Evangelism: Invitation

Posted 8/26/2018

Scripture: Acts 2:37-42

As we come to the end of our series on evangelism we come to what for many of us is the hardest, and perhaps what feels like it easily could be the most offensive, part of evangelism. That is inviting someone to put their faith in Christ. As we saw in the first sermon on evangelism, one a large part of our reaction to this notion is probably based on our own experiences of how others have gone about this. Often what we have experienced sounds more like a demand than an invitation that we place our faith in Christ. In addition to it feeling like it is a demand, there has also usually been a spoken or unspoken kind of “threat” about what will happen to us if we don’t. Such an approach can leave us rightfully reluctant to engage in thinking about our inviting anyone to put their faith in Christ.

Yet the whole point of our witnessing to Jesus is to give others the opportunity to experience what we have experienced. That means we will inevitably need to include explaining how we began our relationship with Jesus and inviting our conversation partner to begin their own relationship with Jesus. 

Once again, one of the things that helps change the way an invitation to enter into a relationship with Christ so that is differs from what we’ve often experienced is simply to do this in the context of an ongoing relationship. It is much easier to speak of entering into a relationship with Christ in a gentle way when the invitation is issued as part of ongoing conversations in an ongoing relationship, rather than more like a “drive by commit-your-life-to-Christ hit.”

But I think there are some other things that are important in how we might do an invitation to begin a relationship with Christ. I think there are other ways our witness might also differ from what has most likely been our experiences of evangelism. As we think about this, our Scripture lesson from Acts may be able to give us some guidance.

First of all, this passage reminds us that we do need to talk about “what we should do.” It isn’t enough for us to simply share our own experiences of Jesus, we also need to share how the other person can come to have their own relationship with Jesus. While this is not something we will do at the very beginning of a relationship, it is also something we should not avoid doing. We will need to share how our conversational partner can come to have their own relationship with Jesus. 

Yet we need to notice that this sharing happens in the context of a conversation. Peter didn’t just stand up and tell the crowd they need to “get right with Jesus.” He doesn’t just walk up to strangers and start off a conversation with, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus.” He first tells them about Jesus (and what we have in Acts is probably just a very short summary of all he said about Jesus). Then when they ask what they should do, he responds by telling them how to enter into this new relationship with Jesus. 

This reminds us that our invitation — our encouragement that another place their trust in Jesus and begin their own relationship with Jesus — comes in the context of an ongoing conversation. Our sharing this invitation grows, like the rest of our witness, naturally out of our conversation. It isn’t something we push the conversation toward or something we just randomly lob into a conversation. Our invitation needs to grow out of the conversation in a natural way.

The fact is, as we share about Jesus, part of what we will find ourselves sharing is how we came to know Jesus. As we share our life — and about our life — we will find ourselves talking about how we began our own relationship with Jesus. This in itself is a form of invitation, for it opens up the idea for our conversational partner that they too can start a relationship with Jesus. It can even give them some ideas about how to do this.

Yet we may discover that we need to go further than simply sharing our own story in a general way. Often people don’t really know how to enter into a relationship with Jesus. Here is where we can begin to speak about prayer. Not that we have some set “sinner’s prayer” that we urge another to say, but simply that we help others understand prayer as a way of entering into conversation — and thus relationship — with Jesus. Many people feel uncomfortable with prayer because they feel they don’t know how to pray. We can reassure them that there isn’t some set formula they need to follow. They don’t have to be eloquent in what they say. They can simply talk to Jesus.

A second thing we may need to do at this point is to not simply talk about our reading the Bible and how that is a part of our Christian life, but to help the other person actually begin to read the Bible. Here I mean doing very simple, practical things. Let’s be honest, for someone who doesn’t know about Jesus begin reading the Bible as if it were any other book — starting with Genesis 1:1 and reading through until they get to Revelation 22:21 — is probably not a good way for them to begin. While the entire Bible is important, starting out by reading the laws in the Old Testament and some of the stories the Old Testament contains is not the way to help someone who doesn’t really know Jesus begin to know him. 

Instead of leaving them with no idea where and how to start reading the Bible profitably, we can guide them toward reading the gospels first; perhaps suggesting they start with Mark since it is the shortest and so most easily read gospel. We can also share how reading the Bible has helped us develop a closer relationship with Jesus. We can share how the Bible has given us guidance and been important in our growing closer to Jesus. We can even guide them to a Bible Study we know about!

Finally, we can share how being a part of a Christian community — how coming to church — has helped us as a Christian. We can talk about how we receive encouragement and support in our faith by gathering with other Christians. We can tell how gathering together in worship adds something to our relationship with Jesus that simply following Jesus all on our own doesn’t provide. In other words, we can invite them to church not because we need more bodies or more money, but because being a part of church — coming to worship and other activities at the church — feeds us spiritually and enables us to grow. 

Finally, we shouldn’t be discouraged if our friend doesn’t respond to our first invitation. Studies show it takes something like 5-7 invitations for a person to decide to come to church. I’m sure in a similar way it often takes more than one invitation for a person to consider starting their own relationship with Jesus before them to actually do so. So, while we don’t want to be pushy, we also don’t want to stop talking about Jesus just because our friend doesn’t respond to our first invitation. There really is a difference between being pushy and continuing to share about our life and faith!

Inviting someone to put their trust in Christ can feel risky. But it doesn’t have to be something that is done in an aggressive or offensive way. It can be done in the context of our continued sharing in an ongoing relationship. When we do that, especially when we are also engaged in prayer about our witness, we might be surprised at the results!