My greatest compliment


I received one of my greatest compliments ever the other day. Before I tell you what it was, I have to tell you something a little bit embarrassing about myself.

I am really crummy at witnessing.

That statement is probably being a little self-congratulating. It is probably far worse than that.

It is not that I don't care about the lost. I do. I care deeply. It is just that I am not very good at what we classically describe as witnessing.

And, it is not not for lack of trying or lack of training. It training or practice or trying would have fixed this problem, it would have been fixed long ago.

I took Evangelism Explosion when I was in High School. I was one of the few kids in my youth group that did.

I spent a whole summer on a summer evangelism project doing nothing but walking the streets, knocking on doors, trying to talk to people about Christ.

I had a job as a youth minister for a while. My way of doing things was to do a lock-once or twice a year that would harvest a hundred or so fresh contacts. Then, in the months that followed, I would spend three or so evenings a week knocking on doors. I have had lots of practice.

I headed up a visitation program when I was on staff which had several renditions. For two or three years we did C.W.T. with pretty dismal results.

Two different years or my life I have had made a concerted personal effort to improve my evangelistic abilities. I have read books, listened to tapes, participated in training programs and all that effort has moved me from awful to really bad.

I have analyzed my weaknesses, and I think it comes down to three.

  1. My lifestyle puts me in contact with very few lost people in any meaningful way. This is true of lots of ministers and it is certainly true of me. When I am on the road working I am working with church leaders. When I am home I am working out of my home.
  2. I don't really like to talk to people. I have to force myself to say hello, much less strike up a spiritually significant conversation. I am pretty introverted. Like anyone, I can get in moods where this is not true, but generally speaking, I am just not real chatty.
  3. I am extremely non-confrontational. Anyway you slice it, witnessing has a bit of a confrontational edge to it. My natural tendency is to avoid the tension.

I have heard many airplane evangelism stories over the years. These get my attention, because I ride lots of airplanes. The stories they tell hardly ever happen to me. First, I have to force myself to talk at all. Second, if we do talk, I struggle to bring up spiritual things. Third, when it does come up--usually when they ask me what I am going to do and I tell them I am going to do train church leaders--the subject of spiritual things pretty much dies there.

It gets worse

What is even worse, if I am honest, I have to say I don't actually like evangelism all that well. I have never know the exhilarating thrill that Bill Hybels and others talk about as they describe evangelism. I have heard people talk how evangelism comes as naturally as breathing for some. It has never been that way for me.

When I have the opportunity to witness, I am usually way to nervous to be natural or exhilarated. Fearful, anxious, and uptight--these are the words that describe the experience for me.

How can you live with yourself?

You may be thinking, "How can you live with yourself feeling this way? How can you teach on church growth feeling this way?

Well, truth be told, I don't feel all that good about it. I have beat myself up pretty bad about it over the years. I remember sitting in my office and crying and praying to God and asking if there was any place in His kingdom for a guy like me.

Again, it is not that I don't care about the lost. I love children, but I would never want to be an OB-GYN. The sight of blood makes me want to faint. I can't even watch an episode of CSI without turning my head.

For a time, I adopted the approach of C. Peter Wagner--one of the great early gurus of the church growth movement. In his book Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, Wagner says, "I would be perfectly content being in a growing, winning the lost church, using my gift of teaching to help that church accomplish its mission and never witnessing again." That, from one of the fathers of the church growth movement.

As comforting as it is to totally let me self off the hook with Peter Wagner, I have just heard too many traditional sermons on evangelism to go there.

This feeling is one of the reasons I am so committed to the two primary things I teach, doubling groups and hospitality.

Although classical witnessing does not come easily, being part of a group that grows and divides. I have seen many people come to Christ though doubling groups, and for all the reasons that I teach on in my seminars, I think it is an incredible way to spread the gospel.

Research indicates about 90% of Christians feel like me. Most of us are just not very good at witnessing. But, we can spread the gospel through a team--a small group or Sunday School classes that is committed to growth through multiplication.

I think hospitality is a great way to double a class. I have had a number of people in our home for parties that later came to faith in Christ and the party was part of the process.

So, what was the compliment?

For a guy like me, then, who is not very good at witnessing, this was an incredible compliment. I spent half a day with my son and a friend going to a bowling tournament in El Paso.

We chatted about this and that. We had some common acquaintances from the past that we hadn't known about. At one point he attended a church where I used to attend. He is not attending church now, and by his own admission, not walking with God. I didn't dwell on the topic of church or spiritual things, but I didn't avoid the subject either.

We were almost home when he said it, "You make me want to go to church again. You make me want me get close to God again."

I think that is what we are supposed to do. I think that is what it means to "let your light so shine before men."