On the weekend, I read some books and listened to some CD’s about public speaking – World Champion public speakers offered their valuable input from their years of experience and success.These champion speakers addressed a number of dynamics but the issue that really interested me was, “connecting with the audience.” David Brooks, 1990 World Champion said, “When you are just beginning to learn how to be an effective public speaker, your first concern is self. As you improve and become more confident, your second concern is the message. But great speakers are most concerned with the audience.”
This comment stopped me in my tracks and brought back some really disturbing memories about sharing my faith when I was in university. This was a long time ago – I don’t imagine that door-to-door evangelism in the university dorms is even permitted at university now but thirty years ago, (honestly?? is it THAT long ago??) Christian groups had complete freedom to wander around campus, engaging students in conversations about Jesus. I had gotten involved with a campus ministry and had learned how to share my testimony and the Gospel message. After I graduated, I was asked to come on staff at the university and teach in the Physical Education department, as well as coach the Varsity Gymnastics Team.
So, picture this. I would teach and coach during the day. In the evening, I would “change hats” and head to the university residences, where I would knock on the student’s doors and talk about Jesus. It was absurd and to be honest, it was traumatic for me. I remember sweating in the halls, being incredibly anxious and hoping that when I knocked on the doors, no one would answer – not a very powerful tactic for an evangelist.
I was extremely uncomfortable and knew from the “get-go”, that it wasn’t my thing. No question – I was completely caught up in self. What would these students think of me? What if I meet up with a student of mine? Am I going to get in trouble doing this? I dreaded Wednesday night but I continued knocking on doors for months. Over time, I became less aware of myself and more concerned about what I was saying. Am I handling the word of God well? Am I prepared to answer the intellectual questions that students would be asking me? Is my message coherent and consistent? Eventually, the message got stronger and my ability to communicate biblical truth became easier. I’m not sure when it actually happened but eventually, my concern moved to the students. I wasn’t concerned about me or the message – I genuinely wanted to get to know the students. I believed that that Gospel message was absolute truth to all people so I learned to listen more, talk less and communicate Him in a genuine, relevant way.
Of course, this is where the analogy ends because ultimately, evangelism isn’t about self, message or connection with others. It’s about Jesus. Will Metzger wrote, “A gospel that elevates man and dethrones God is not the gospel.”
I love this quote from David Platt in his book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.
If we were left to ourselves with the task of taking the gospel to the world, we would immediately begin planning innovative strategies and plotting elaborate schemes. We would organize conventions, develop programs, and create foundations… But Jesus is so different from us. With the task of taking the gospel to the world, he wandered through the streets and byways…All He wanted was a few men who would think as He did, love as He did, see as He did, teach as He did and serve as He did.
Evangelism isn’t about technique or timing. It’s not about looking good, sounding good or connecting well. It’s about knowing Jesus personally and passionately. It’s about understanding how and why He died for my sins. It’s about loving people and wanting them to know the truth about life, self and sin.
Evangelism is about living and communicating the Truth to all people. It’s so much simpler than public speaking.
I just want to lobby for God. Billy Graham