Those unbelievers out there can be so darn difficult.
They don’t understand the Gospel message—or don’t care; they’ll try to get the evangelist off his game by ridicule, loud shouts of disapproval or verbal abuse; they’ll mock you and the God who made them, sometimes even blaspheming his name. And it’s possible they may even try to get you to stop preaching that message of eternal life by using force.
What’s a Christian to do? We’re called to be gracious, gentle, respectful, loving, kind, helpful and prayerful, especially to our enemies. But what happens when things go wrong—desperately wrong—and the witness for Christ is totally blown? And what about those other guys; you know, those who call themselves brothers but don’t represent Christ at all in action and attitude when witnessing about him? What should you do? What about Gospel tracts that don’t tell the full story of the Gospel, are imbalanced, giving a skewed picture of the Savior?
This is the first part of a series that will offer some perspective when evangelism goes wrong. I’ll be sharing a few missteps on my part in a moment, but first let’s read about what happened to Ray Comfort long ago:
He tells the story about a woman who was heckling him so badly, using filthy language and caustic comments, that he blew it. She asked him a question that went something like this: “I’m a lady, but I don’t agree at all with you about what you are saying about women.”
Ray flippantly responded with, “You may be a woman, Ma’am, but you certainly are no lady…”
He then explained how the “lady” proceeded to beat him up.
Every evangelist will screw it up at one time or another. In my evangelism class, the very first thing I teach the students is this motto: “Go and make mistakes.” Here’s an excerpt from my article:
Go ahead, make that foolish error that offends someone.
Tell someone too harshly that they are going to Hell. Shake your finger in someone’s face. Get in the flesh once or twice.
Heck, turn the volume of your bullhorn up real loud. Accidentally.
The only way we learn and get better at something is to try. You can’t be Barry Bonds without striking out. Tiger Woods duffed many. And I’m sure that Beckham didn’t bend it with out biffing it one or two times.
You have my permission to muck it up, screw it up, and just plain blow it when sharing the Gospel. You will get better, I promise.
Nearly two years ago I was preaching atop a portable traffic sign with my friend “Righteous Richard” Chavarria when an unidentified man tried to stop me.
I ignored him.
He shouted again for me to stop.
I ignored him again.
He tugged on my shirt. I tried not to notice.
He pulled my shirt. I continued preaching.
Then he grabbed my shirt and pulled me down to the ground—a three foot drop!
As I was falling off the traffic signal, I “accidentally” bumped him in the shoulder with a hard thump.
I was stunned. No one had ever pulled me off a ledge before! “I told you to come down!” Mr. Unidentified man warned, unfazed by my improvised bump.
I thought I was pretty cool the way I sneakily enacted revenge on this man. After a few words were exchanged between the two of us, we shook hands, apologized to each other and parted ways. I was in the clear. Unfortunately, a recent graduate from my evangelism class was with us at the event…and he saw everything.
“Pastor Steve?” he meekly inquired. “When that big man pulled you down from there, did you mean to slam into his shoulder?”
I was caught—red shouldered.
“Yes, yes,” I guiltily admitted. “I shouldn’t have done it. I’m so sorry.”
And I was sorry—not just because a Newbie caught his teacher at his worst, but because it was a horrible witness for Christ. Big time. I was a lousy example. It would have been best for all had I just quit preaching.
Another time I thought I was being quite funny by provoking a Buddhist man to wrath at the Huntington Pier. He got so mad that he knocked over our microphone, called me a name and stormed off. Oh no, I did it again. When the encounter was posted to YouTube, I was doubly ashamed! (Thankfully, the man who downloaded it, Chad Williams, deleted it.)
There are other cases where I’ve messed up, but you get the point: Flesh happens; that is, the Sinful Nature is always there. I take full responsibility. Every time.
Will my mistakes stop me? Have my errors disqualified me?
God has actually put me to the test, again and again.
When an irate protester at an anti-war demonstration pulled down my loud speaker, I ignored him. As I preached to an unwitting outdoor beer garden audience, one dis-satisfied customer splashed me with a pitcher of water. I thanked him. When a drunk man tried to unplug my sound system at a football game, I let him do it (and called for help).
In fact, it’s been a long time since I’ve muffed it, and by God’s grace, I won’t ever again. I hope to never get angry at an unbeliever again; after all, they are blind and without wisdom.
Nope. I am resolved to love my atheist/agnostic/provocateur neighbor as myself.
Especially when I blow it.
(Homer image from semsamurai.com/page/2/,
Ray Comfort photo from Chris Yarsab)