Evangelism is a lot like dating. While securing a date is a one-time event, what leads up to securing a date is typically a process. Guys – do you remember the process that led up to asking a girl out on a date?
- Make sure you’re looking your best
- Create a reason to meet (show up at the same place, mutual connection or common interest)
- Establish contact without looking like a fool (head nod, eye contact, “accidental” bump into)
- Use great pick-up lines like:
- Are you a magician? ‘Cause when I look at you, everyone else disappears.
- Excuse me, can you help? There’s something wrong with my phone. It doesn’t have your number.
- Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk by again?
- Are you lost? Because heaven is a long way from here.
- Hey, I gotta warn you, you might be asked to leave soon, ‘cause you’re making all the other girls look bad.
- Hey girl, feel my sweater. Know what it’s made of? Boyfriend material.
- Decide what you’re going to ask her to do with you (bowling, movie, restaurant, park)
- Give yourself a pep talk to work up the courage to ask her out
- Ask her
- Try not to do a celebratory dance in front of her OR try not to cry if she denies you
Now, you might be wondering how evangelism is anything like this, and here’s how: while conversion is a one-time event, evangelism is a process. For the great majority of people, the road to Christ is long. This vast distance is not going to be closed by confrontation and debate but by the beauty of a Christ-centered life that both demonstrates and proclaims that Jesus is the only way.
Last week we learned through two biblical metaphors that we are salt and light. As salt, we’re to give taste to a bland world, we’re to work as a moral disinfectant, and perhaps most importantly, we’re to make people thirsty for Jesus. As light, God chooses to use us to dispel darkness, to give guidance, and to reveal Jesus to others.
The fact that evangelism is both a process and a one-time decision is supported and developed by several other significant metaphors. These “witnessing word pictures” help us sharpen our vision of how God communicates through people like you and me.
Witnessing Word Pictures
1. A Living Letter. Speaking of believers, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:2, “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.” This image declares that evangelism is allowing your searching friends to turn the pages of your life so that they can read the fine print. It presupposes regular, close contact with people who are lost without Christ. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately in some cases, the response to Christ is often determined by the material found in the book of our lives.
2. A Shining Star. Philippians 2:15 declares, “…you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…” Our goal is not to beat people into submission but to reflect the beauty of Christ to others. A star-studded sky, like a community salted with Christians, is very appealing to those in darkness. Just as the heavens declare the glory of God, so do His living stars.
3. A Fragrant Aroma. I love it when my wife wears perfume or some kind of sweet-smelling lotion! It makes being around her even more pleasant. You and I are to influence lost people like a sweet smelling scent. We see this in 2 Corinthians 2:15: “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” Drawing his imagery from the parade of the victorious Roman army, Paul makes us analogous to the incense that preceded the procession.
4. A Beautiful Bride. This compelling image from Ephesians 5:32 highlights the powerful testimony of the church. There is nothing more appealing than the body of Christ when the church acts like it is supposed to act! When churches operate as biblically functioning communities, they experience what the early church did in Acts 2:47 where it tells us that “…the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
5. A Patient Farmer. Agricultural imagery is the major metaphor that Jesus employed to communicate His evangelistic strategy. Farming was, and still is, one of the most honorable occupations. From the very beginning of the human race in Genesis 2:15, God told man to “work the garden and care for it.” In the same way, if we understand that evangelism is a process, we need to plant seeds, water them, care for them, and then reap the harvest. Just like farming, this is hard, and sometimes slow, work, but the harvest makes it all worthwhile.
We’re to be like farmers who are involved in the progression of cultivation, planting, and reaping, or “CPR.”
Sowing Seeds for the Kingdom
We see this fleshed out in Matthew 13 where we read about the Parable of the Sower and in John 4 when Jesus invites His followers to participate in the process of evangelism. Here’s a summary of His teaching:
1. Every person without Christ is a soil to be cultivated.
2. Every person with Christ is a seed to be planted.
3. It is normal to eventually reap what is sown.
The Process Explained
Turn in your Bible with me to John 4. In this passage Jesus is talking with a woman about her deepest needs. After a discussion of the true nature of worship and the way of salvation, the Master turns to His disciples and has a “teachable moment” with them.
While Jesus was focused on doing the will of His father, the disciples were in the drive-through at a fast-food restaurant. They were concerned about their empty stomachs while Jesus was determined to fill an empty life. When they came back with their combo meals, they pleaded with Jesus to eat something in verse 31. But Jesus changes the focus from food to that which really matters in verse 32 when He says: “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” The disciples think that maybe someone else had dropped some lunch off for Jesus so He clears it up by saying in verse 34: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.”
What really satisfies Jesus is not food, but doing the will of His Father. Because His disciples were not around when Jesus had his conversation with the woman at the well, they had no idea about the mysterious meal He was talking about.
We’re often just like the disciples. We’re so wrapped up in our daily needs like what we’re going to eat, what we’re going to do next, and how our jobs are going, that we miss what is truly important. Frankly, we don’t see lost people the way Jesus does because we’re too focused on ourselves.
Expecting a Harvest
Jesus is passionate about reaping a harvest among the lost – it nourishes His soul! I love what He says in verse 35: “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” Jesus is quoting a proverb that taught that there is no hurry for a particular task. It would be like saying, “Don’t do today what you can put off until tomorrow.” The seed may be planted, but there is nothing else to do.
Jesus strongly disagrees when He says, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”
While the process cannot be rushed, there is a sense of urgency. We can’t procrastinate. When the ground is cultivated, and the seed is planted, the time for reaping is at hand.
To “open your eyes” means to raise them up and look at something else. It was a common expression in the Old Testament. The word “look” has the idea of “to scan and look closely” in order to perceive something. In essence, Jesus is saying, “Listen, guys. You say there are four more long months before the harvest. Take a look at what’s happening right now. The harvest is coming in as I speak!”
Some of your versions translate the word “ripe” as “white for harvest.” The barley harvest made the fields look “white” when the time was right for reaping. Four more months was a normal expectation in the natural realm, but by lifting up their eyes, the disciples could see an approaching group of seeking Samaritans, who had been impacted by the testimony of the woman at the well.
Take a look at verse 36: “Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.”
Generally, there is a considerable interval between planting and reaping. But in this case there is very little time between the planting and the picking of the produce. Christ is the one who planted the seed in the woman’s heart, she sowed it in the other Samaritans, and now they are coming to the disciples who will be the reapers. It’s really a fulfillment of Amos 9:13: “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes…”
The disciples as reapers are able to rejoice in a spiritual crop that they themselves have not planted. Normally, in the process of evangelism, the planter and the reaper are two different people, and the time needed for germination of the seed takes much longer before it’s ready for harvest. That’s the meaning of verse 37: “Thus the saying, ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.”
Jesus wraps up His lesson in verse 38: “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
The process of evangelism is not easy work. Cultivating and planting can wipe you out but it’s worth it all when you can be glad with those who have the privilege of reaping what you have sown. Psalm 126:5: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” Paul lays out this spiritual principle in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”
A Three-Phase Process
In our time remaining this morning I want to develop this process of CPR evangelism.
- Cultivation is an appeal to the HEART through the building of a relationship.
If evangelism involves “show and tell,” cultivating is “showing.” It’s living out what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
You can cultivate the soil of someone’s heart by spending time with him or her. It’s bumping shoulders with someone so that Jesus rubs off on them. It’s being close enough to a lost person that they can smell the cologne of Christ on you. It’s allowing them to read the book of your life in order for them to recognize the Author.
Sadly, most Christians have very few non-Christian friends. For many of us, our relationships involve only church people. My guess however, is that you know more people than you think you do. If you start first in your own family, chances are there are some who don’t yet know Christ. You work with people who are still separated from Jesus. God has placed you in a neighborhood that is full of people who have not experienced the joy of knowing Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
The challenge for us is to cultivate these relationships so that we can earn the right to be heard. People don’t care what we know until they know that we care. And, you must be a friend if you want to make a friend.
I love how the Living Bible translates 1 Corinthians 9:22: “…whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him.” Here are some pointers to help cultivate that common ground.
• Take the initiative with people.
• Be natural and engage in normal conversation with people.
• Be open and willing to admit your own struggles and failures.
• Be gentle and respectful.
• Don’t forget what it was like to be a non-Christian.
This first stage is primarily your responsibility. UBC and other believers can partner with you in the next two phases but the cultivation stage is something that each of us must be involved with on our own.
- Planting is an appeal to the MIND through the communication of Scriptural truth. In the planting phase, the goal is to expose the pre-Christian to the fundamental concepts of the Christian faith. Research indicates that those who trust the Lord and remain as members of the church have had over five exposures to the gospel before they received Christ. If cultivation speaks to the heart through relationship, then planting is addressed to the mind through revelation. In cultivation, the emphasis is on caring. When you plant, the focus is on communication.When we plant the seed of the gospel we must be sensitive to the readiness of the soil. Matthew 13reminds us that the Gospel is the seed and we are the planters of that seed. Our job is to scatter it. It’s best if it lands on plowed soil but we don’t always know which soil has already been prepared. A godly life which serves as a “living letter” prepares others to hear the Word of God. A loving heart opens hard hearts to the heart of God.Having said that, here are a few differences between cultivating and planting:
• Cultivating demonstrates, planting declares.
• Cultivating appeals to the heart, planting addresses the mind.
• Cultivating is visual, while planting is verbal.
• Cultivating prepares, planting presents.
• Cultivating shares experiences, planting explains them.
It’s obvious that we have to do more than just spend time with people. We have to also plant the seed. Planting draws from two major data banks: Your story and God’s story. Tell people your spiritual story and then share with them the story of God’s gift of grace to us.
As we engage in the CPR process of evangelism, the heart is warmed through cultivation; the mind is addressed through planting; and now we come to the final phase where the will is mobilized by reaping. We move from caring to communication to conversion.
- Reaping is an appeal to the WILL in anticipation of a response.In making a decision to become a Christian, the involvement of the will is fundamental. It was our will that got us into trouble in the first place. Adam and Eve’s sin was an act of rebellion against God’s authority. Conversion is laying down our defenses and excuses and coming out with our hands up in surrender.Some of us don’t think enough about the harvest because we think people aren’t ready to come to faith. But often, as Jesus reminded His disciples, the fields are ripe for picking! Your friend may be a lot closer than you think he is. We cultivate and plant so that there will be a crop. Paul felt this way inRomans 1:13: “…I planned many times to come to you…in order that I might have a harvest among you…”.
Let me give you three suggestions for this stage.
• Pray for open doors and boldness.
• Speak with the expectation of reaping. You’ll be halfhearted if you expect no results.
• Invite people to respond. You might want to ask a question like this when you sense a person is close to receiving Christ: “Is there any reason you would not want to surrender your life to Christ right now and receive forgiveness for your sins?”
I want to encourage you to stop thinking of evangelism as something scary, or as a one-time event, and instead try to see your friends somewhere in the process of making mini-decisions toward Jesus. God wants to use you to cultivate the soil, He wants you to plant the seed of the Gospel, and He may want to use you in the reaping process.
But remember this – successful CPR evangelism takes place when God uses you to help someone move closer to Christ.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is found in Philemon 6: “I pray that you will be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”
When we take an active role in cultivating, planting, and reaping, people will come to Christ and we will grow in our relationship with Him. How great is that?
When you leave this morning, you are entering your mission field.
Care for people.
Communicate your story and His story.
And pray for a mighty harvest.