One day I was walking downtown in Chattanooga at lunchtime and came across a street evangelist who was standing on the sidewalk and yelling at the cars that were stopped at the red light. He was warning them to repent lest they perish. Meanwhile his intended audience had their windows rolled up, air conditioning on and tunes blaring on the radio. He was being as effective as screens on a submarine but he was not seeing it. I approached him and tried to talk to him about the Gospel being “Good News” but he was intent on being the Yosemite Sam of the Body of Christ, so I went on my way.
While on his missionary journeys, St. Paul gives us an example of doing evangelism properly. First, he went to them. I was asked to talk to a Vestry about evangelism and when I asked what they were doing evangelistically, they said that they sent postcards to the neighborhood, offering a free tour of their new gymnasium. As gently as I could I told them that their new gymnasium is irrelevant to the neighborhood unless they were going to use it to serve their neighbors. We rightly get excited about our new buildings, but they don’t mean a thing to people outside the church. Instead of trying to get people to come through our doors, we need to get out and go through theirs. The philosophers were philosophizing in Athens so Paul went to Athens.
Second, although the text says that Paul was disturbed by all of the idols (vs16), he was respectful and even used the idols as a launching point for sharing the Gospel. People have difficulty hearing the Gospel from us after we have insulted them, like the street preaching yelling at people in their cars. Paul did not start out by telling them where they were wrong. Instead of calling them idol-worshipping pagans, he found common ground, that being they too were religious. Then, beginning with their altar to an unknown god, St. Paul gave them the rest of the story and told them who that unknown God is. He even quoted from their prophets to make a connection.
Third, Paul focused their attention on the Resurrection. He did so because Jesus’ defeat of death is the central truth of the Gospel and it is what gives us hope. Often in evangelistic exchanges, others will attempt to get us off topic, particularly when they are feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit. “What about the guy in Papua, New Guinea who has never had a chance to hear the Gospel?” (Actually the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea became an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion in 1976. They’ve heard.) Instead of chasing these rabbits down the rabbit trail, we need to follow St. Paul’s example and remain on topic. “I honestly don’t know about people who have never had a chance to hear the Gospel. But I do know that Jesus was raised from the dead, told the Church to preach the Good News to the ends of the earth and that He will one day return to judge the living and the dead.”
Fourth, St. Paul was great about leaving the results up to God. When he started preaching about the resurrection, some mocked him, some wanted to hear more, and some became believers. What did St. Paul do? He moved on to Corinth because his job was completed. He said in 1 Corinthians that he planted the seed, Apollos watered but it is God who makes it grow. While we certainly play a role in the evangelism, it is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit that causes a man to be born again. We do our part and trust Him with the rest. We certainly should not feel guilty or deficient if people do not respond to the truth. Many rejected St. Paul’s words and they even refused to listen our Lord. Our job is to scatter the seed, if it takes or not depends upon the soil.