Evangelism is a process, the new birth is an event.
My first exposure to evangelism was in 1964 when I was a medical student in Kansas City, Kansas. Bill Bright and his team from Campus Crusade for Christ arrived in Kansas City for a week long instruction in evangelism culminating in an opportunity to go door to door presenting the Gospel. It was thorough training and many were encouraged in the area of evangelism. The emphasis was on initiating conversations and sharing the Gospel with the hope of eliciting a favorable response. I carried that same mind set about evangelism into my medical practice and initiated the proclamation approach with others. Following the instruction I had received from this exposure, I was able to see a significant number of people come to faith in Christ. For those who declined the message, however, I had no other course of action. My involvement with them was primarily proclamation. I had not invested a significant amount of time in many of their lives. I did not realize at that time that evangelism is a process, and that the new birth is an event.
My wife and I felt led to begin home Bible studies for the neighborhood in which we were living in 1972. We continued this periodically over the next eight years, utilizing various materials. My growing realization of the importance of the witness of the individual life and the body of Christ in addition to the witness of the word, was further clarified by reading Jim Petersen’s book “Evangelism as a Lifestyle,” introduced in 1980. It was in that book that I first heard the statement which is the topic of this discussion. “Evangelism is a process, the new birth is an event.”
Understanding this concept enables one to focus on the process rather than the event. It frees us up to build relationships and trust the Holy Spirit’s timing for the event. We are enabled to relax as we explore the scriptures with them, because the ball is in the Holy Spirit’s court, so to speak. He will use our lives, our prayers and the time we spend with them in the word, and will bring them to new birth. (Usually when we are not even in the delivery room!) These births are natural, they mature, and are based on the Holy Spirit’s revelation of truth to the individual, rather than on our explanation of the truth.
In addition to proclamation, Jim Petersen used two other phrases in his book “Living Proof.” These are “affirmation,” which deals with personal relationships, and the term “team effort.” Team effort in the process of evangelism recognizes that our gifts are different and all are needed to bring others to faith. We began to form small teams with a few couples who had a desire to be involved in evangelism, some with gifts of hospitality, some with gifts of service and others with the ability to quickly form friendships. These teams met for prayer for six weeks prior to sending a dinner invitation to those invited. We related that the purpose of the dinner was to meet others who may have an interest in reading the Bible together for the next eight weeks. They knew the agenda in advance and also knew the names of others who had been invited to the dinner. All of the individuals invited were friends of one of the couples. We found that more than sixty percent of those invited wanted to come and start reading the Bible together. It was our opportunity over a number of years to do this with multiple teams of individuals. We determined to focus on the process of evangelism and not the new birth; continuing to explore and explain the scriptures with them weekly, spending time with them during the week, and praying regularly for them. The majority of those nonbelievers with whom we invested our time and the word became followers of Christ within the next few years. We felt no pressure to produce new birth. We could trust the Holy Spirit to do that. Our job was simply to be involved in the process of evangelism.
Knowing that evangelism is a process is also a marvelous comfort in dealing with people one by one. I have over the years had opportunity to meet individually with those who have had multiple objections to the Gospel, some who denied the authority of the scriptures, and others who didn’t even want to hear the name of Christ. In each case as our personal relationship developed and they agreed to look at the scriptures together, nearly all of them came to faith. I cannot determine the date of the new birth, but I am determined to pursue the process of evangelism with others. We can trust the Holy Spirit to use our lives, the body of Christ and His word to bring about His work in His time. May the Lord grant you His peace and His patience as you are involved in this process for Him in His Kingdom.
In Christ, Richard Spann