In 2007, Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote the groundbreaking book The Black Swan, which spent almost a year on the New York Times bestseller list. In this book, Taleb argues that many momentous events are outliers that people could not have predicted. These events occur tangentially and were not even what the discoverers were looking for in the first place.
For example, Dr Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin was a random accident, when he found that the mold on his Petri dish unexpectantly killed bacteria.39 Taleb’s book concludes that we should embrace the seemingly randomness of life’s events and just go out there and see what happens. We won’t find what we’re looking for, but something else that we’re not looking for will find us.
Much of evangelism occurs the same way. Often we go out looking for opportunities to evangelize, but they just don’t happen. Instead, we should just go out there and be Jesus to the community—and the opportunities to evangelize will find us.
A few years ago, my wife, Steph, was in a busy shopping mall with our three young boys—at that time ages three, five, and seven. The mall was crowded. The boys were tired and hungry after the school day. But Steph noticed a young Asian woman holding her baby daughter and looking extremely distressed. Steph learned that the woman’s name was Jenna, and she asked her if everything was okay. Jenna replied that she couldn’t find her elderly mother, who was not able to speak English and who had the baby carriage—along with Jenna’s purse, money, mobile phone, and food for the baby.
Steph spent the next few hours helping Jenna look for her mother. They walked up and down the mall, visited shops outside the mall, and even called the police to report her mother as missing. Steph offered food to Jenna so she could feed her hungry baby. Finally they found her mother.
Jenna thanked Steph profusely for her time, and Steph seized the opportunity to invite Jenna to the playgroup at our church. From there we invited Jenna to come to our church. When Jenna’s husband, Nelson, saw all the happy families worshiping at the church, he said to Jenna, “Whatever these people believe, we have to believe the same thing!”
We invited Jenna to come to our adult small group, which meets at our home for lunch after our Sunday church service. That day we had a large barbecue. Jenna was intrigued. Being a new immigrant to Australia, she also wanted to learn how to host a barbecue at her own place. So we offered to help her and supplied her with our grill.
Jenna hosted a barbecue at her place. She invited families from our church’s playgroup and families from a different (non-church) playgroup that she also attended, where most of the families were nonbelievers. The two groups mingled. Many nonbelievers met believers at the barbecue, chatted, and formed new friendships.
One of the non-Christian couples we met there has become our friends and are now attending a local church with another Christian couple they met at Jenna’s barbecue.
Shortly after Jenna’s barbecue, one of the couples suffered a tragedy—the husband was injured in a motorbike accident and became a quadriplegic. The couple met our church’s pastor, who was also in a motorcycle accident and is now himself a quadriplegic. The wife has started coming to my wife’s midweek Bible study group with other mothers.
Can you see what happened? At least three couples are now checking out Jesus because my wife, Steph, stopped to help Jenna at a shopping mall a few years ago. This wasn’t what Steph had in mind at the time. Back then, she was just going out of her way to help a distressed shopper. She was being Jesus to the other woman. But that one act triggered a set of unforeseen, tangential sequences of events that resulted in evangelism. This is exactly what Nassim Nicholas Taleb would call a “black swan” moment.
Maybe we can do the same thing. In addition to our deliberate efforts to do evangelism—to create opportunities for evangelism—we just need to be Jesus, and evangelism opportunities may well come and find us in unforeseen and exciting ways.
Chan, Sam, and Ed Stetzer. 2020. How to Talk about Jesus (without Being That Guy): Personal Evangelism in a Skeptical World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Check out our Bible Study on Sam Chan’s book How to Talk About Jesus. It is on Amazon as well as part of the Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.