I began this year with a desire to be a better personal evangelist. By God’s grace, I’ve preached the gospel each Sunday I’ve been in the pulpit. But I don’t want my evangelism to be limited to the pulpit; I want to do the work of an evangelist as well. More, not less, proclamation is needed.

So, what’s happening with that desire? Well, I think I’m learning (again!) two vital lessons.

First, desiring something ain’t the same thing as doing something. Not by a long shot. And while I know that sounds like a rather obvious thing to say, in my case it needs saying. Desire has to be translated into specific plans and actions. I’m looking up nearly 30 days after expressing that desire and only once have I personally shared the gospel with someone. Aaaargh!!!

Second, I’m learning again that faithful evangelism requires putting to death the fear of man. Will I ever stop having that halting tightness in my chest? Will those hesitation-inducing thoughts of rejection and offense ever fade away? You know, probably not. I’m likely to always feel some hesitation and some fear of man when it comes to evangelism. But what am I going to do? Not share the greatest news the world has ever received? No. I’m going to remember Romans 1:16, Philemon 6, and Hebrews 10:38-39, and other such texts which encourage, admonish, promise, and guide.

By God’s grace, that’s what happened yesterday on the flight from Memphis. I drove to the airport around 5:30am. Memphis still slept as sputtering rain fell. The route back to the airport placed me on I240, so I had one last opportunity to let the Mustang run hard. She bossed her way from lane to lane, leaving the traffic behind like Secretariat completing the Triple Crown. I eased her into the parking lot at Budget Rental Car, feeling that the company’s name didn’t do justice to this fine machine and feeling sad for riding the Mustang hard and putting her away wet in the morning rain.

Security was easy at the Memphis airport. I dutifully boarded with the other sleepy passengers, quickly put my bag in the overhead compartment and took my seat. A few moments later a young woman asked to take her seat next to me. She carried a large bag (suitcase for the shoulder), a breakfast container and drink, and her iPad with ear phones dangling. I began reading my morning’s devotional on my iPad, secretly hoping I wouldn’t have a conversation but enough peace and quiet to read. Also heard the soft “good morning” of fear of man.

Before long I heard the announcement to turn off all electronic equipment. Still not sure why electronic gadgets cause so much trouble for pilots, I complied. Turned on the overhead light to read my book. But the yellow tint in the dark cabin was useless even when she graciously tried to turn her light in my direction as well. Nothing left to do, we began to talk. Two minutes into the conversation I knew this was an opportunity, but I wasn’t making a commitment. Maybe she was already a Christian? Maybe she would be like so many other passengers who complete the pleasantries and prefer sleep? Maybe the sun would come up or the cabin lights brighten and we’d silently expect the other to turn to their electronics? So many maybes.

But none of those things happened. Instead, she began to talk. Told me of her children. Showed me pictures the first chance she got. Told me the story of meeting her husband. Funny that. He asked a question that changed her career path, which path she retraced with genuine excitement. Told me she was headed to a major city to attend a trade show. Seemed disinterested after I said I had just come from Memphis, preaching at a conference and church. She recounted how she had “grown up in the church” until age 16 when she checked out. Had a couple children out of wedlock and now feels judged whenever she attends a church. That’s partly because she now has four children, her husband has to work most Sundays, and showing up alone with the kids seems to conjure “poor single mother” stereotypes and treatment from church folks. So, instead, she brews her coffee at home and spends Sunday morning watching G. E. Patterson, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen. She’s given up on visiting churches, much to the chagrin of a girlfriend who is a serious Christian and keeps offering to accompany her to a church–any church.

By this time we’re landing and the sleepy voice called “fear of man” has fully awakened and he’s giving me every reason why I should just chalk this up to “the time not being right.” After all, we’ve done that a number of times before, he and I.

But we land and have to wait several minutes before we can taxi to our gate. I hear the Lord saying, “Tell her.” I feel inconvenienced by the Lord. I know I need to repent. And so I ask her, “Would you say you know what the gospel is?” She replies without offense and as if we’re old friends now (I remember how often I’m surprised by the fact that my worst imaginings rarely come true when I do share), “No, I can’t say I do. I mean I probably know parts from when I used to go to church.” That saddens me because if she really does watch as much religious broadcasting as she says, it means Jesus isn’t being broadcast as clearly as we’d hope. So I suggest to her that there’s one absolutely crucial thing she should look for in a church: the gospel. Then I ask, would you mind if I took just a couple minutes to explain to you what the gospel is?

She says, “Sure.” We then walk through God-man-Christ-response. I keep glancing to be sure she understands and to take note of any important reactions. When I’m done she says, “I don’t think I have ever heard that before. At least not that clear and simple.” We talk a little more and I gently press her on responding to this news and finding a church where that’s what comes through clearest of all from the pulpit, in conversation with others, and in how folks treat one another.

She sits up with new purpose and says she’s going to look for that kind of church. I recommend Fellowship Memphis among others. She makes a note as we hear the light chime notifying us it’s safe to unbuckle our seat belts, carefully open the overhead compartment because items may have shifted during the flight, and shuffle to our next gate. As we leave the plane she says again, “I’m going to go check out that church.” I say again, “Remember the gospel.” Then we disappear to our respective gates.

I may never see her again, but I believe the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. Now to share this news more often than once in 30 days! Pray for me please.

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Comments:


43 thoughts on “Only Once in About 30 Days”

  1. Todd says:

    From one pastor who has benefitted from your ministry greatly, thank you for your openness, honesty and inspiration. Thank you for your biblical balance of definite urgency for evangelism to unbelievers without any works-righteousness mindset behind it. And thanks for that story of simple, faithful gospel proclamation, mixed in with faithful cultural discernment.

  2. Melissa says:

    “..faithful evangelism requires putting to death the fear of man. Will I ever stop having that halting tightness in my chest? Will those hesitation-inducing thoughts of rejection and offense ever fade away? You know, probably not. I’m likely to always feel some hesitation and some fear of man when it comes to evangelism.”

    Thank you for being honest in this struggle. It helps to know that pastors have these same feelings. Your story has encouraged me to find ways to share. Would love to see a follow up from you on God-man-Christ-response.

  3. David says:

    Thabiti, thank you for this transparent, yet encouraging blog-post.

    We just had an evangelism workshop at our church this past weekend and much of what you wrote was discussed at our workshop. (i.e. fear of man, getting the conversation started, etc.)

    May all God’s children meditate on the gospel and our roles as His ambassadors to the end of proclaiming His good news!

    d.

  4. Joe says:

    What exactly did you say to her that she found to be so “clear and simple?”

    That seems to be the problem with most – including my self, they don’t know how to present the gospel clearly and simply.

    1. David says:

      I second this question – what were the contents of this concise presentation of the gospel?

    2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Joe,

      Sorry I’ve been away from comments for a while. Here’s a summary of God-man-Christ-response: http://youtu.be/35xNQn0Qq8Y. It’s basically what I said to the woman on the plane. Hope it helps.

      T-

  5. Thabiti I echo David’s words thanks for the transparency it is very encouraging as a fellow minister, who also needs to grow in this area.

    This line here brought to mine the story of Christ and the Samrtian woman. “She recounted how she had “grown up in the church” until age 16 when she checked out. Had a couple children out of wedlock and now feels judged whenever she attends a church. That’s partly because she now has four children, her husband has to work most Sundays, and showing up alone with the kids seems to conjure “poor single mother” stereotypes and treatment from church folks.”

    However Christ knew something I know I am so quickly often to forget, that without Christ I am dead, I have no purpose, have lost all reason for my being here and what Christ offers is life. If I could learn to see all I meet through that lense I know the battle I fight with that thing called fear might not be as great as I would remember how blessed that gift is, but alas seems I rarely remember that, but seem to remember “Let me not intrude, let me not bother.” Thanks for the great encouragement!

    Pat

  6. T. E. Hanna says:

    Thank you for this, Thabiti.

    Sometimes, I think we overcomplicate things and try to impose an evangelical agenda into an improper context, and that is part of what makes things so difficult. If we believe that God is still active and still at work, then we know that God is working behind the scenes on people’s lives and hearts before we ever cross paths.

    If this is true, then it changes the way we evangelize. Rather than trying to be the one to “bring God” to a person, we pay attention to where God is already at work, and then participate in that work. I love the way the connection points between you and the lady on this arose so naturally. The gospel wasn’t about first convincing her that she needs it and then providing the solution to the problem you talked her into having, it was about recognizing where that need is already felt, and showing her how God meets it.

    As a result, she has a fuller picture of the saving message of Christ, and a renewed hope for the church. God works in some pretty remarkable ways.

  7. Dean says:

    Last weekend a friend told me about his grandfather, who just returned from a mission trip to the Philippines. His grandfather has led at least 1,000 people to Christ in one-on-one evangelism. He shares the gospel many times a week. He still knocks on strangers’ doors, which is so “old fashioned”. And this man in his 70′s says that his chest still gets tight and his palms still get sweaty every single time he starts to share the gospel with someone. He still finds excuses running through his mind.

    I guess I naively figured I would one day grow out of my fear. But it looks like we’ll all be praying for courage till the day we die. Let’s take a moment to pray for one another, that we would see the opportunities God is giving us and speak with courage and boldness.

  8. Todd says:

    Thank you for your transparency on this subject. I find myself making excuses and later beating myself up for not taking advantage of the opportunities to share the Gospel like I should.

  9. Chris L says:

    Thank you for sharing. This is my sin as well, “fear of man”. I blame it on being introverted with new people and in crowds. I have zeal for the gospel or so I think, but the fear always strike.

    I do well with telling children the gospel but that is part of my job in what I do. Its the every day not 9to5 gospel living which is hard. I revert back to the shy self.

    I have empathy with you sir.

    Prayer are with you.

  10. Clint says:

    Pastor Thabiti. I have to admit, I’ve struggled with whether or not I really like you. Maybe that’s 3rd grader-ish and I probably wouldn’t say it if we were face to face, but its the truth. I was very encouraged by this post and I think it has tipped the scale a bit.

  11. Byron Straughn says:

    Thanks, Thabiti, for recounting your experience. Is God so kind to provide the opportunity. I feel under the pile (guilty) and often nervous (fear) about air plane evangelism.

    On one flight after helping a single mom and giving up my aisle seat for another person, I sat down next to a man who noted my kindness. He then asked me who I worked for. You would think I would have seen this as a “Let your good deeds shine before men that they may praise your father in heaven” kind of moment. But I gave a vague response like “HR / leadership development for a non-profit.”

    He asked, which one? I told him, almost flinching as I the words rolled out, “Campus…Crusade for Christ.” I can still see his face wrinkle up. “eww…what’s your organization’s mission?”

    Under my breath, knowing other around were eaves dropping, I mumbled, “Turning lost students into Christ-centered laborers.”

    “What?”

    I repeated a little louder.

    “What?”

    I repeated again.

    “Law students?”

    “No, Lost students.”

    “Lost students?”

    “Yes”

    “Lost?”

    “Yes, you know like ‘lost and then found’”.

    “Oh.”

    I felt like I was on the edge of a chilly swimming pool, and God pushed me in. The initial death of my puny reputation hurt, but once we got into it I prayed that God would help me to be faithful to talk about the heart of the matter and the need to respond to God.

    I often imagine the plane I’m on, going down to crash, and wondering what I would do with the people sitting next to me. Terrifies me to think of it.

    What is so enlightening is that I would want people to like and approve of me, even if it meant all the way to hell for them. My fear of man actually expresses itself in a failure to love my neighbor. When in reality, God has loved me so richly in Christ and has, as the Judge of all the world, already approved of me in Christ.

    How I need fresh and daily infuses of God’s grace into my fearful, stony heart.

    Thanks again for your post.

  12. Jim Miller says:

    Another excellent post. I’ve been reading your blogs for some time now and have to say this was the one that has resonated most deeply with me on a number of levels. First, I could associate with all your fears and frustrations. Second, I have also made this challenge to myself this year. Again. After failing to make any real change last year. To that end I would like to commend a resource to you, it is one that I will be using on my quest to spread Jesus among my friends and family.

    The pastor at our church authored a short book on evangelism that simplifies the “process” of evangelism, and puts it in simple to follow steps. This helps to insure that you aren’t just sharing Christ on a whim and when the opportunity hits you in the face, but that you have a plan of action associated with it as well. In other words, it turns your “desiring something” into “doing something” by giving you a “specific plan of action” for how to reach four people in your circle of influence. As you work toward sharing Christ with those four, it helps put you in the habit of looking for opportunities to share Christ, which is our ultimate goal.

    The material is called “4 by Four”. There are four primary parts of the 4 by Four process. Identify (four people in your sphere of influence that need to know Jesus), Intercede (pray for them at least four times per week), Invest (share your life with them), Invite (to your church at least four times yearly, and also personally invite them to receive the Gospel).

    I will not spam your inbox with the information, but would be happy to send it your way if you would like. You can feel free to email me – jmiller@woodridge.org – for info.

    Again, I echo the others who have commented – thank you for being open and honest about your own fears and failures in sharing Christ with the people around you. I will be praying for you in the fight. Please pray for me as well.

  13. Jim Ottaway says:

    Thank you for this post; how encouraging. Also, like Joe, I would be intersted in what “God-man-Christ-response” was? Is that a specific technique?

    1. Stephen says:

      The God-man-Christ-response is one of the more popular ways to explain the basics of the gospel. Greg Gilbert’s short book “What is the Gospel” (http://www.amazon.com/What-Gospel-9Marks-Greg-Gilbert/dp/1433515008) explains it very well and succinctly; it is also the outline and framework for the first unit of Lifeway’s new Gospel Project curriculum. It is basically the same as Campus Crusade’s 4 Spiritual Laws http://www.campuscrusade.com/fourlawseng.htm

      A slight variation is to tell the ‘grand story’ of the Bible in 4 parts, Creation (God’s good act), Fall (Man’s sin), Redemption (Christ’s atonement), and Restoration/New Creation (what Christians can hope for). “The Story” tracts and website are well done http://viewthestory.com/

  14. Ryan says:

    Concerning your quandary about shutting off the electronics, I had a flight attendant in my community group a few years back who simply explained that the electronics themselves are not a danger to plane instruments but simply a means to ensure that you are aware of what’s around you because by law you must be within ear/eye-shot of the attendants running through the safety instructions. For the landing process, it’s the same, so that in case there are special instructions for them to relay to you, you aren’t focusing on that gripping audio book or finishing the last level of a game. They don’t care if you have nodded off during taxiing though, as I’ve slept through quite a few take offs!

    1. Stephen says:

      It’s just security theater, that’s all. As if a gameboy is more dangerous than a book or even a glossy magazine!

  15. Luther Schrum says:

    Thabiti,

    Thank you for sharing this. At the start of this year, I too have desired to grow in personal evangelism. My desire was to have gospel conversations with people weekly. However, after the first month, I have only had one gospel conversation. I long to have more conversations but I often give into the fear of man. Your honesty and your faithfulness to the Spirit are a great encouragement to my soul. Thank you. By God’s grace, may we continue to proclaim the gospel.

  16. Marie says:

    Thank you for your honesty and transparency in your own life hen it comes to sharing the gospel and the ‘fear of man’. I almost cried reading this honest account because I could see myself sitting there. What encouraged me in this post were a few things. one is that I need to know the gospel myself and be so in love with Jesus and his word so that my conversations aren’t about church (which most are with people) but with the gospel. I love how you reiterated that especially at the end. Thanks for tht reminder that the gospel has te power not me andy flash stories or clever conversation but the gospel. Secondly I was challenged to not be the judgemental lady at church who looks at the ‘poor single mother syndrome’ people and judges then. I don’t think I’ve done this but maybe in mother ways I’ve shown pride and unloving characteristics so I was challenged about that. And thirdly I was chalk lenses to speak up! Man Marie just speak something even if I’m unsure because I tell you why u conjure up all sorts of scenarios in my head! Seriously! Hahahaha so thank you for this post. Also side note – looking forward to hearing you speak at the STAND conference in August this year at Howick baptist Church in Auckland New Zealand. After hearing this business of BBQ pork In memphis i know you and my husband and you could get along hust nicely!!!! hahahaha will have to source a dining experience to show you the culinary delights of New Zealand! Hehehehe

  17. Marie says:

    Apologies for the spelling mistakes – on my phone and the auto correct is killing me! Hahaha

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Marie,

      No worries. My fingers are too big to use those tiny phones so i’d have far more mistakes!

      I’m looking forward to coming to New Zealand for the conference! And I’d definitely love a chance to sample New Zealand BBQ or any other cuisine! :-)

      Grace and peace to you,
      T-

  18. Tom Strode says:

    Thanks, Thabiti, for your transparency. You expressed fears and feelings I know all too well in my own heart. I also desire to do the work of an evangelist. Thank you for being a faithful guide in that endeavor.

    Also, as a long-ago resident of Memphis and a BBQ lover, I enjoyed your posts from Memphis. I had never heard of Cozy Corner. Might have to get off I-40 and find it on a drive through sometime.

  19. Ben Guillot says:

    Thank you for sharing this honest and powerful testimony. We all need, I should say I NEED, a constant reminder of doing our mission. How often, I’m intimidated, scared to death, ashamed… But, like you said, It’s the GOOD NEWS! Why not share it? Christ did it all… He suffered, He paid the price for my sins… and I’m so often ashamed of HIM!!! That doesn’t make sense. But God knows we need his power, we need his courage, we need to remember the glory and the power of HIS NAME. I talked about it on my blog too (http://benguillot.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/jle-savais-il-se-sentait-petit-dans-ses-souliers-comme-moi-souvent/). I was so encouraged to see how God (though somehow impatient) gave Moses proofs of his power to bring the good news of deliverance to His people in Egypt. He revealed HIS NAME… In French (I’m from Quebec, Canada), we say sometime “we feel to small in our shoes – meaning our shoes are too big” That’s the way I feel many times. A very good reminder of supporting each other in the GREAT MISSION!
    Thank you!
    In Christ’s love!
    Ben

  20. John says:

    I have also found that many people who have grown up in churches have no clue what the gospel actually is.

    My last two gospel encounters with folks at work were like that: One said I gave him a headache – he couldn’t quite get the Son bearing the wrath due us – you go to heaven if you’re good, and go to hell if you’re bad. The other girl I spoke with told me that I worried her sometimes. “Why’s that?” I asked. Answer: “Because you tell me that I’m not going to make it to heaven simply by being good.” – YES – maybe it’s getting through!

    I really enjoy gospel sharing stories, including the one you shared here and others shared by those commenting. I look forward to your other stories through the year – though, since you are a full-time pastor with probably little time for personal evangelism, I will cut you a bit of a break.

  21. Cynthia Curtis says:

    I will pray for you, Pastor Thabiti. May God put many, many unsaved people in your path and give them ears to hear!

  22. John says:

    Hi Thabiti, how would you share the “God-Man-Jesus-Response” message with a muslim in a couple of minutes? I’d like to communicate this clearly to an Arab worldview. Thanks.

  23. Chris Land says:

    Thabiti,
    I will pray for you and please pray for me too. My desire to grow in my personal evangelism has been a desire of mine for quite sometime. Not only do I have to put to death the fear of man, but also the legalism I have heard all my life regarding evangelism. Thanks for sharing this story. It gives me hope.

  24. Wow. This message impactful and moving in so many ways. First, you’re as genuine as can be. It is humbling to hear this from you. And healthy to know we are all human and in this together.

    Second, she may or may not check out *that* church but you put something in her that cannot be taken away.

    You are basically a salesperson for God and with that comes rejection. But as you say, people rarely act out your fears. And fears are healthy, by the way – human, even. So just keep on and we will pray for you!

  25. David M. says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m afraid that ratio (1 in 30 days) is often similar to mine, and I and my family are involved in a missionary project overseas! So many other things take up our time, we have to force ourselves to keep evangelism at the forefront. I believe this honest post will jar a lot of people’s thinking. It has mine. Will be attempting this simple Gospel presentation this very afternoon when a guest comes over!

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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