Show and Tell


I am losing count of the courses of instruction in personal evangelism. We have courses in seminaries and churches and Bible schools on the methodology of presenting the gospel. It’s getting tedious to the point of wondering if it is not motivated by economic concerns. We buy the books, rent the materials and pay the tuition. All of this is done in order to learn how the gospel ought to be presented and the procedures are basically similar. The most interesting part of these approaches is how they instruct us in what to say in order to gain a hearing. How many people do you know who would be convinced that you are their friend simply because you tell them you are? In one very well known method, before we get to the actual presentation we are told that we should converse with the person about their “secular life and their church background,”  and then we are to tell them about our church and give them our personal testimony. This is all in an attempt to be “friendly.” I think I am a reasonably friendly person, but if someone I do not know comes to my door and starts asking questions about my personal life and religious views, and then launches into a verbal description of their experience , I am suspicious.
Just the other day a stranger came to our door and invited us to a meeting to hear who Jesus is. I recognized the literature and saw immediately that it was a cult, but, suppose I wasn’t a well informed Christian. What possible motivation would I have to attend their meeting anyway? Indeed, if we invite people to our church or to an evangelistic meeting why should they come? On occasion we might find someone who is hungering and thirsting for the truth but that would be exceedingly rare. Most people don’t really care who Jesus is, and a meeting to explain it is not attractive to them. I think we have put the proverbial cart before the horse. When we take this approach it’s like deciding what to wear before we’ve been invited to the party.
When our kids were young they had an exercise at school called “Show and tell.” They would bring a treasured object from home and tell their class about it. I think we would be wise to use this strategy in evangelism. Our biggest problem is not explaining the gospel, but in gaining a hearing for what we want to explain. Show and tell works. In my many years in the pastorate we tried numerous courses in evangelism, and many of them involved practice sessions. We gleaned almost no fruit from these efforts. However, periodically a new face would show up in the congregation, and invariably the reason was that one of our members had been helping that person. Most people are satisfied with their insulation from religious discussions and they don’t need words and formulas. However if when they were sick you took them meals or helped transport them to the hospital, or mowed their lawn or simply visited them when they were lonely, without any agenda, sooner or later they are going to want to know why you care. It is a proven fact that most people attend a particular church because they know people there. Be a friend. Note I did not say be friendly. You can not appear in a friendly manner at some stranger’s door and say I am a friend, you have to show it. You have to demonstrate it. No telling without showing. People listen when you bring medicine and food and education and show compassion and love and concern.
Jesus said that we are light and salt. In my experience light and salt are not noisy and they don’t have a lot to say. They work their influence quietly to bring warmth and healing. One of the great missionary sermons I heard at a conference when I was a student was based on Ezekiel 3:15 and 16, Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days. And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the LORD came unto me.  Notice that the prophet showed his concern and compassion first. Then he spoke. This is the right order; show and then tell.    Our missionaries are trained in cultural sensitivity for this very reason, but somehow when it comes to evangelism at home we just want to tell and forget the part about showing. Jesus said that a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. We are that city but we are putting our light under a bowl instead of on a candlestick. You may drink instant coffee or eat fast food, but you cannot rush evangelism. We are like runners who start the race before the starting pistol is fired. We”jump the gun,” and since everything else in our culture is on the fast track, why not evangelism?
When Jesus wanted to teach His disciples how to serve, He performed a menial, commonplace, transient task, He washed their feet. He didn’t send them to school. When Jesus taught them that by their love all men would know that they were His disciples he was not saying that if they were skillful at communicating the plan of salvation men would know. I used to become very frustrated at people who, whenever the subject of witnessing was brought up took refuge in, “I witness by my actions.” I thought, obviously, these people were afraid to speak up for Jesus. As I see it now, they may have been cowardly, but there was more truth in their excuse than there was in my opinion. I have revised my opinion. I now believe that showing takes first place in the strategy of evangelism, and telling comes in second. When we give ourselves in the service of others and learn "to scratch where it itches", sooner or later people will recognize the fact that we care. Eventually they will accept us as their friends, and then we can tell with a fighting chance of being heard.