the weblog of Alan Knox

Evangelism from the Other Side

Posted by on Aug 15, 2010 in discipleship | 12 comments

Evangelism from the Other Side

Mark from “Called Out In Kansas” has written a very good article called “Evangelism at its Best?” Mark tells the story of a patient in the ER where he works. After the patient has been cared for, the patient begins to share the gospel with a nurse.

Mark knows the nurse, but the ER patient does not. In the article, Mark wonders about he benefits of trying to share the gospel with someone with whom you do not have a relationship. Obviously, there are times when this is necessary. But, should it be normal?

For example, Mark knew that the nurse believed in God but held spiritual beliefs that were more atuned to Native American spirituality. The patient did not know this.

It was interesting for me to read Mark’s story, because I got to see a glimpse of evangelism (especially “cold call” evangelism) from the other side. I’ve been on the side of “sharing the gospel” with a stranger, but I haven’t seen the other side of it.

What do you think?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-16-2010

    FYI, Here was my response on Mark’s blog:

    I’m so glad to hear of this person. It is at least possible of him (unlike 97% of other believers), that if you looked him up and asked him, you would find that he regularly wins others to repentance from sin and to faith in our gracious Lord.

    I know a man who brags of his inner city ministry that in 3 years he has won no-one, but made lots of relationships. He said this “proves” that his attempt to make relationships is “pure,” and not a sales pitch. *sigh*

    Jesus makes us fishers of men. Connecting your net with a school of fish requires dragging your net through lots of empty water. Anyone observing a fisherman dragging his net through some empty water, and seeing the net pulled up empty, would find a hundred good reasons to complain his method was wrong. Maybe one might be that he was just pulling an empty sales pitch through the water.

    A few hours later, another fisherman dragging his net through the same water might connect and pull up his net full. We could certainly find ways to applaud his fine skills and faithful work.

    But in both cases, it is God that brings the increase, not our clever skills. But without us “letting down our nets,” there will be no fish caught. God also works that way.

    You say this man was “polite” and “easy to get along with” such that it did not surprise you that he was a Christian. Oh, I wish for ten thousand more such persons to raise their voices in their everyday lives at every opportunity.

    How beautiful are the feet…

    As one who deserves hell, and knows this is the fate of every fellow human unless they hear and believe the gospel, I can’t quite get my hands around the objection that this should in any way motivate one to be aggressive in seeking a hearing for the gospel.

    There is a time to be polite, and to follow convention. But some of us see this present time as an extreme emergency, where there isn’t always time to move into the burning apartment to build relationships to gain a hearing. We just feel quite right in approaching our fellow humans in a more urgent, less refined, knocking on doors and warning them of the onrushing fire…

    Paul was willing to take his place in hell to see Israel saved. Not sure the pattern of his life demonstrates a friendship evangelism modality. He was offensive every time he shared the gospel because the gospel offends everything about us all by itself.

    Your native americanish spiritual friend is hurtling towards hell… If he were my brother, I would be thankful for both of you in his life (and, the way I see it, he is).

    Please tell him before it is too late, as soon as you feel the right moment, or a possible moment, or even if you might offend him. Please. Faith comes by hearing the word of God.

  2. 8-16-2010

    Art, these are my sentiments as well. Although, the one thing I noticed in Mark’s post very well may have been the disparity between a message concerning law and grace, and ‘fire insurance’ evangelism, which typically is what most unbelievers encounter when a ‘christian’ witnesses to them.

    Concerning a relationship, relationships can be built in less than one minute…

    “I am so and so, how are you?”
    “Great! Hey, what do you think about Heaven?”

    Even in it’s most pragmatic application, the problem here is not method, the issue is outlook. Is eternity stamped on the inside of your eyelids? Or are we more concerned with other people’s sensibilities. In all my time as street person/drug addict, not a single person ever witnessed to me, not one, but I had quite a few people who were ‘believers’ that I had ‘relationships’ with.

    They however, may have sewn seeds in some fashion, but never the gospel seed.

    2Co 5:10-11 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (11) Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.

  3. 8-16-2010

    After I wrote this post and link, I realized that my concern is not whether or not a person shares the gospel with a stranger. Instead, my concern is whether or not the person intends to build or continue that relationship as a discipling relationship. I think too often “cold call” evangelism is taught and practiced as an end in itself.


  4. 8-16-2010

    I am reminded of the parable of the sower and the many kinds of soil receiving the same seed. Can we pick one type of soil, and based on its response to seed, generalize all soils? (In Mark’s (my?) defense, there is something profitable about cultivated soil, though). Art’s comments also remind me of teachings on sowing and reaping found in Scripture. We sow what we reap (thistles or figs). We reap proportionally to the amount we sow. If we stand around watching the clouds, we don’t reap any (Ecc 11:4). I find that I naturally like evaluating clouds.

    I also recall that Jesus said he is come to set a man at variance against his father…and a man’s foes shall be his own household (Matt. 10). Because of this message of the Gospel, those very people we have relationship with will be set against us if they will not receive it.

    I tend to be like Mark. I am not a cold-caller or hard-sell. My mind says that if I am a stranger, what I say won’t mean much. 2 Tim. 4 has something to say about that, as well as reception of sound doctrine in the latter days. I am trying harder to be instant “out of season”.

  5. 8-16-2010

    I think we reasonably can be more patient to share the gospel with those whom we have ongoing interactions. Like Mark’s friend at work, our neighbors, our coworkers/fellow students. Opportunities will naturally present themselves as we live with bowed knees before Him. In these cases, too, long term follow-up/care is much more likely with those who also come to receive Him (and I mean that in biblical terms, not in the 30 second prayer innoculation thing).

    But when we have a passing opportunity with someone in a restaurant, or standing in a line at the bank, or at the mall, etc, I am comfortable being much more aggressive/pushy, and see no reason to wait until a relationship (highly unlikely) to be built first. If there is interest, if they come to Him, then of course we should seek to develop a relationship with them, or (as in the case of travelling) to get their contact information in the hands of faithful brothers and sisters who will seek to do so.

    At lunch today, I starting reading Max Lucado’s John 3:16 to my wife. Here is a brief passage:
    On Jn 3:2 – “Nicodemus begins with what he “knows.” I’ve done my homework, he implies. Your work impresses me.

    We listen for a kindred salutation from Jesus: ‘And I’ve heard of you, Nicodemus.’ We expect, and Nicodemus expected, some hospitable chit-chat.

    None comes. Jesus makes no mention of Niceodemus’s VIP status, good intentions, or academic credentials. not because they don’t exist, but because, in Jesus’s algorithm, they don’t matter. He simply issues this proclamation: ‘Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’

    Shall we “tsk, tsk” Jesus for not first building a relationship? For His abruptness in commandeering the discussion? For using confusing and hard to understand words?

  6. 8-16-2010

    The problem with being “pushy” with an individual we will never see again is that it may lessen my chances of having an impact in that person’s life, who do have a relationship with him. I also have a problem with witnessing just because we think we should, and living a life in tune with the Holy Spirit, and jumping when He says jump. The Spirit knows what part of the crop is ripe for harvest, and attempting to harvest before it is ripe will damage the fruit. So, as I stated in my post, I am not 100% against “cold call evangelism”, I just don’t think it should be the norm. One point I made in response to Art’s comment is just what Alan said, where is the discipleship. If I’m in the ER and help someone pray the “sinner’s prayer”, what next? I move on to the next gig, but who disciples this new “convert”? And, does praying a “sinner’s prayer” mean I am even saved? I just don’t think it is that simple, necessarily. I will repeat what I said on my response to Art, this has to come in the context of relationship. yes, in some circumstances a relationship can be built in a few minutes, but I believe those instances are divinely arranged, and don’t happen every day.

    I am crunched for time so can’t give the exact verse, but in 1 Thessalonians 1 or 2 Paul talks about having proved himself to the people, and I think we have to prove ourselves to the unbelievers around us, that we are even trustworthy. I’ll ramble a bit more to make one last point. The world’s impression of the body at large is negative. They see a bunch of people that operate according to the same principles they do, but we act as if we are so much holier. In fact we’re no different, as a whole. Until we get our own house right, and set in place the foundations to enable growth and discipleship, we may as well forget evangelism.

    One last question. Is our evangelism our primary responsibility as the body? I say no. i say that our primary responsibility is to seek Christ, to be remade into His image individually and corporately, until we all reach a mature man according to Ephesians 5. if we would do that, I think we’d be surprised how many people would knock down OUR doors to be saved.


  7. 8-16-2010

    I meant to say…

    I also have a problem with witnessing just because we think we should, instead of living a life in tune with the Holy Spirit, and jumping when He says jump.

  8. 8-17-2010

    If we were all sitting around sipping coffee together, this conversation would be greatly helped. It would be so much easier to be clear, to correct misreads and mis-sayings, to evaluate overstatements properly, and to understand each other by asking and interacting. I think we would find we are all quite in agreement with what we mean to be saying.

    Each of your objections have validity, as does your counsel on things we need to be doing as the church to set ourselves again in order.

    I suspect you would agree that however we live as individuals and as the church together (and we certainly should improve on the whole, and it has a definite impact on the response of people in this world as you point out–Jn 17), until the gospel is spoken in words, they will not hear it or believe it (faith cometh by hearing). There are, no doubt, more effective ways and times and less effective ways and times for the gospel to be preached (proclaimed, spoken).

    It may have been misleading when I used the terms “aggressive” and “pushy.”

    First, I think the fields are white unto harvest. I think it isn’t rare that we pass someone in our day with whom God is working, seeking to awaken them, to stir their consciences, to draw them to Himself, reconciling them. I expect most of the people whose paths I cross in a day to be people with whom God is presently, actively working. For some, I can participate with His working.

    Think of the people you do know closely. With how many of them is it evident God is working in terms of circumstance, and the things they thinking about? When you are close and they open up, it is almost startling. On the surface, they seem fine, safe, secure, confident. But, you discover over and over, the people around you are struggling and wrestling deeply with the issues of life.

    Are not we, ourselves? How few around us know it?

    I know we have a surface veneer which remains safe by distance. Private. Among the general public–even among church friends–we all appear well held together. When Jesus says look on the fields, and tells us they are white with harvest, He is explaining to us what we cannot see by the eye, but by faith.

    Still, not everyone will let anyone inside. Sometimes, it feels safer to talk about these struggles with a stranger.

    Second, He works in me to genuinely like people. I smile and say hello and strike up conversations without thinking about it. I am available and interruptable. In a flash, the whole world around me can recede and I see only one person.

    By pushy and aggressive, I mean that whenever the chance to talk to someone arises, I do so. It might start out about the weather, or sports, or prices. I watch to see how they respond. Are they just not interested? I smile, say something nice as a way to politely end our talking, and leave them alone (but I’ll try again if given a chance, say, while waiting in line). Are they preoccupied? I might comment on that, “you seem lost in thought?” or “are you having a bad day?”

    If the conversation goes on a bit, I engage whatever seems to be of interest to them. I’d like to know them, their interests. Often these interests are just polite cover. It also just seems normal to contribute things from who I am. I might say in conversational response to something they said, “I’m so thankful for God…” or “Do you have a church family to help you through this?” or just mention church, prayer, God is some way appropriate to the discussion.

    Did they flash a look of interest? I might ask a probing question. Did they shudder? I might ask if they’ve been hurt by (God, church, prayer, etc.). Did they ignore it? I let it go and just continue the conversation sans God-talk, hoping to learn something more about this person who was formed by God in their mother’s womb to be in His own image, someone whom God loves, whose Son died for–this uber-interesting old lady. God can awaken intense emotions of awe, care, desire and such for a complete stranger/fellow human.

    When I share the gospel, it is almost always conversationally, and I talk less than half the time. I (aggressively) study to share the gospel, memorizing verses and illustrations and questions to ask about verses. When sharing the gospel, I go into uber-dependence mode, listening for both them and the Holy Spirit before I say something. I expect (as someone once put it, I desperately depend upon) God to convert people, knowing I can do no such thing.

    I carry a couple of folded 3×5 cards and a pen, prepared to exchange contact information (and yes, people, who you’ve just met, share phone and email, and eventually come to your house for dinner or invite you to theirs, some, on the spot, come aside with you and talk about God, their life, and are converted).

    That’s what I mean by pushy and aggressive. If they aren’t interested, if they don’t bite, I simply remain friendly and listening or leave them alone if they wish. But if given a chance…

  9. 8-17-2010

    I love that these posts (Mark’s and mine) led to this discussion. 🙂


  10. 8-17-2010


    I agree about the coffee, for multiple reasons, one being that I just like it!

    I love your description of “pushy”. The way that you describe your interactions with people is beautiful. The thing I like is that you have purposed to get to know the individual, on some level. You have shown them that you care about THEM, and by talking < 50% of the time you prove that you're not out for your own interests, but truly do care about the person you are talking to. You prove that you're out for more than just a notch on your belt. I agree, you and I probably do see this issue very similarly, in fact.

    "Second, He works in me to genuinely like people. I smile and say hello and strike up conversations without thinking about it. I am available and interruptable. In a flash, the whole world around me can recede and I see only one person."

    the word "genuinely" is what strikes me the most, and the fact that you are functioning in Christ to the extent that, without thinking about it, you are interacting with a stranger. I also like "available and interruptable". Good stuff.

    In comparing your description to what I witnessed in the ER, there just is no comparison. I am sure that this young man meant well, but there was no attempt made to establish a bond of sorts. It was like he just vomited on the poor nurse! I really see it as a difference between a mature believer and an immature one. You have walked in Christ long enough to be able to get direction from the Spirit, and your heart and mind are sensitive to the feedback received from the other person. How you proceed depends on how the other person responds, and that, to me, is a mark of maturity. In contrast, the young believer (and for my purposes you could be saved for 50 years and still be young) belts out their spiel, without regard for anything. The longer I walk in Christ, outside of my organized past, the more I find myself beginning to walk in HIm, where every moment is a moment lived in Him (or at least more moments now than maybe a year ago!). I have lately begun to feel His nudging to begin praying with patients, and even more recently with patients whose "religious status" is unknown to me. How powerful to have a church (used in the NT sense) full of people, walking in the Spirit, functioning in His power, ministering to one another and the world! That day is coming, I firmly believe.

    One other thing I have thought a lot about since reading your response on my site originally is concerning the inner-city minister who never wins a soul to Christ, but makes lots of relationships. Similar to James' experience on the street, that he knew plenty of believers but none ever impacted his life. I do find that there are plenty of people I know, decently, well, and whose trust I have implicitly, and I have not shared. As I was in a patient room with one of them today that thought came to my mind, and I realized that a time is probably coming when I will share more than I do now. As stated above, the more I mature in Christ the more these kinds of things get integrated into my normal processes, like the prayer with patients issue, and sometimes it takes an outside nudging to initiate that process.


  11. 8-20-2010


    I posted a follow up question on evangelism on my site, and thought I’d share it here. In writing that post I had to rethink how I have approached evangelism in the past, because the nature of my testimony has changed. It is no longer a “me”-based approach, about what Jesus can do for me, as if to portray how wonderful life is once you are saved. But if I can’t say that, what do I say? What do I say to my friend or to the man on the street, when given an opportunity? I have since come up with an answer, but it was interesting to me how much I had to think about it. I am curious what others think. This is probably a very elementary question, and maybe I’m the only one thinking this, but I found it interesting nonetheless. I do realize that each situation might call for a different answer, but in seeking to “be instant in season and out” I thought meditation on the issue would be in order.


  12. 8-20-2010


    I haven’t had a chance to read your post yet, but I will. You said, “I have since come up with an answer, but it was interesting to me how much I had to think about it.” You THOUGHT about it! Awesome! That’s one of the reasons that I blog: to force myself and others to think about the things they do and believe.