part nor fellowship in the pardon of their sins, or the hope of glory....

"It is so sad a case to see men in a state of damnation, wherein, if they should die, they are lost for ever, that methinks we should not be able to let them alone, either in public or private, whatever other work we may have to do.... Who is able to talk of controversies, or of nice unnecessary points, or even of truths of a lower degree of necessity, how excellent soever, while he seeth a company of ignorant, carnal, miserable sinners before his eyes, who must change or be damned? ... Methinks, if by faith we did indeed look upon them as within a step of hell, it would more effectually untie our tongues than Croesus's danger, as they tell us, did his son's.... O, therefore, brethren, whomsoever you neglect, neglect not the most miserable! Whatever you pass over, forget not poor souls that are under the condemnation and curse of the law, and who may look every hour for the infernal execution, if a speedy change do not prevent it. O call after the impenitent, and ply this great work of converting souls, whatever else you leave undone" (The Reformed Pastor).

Timid and reluctant evangelists like myself, let us screw up our courage. Paul was not being poetic but stating God's literal truth when he said, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation" (Romans 1:16). Nor did he say, "I had a seminary degree, and so I spoke," but rather, "I believed, and so I spoke" (2 Corinthians 4:13). Let us trust the Force and let it use us-lame, fumbling, and bumbling though we are. There is one qualification for evangelism: to care that your neighbor is sliding into hell. There is one wrong way: to say nothing.