A reporter once told Billy Graham that his Crusades were setting Christianity back 100 years. The famed evangelist responded, “I’m hoping to set Christianity back 2,000 years!” I believe we can do much to change today’s world by setting the way we witness back 2,000 years. One of the prominent elements of New Testament evangelism was lifestyle evangelism.
Ryan Stiffler, pastor, Corticelli near Russellville, shared with me a recent experience with sharing Christ while on the go. Ryan was returning from Atlanta and the annual Evangelism Response Center Training with North American Mission Board (NAMB). His flight from Memphis to Columbia seated him by a young man from China who was spending his last day in America before flying home. Getting acquainted with him, Ryan asked about his religion and learned he had none, though he was raised Buddhist and attended a Catholic church on occasion because he liked the music. He added, “But the message is impossible.”
That opened the door even more for Ryan to share with him that the message of the Christian faith is not all that impossible. “After all, if God can create our world, the seasons, the moon, stars, planets and trees, He can do those seeming impossible things included in the Christian faith.” The young man agreed and continued to listen as Ryan opened his Bible so he could learn more.
Rather than reading the Bible to him, Ryan had him reading passages from place to place for himself. Ryan explained that to believe what he was reading was a matter of faith, just as it was a matter of faith to believe that Christ was the Son of God who came as mankind’s redeemer to die on the Cross for our sins. The young man sat silently in his seat, taking in all he and Ryan were discussing and reading and soon said, “This is what I need.” Before they landed in Columbia, he prayed to receive Christ as his personal savior.
There was a young couple in the two seats just ahead of them and Ryan noticed they were listening intently, sometimes turning around to look at them as Ryan and his new friend talked. Ryan assumed they were probably believers and were affirming his words as he shared his faith. Upon exiting the plane in Columbia, Ryan concluded his conversation with the young Chinese man (incidentally, he had come to M.U. for a three-month internship) and prepared to leave the terminal and drive home.
The couple seated in front of him lingered and approached Ryan asking, “Do you believe what you were telling him is true?” Ryan affirmed he did. The young man introduced Ryan to his fiance’ (an M.U. student) and related that they are going to get married soon and wanted to get married in a church but felt like hypocrites because they don’t go to church and had a lot of questions about some Christian beliefs Ryan had been explaining to the young man from China. Ryan spent the next 45 minutes answering questions they had about Christ and the Christian faith and then asked them, “Are you ready to do this?” They immediately prayed with Ryan, inviting Christ into their lives.
By now it was after midnight and the only ones left in the Terminal were two Columbia police officers who were listening intently as well. Ryan, thinking he was imposing on them for all the time he was taking apologized, but one responded, “Take your time.”
Ryan was practicing witnessing as a lifestyle. If that sounds New Testament, it’s because it is. Check out Matthew 28:19, “As you go, win disciples.” (Tom Johnston, evangelism professor at Midwestern says “win” is a better translation than “make!”) Make it a practice to carry some Gospel tracts in your pocket or purse and “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you for a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15). Like Billy Graham, let’s seek to set the way we practice our Christian faith back 2,000 years!
Gary Taylor / MBC Director of Evangelism