An Important Virtue Missing in our Evangelistic Efforts
If you have ever planted a garden, you know that it requires a lot of effort to cause a crop to yield its fruit. You need the right kind of soil, the right temperature, the right amount of water, and you need a significant amount of time. Gardens do not grow overnight, they require maintenance, care, and patience.
In John chapter 4 we see Jesus engage in conversation with a woman at a well. This interaction ultimately leads to the woman going back to her city to tell everyone about the incredible teachings of Jesus (John 4:27-30). As the people of the town made their way to Jesus, He turned to His disciples saying:
“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” (John 4:35)
With a base knowledge of Judaism and an anticipation of the Messiah the people of the town, like the woman, were ready to hear and accept the teachings of Jesus (John 4:39-42). The same cannot be said for the people in our culture today.
In his book Tactics: A game plan for discussing your Christian convictions author and debater Gregory Koukl states early on in his book the goal for every evangelistic encounter he finds himself in:
“…I never set out to convert anyone. My aim is never to win someone to Christ. All I want to do is put a stone in someone’s shoe.” (Tactics, 38)
The admission that he never sets out to convert anyone was alarming to me, but I realized as I read through the rest of the book that Mr. Koukl understood something I didn’t: we need more patience.
Gone are the days of everyone having a general base Bible knowledge. As atheism increases in younger generations the prospect of conversion becomes more difficult and daunting. On the other hand, God still desires for all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) and will one day return for Judgment.
This imminent return can often make us feel as if we need to “seal the deal” every time we have a conversation about Jesus. So, we rush evangelism by jumping headlong into doctrine (i.e. "you need to be baptized") before building a relationship. To say it another way, we are trying to harvest a crop before the seed hits the soil. Even Jesus knew that sometimes you have to play the long game (Mt. 13:1-9).
In our evangelistic efforts we need a little more patience. True conversion requires relationship building with the convert. People need to see love and care from us if the seed of the gospel if ever going to take root and bloom. Only then will the garden be ready for harvest and another soul be won to Christ.
As you interact with others in the world, continue to seize every opportunity given to you to introduce another to the love of Christ, but do not feel as if you need to secure a Bible study right away. Seek to "put a stone in someone's shoe" and give them something to think about. Plant the seed and let God work.