Home Outreach Leaders Articles for Outreach & Missions Bill Hybels Talks Outreach and Personal Evangelism

Bill Hybels Talks Outreach and Personal Evangelism

Then what keeps people from engaging? What do you identify as the greatest obstacle to evangelism today?

BH: Fear. The average Christian in today’s churches is afraid she won’t get something right or that someone will ask her a question she can’t answer and she’ll blow the whole thing.

And I say to people, “OK, then let’s talk about fear!” If you could hear the voice of God prompt you to walk across the room and start a conversation and you obeyed—even if, by your standard, it didn’t lead anywhere—if that hearing and obeying constituted success, could you do that? Most people say, “Yes, I could do that.”

Then what if the conversation progressed to you asking him about his spiritual background? If that conversation goes nowhere, would you still be OK, knowing that you heard God and obeyed? What if he asks you for a book or CD, and that doesn’t go any further, would you still feel like you succeeded spiritually because you heard and obeyed?

The idea of doing only what the Spirit prompts and not being responsible for necessarily leading someone to Christ or correctly answering a ton of questions just boggles people’s minds. When you break down evangelism to small interactions, people tend to relax a little.

Many Christians are afraid that starting spiritual conversations may strong-arm or create distance between friends or family members.

BH: I remember talking to the spouse of a guy on my sailing team. About the third time I talked to her, I gently tried to steer the conversation to spiritual matters, and she said, “I had a horrible religious experience. This is such an area of pain for me; let’s give this a rest.”

I told her I wanted to honor her request and then asked, “How long should we rest it? Can I check back with you in six months or a year to see if there has been any healing? I’d like to pray for you along the way, so you tell me when would be a good time to check back.” She kind of laughed and said, “Let’s rest it for at least a year.”

A year later, we’d gotten to know each other a lot better, and she’d seen me in a lot of other situations. She was ready to talk. I’d proven my friendship to her and the rest of the crew members. And I had honored her by taking seriously her request to not talk about God until she was ready.

In other words, it all unfolded naturally. In our efforts to train Christians to share their faith, have we become too focused on strategies and methods? 

BH: It’s taken me the better part of my adult life to understand this. But I believe the single-highest value in the personal evangelistic adventure is being attentive to and being cooperative with the promptings of the Holy Spirit! People don’t expect me to say that. They think I’m nuts to connect promptings and the works of the Holy Spirit with old-fashioned soul-winning, which just shows you how far sharing our faith has strayed from what it ought to be. We ought to begin our day by telling the Holy Spirit that in every conversation we have today, we’ll be listening for His voice or to the little cues that people drop. Maybe they’re only one resource—a conversation, an invitation from a friend or a copy of their own Bible—away from really making spiritual progress.

I’m not suggesting a new evangelism program or new formulas or things to memorize. I am saying that being more attentive to and cooperative with the Holy Spirit would open more doors of opportunity—to say a word for God, or to listen to an unsaved person’s story—than you can imagine!

You’re talking about seeing evangelism as a process then, rather than a one-time event in someone’s life.

BH: We used to think the only miracle in the evangelistic process that we could anticipate would be that singular time when a person dropped to her knees and prayed the prayer to trust Christ. But I find that the evangelistic adventure is filled with a whole string of mini-miracles from the first time you watch the love of God melt a hard heart of a non-church person.

Often, we miss the beauty of going through the process with people from -10 in their relationship with God, up to -8, -4, 2. We need to learn to see the whole experience of listening to people’s pain and their story before we feel the need to tell our story—and live with the idea that maybe we’re only supposed to be warming up these people gradually.

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