As a young minister, I was eager to learn how to present the gospel to people in one-on-one conversations and enrolled in every program I could find that promised to teach such skills. One in particular, I recall because of a tactic of introducing the presentation that smacked of manipulation.
They sent us out in teams of three, assigned to “take a poll” from door to door in a certain neighborhood. The form asked such questions as, “Which of these religious leaders do you know more about–Mohammed, Christ, or Krishna,” and “What would you say is the biggest problem in the world today?” We knocked on doors, introduced ourselves, said we were doing a community survey, asked our questions, and wrote down what they said. Not that it mattered. The simple fact is we did not care how they answered the questions. All of the business about conducting a survey was just a lead-in to get to the point where we could ask, “In your opinion, how does a person get to Heaven?”
The plan called for the person to give a wrong answer, which we usually got. Anyone who has been around very long knows that the great majority of humans believes that being good, or at least more good than bad, is the ticket that opens Heaven’s doors.
When they gave the wrong answer, we would ask for the privilege of taking a few minutes of their time to show them what the Bible says on this subject. That was actually why we came, and this is usually where the party at the door said “No, I don’t think so,” and sent us on our way.
That Saturday afternoon, before we left the church for our assignment, the leader took questions from his nervous pupils. Someone said, “What do we say if they ask us point blank what we’re doing out here?” The leader said, “Tell them you’re out sharing Jesus Christ with people. Be transparent. We have nothing to hide.”
Whew. I liked that. The fact that the presentation they had taught us felt somewhat contradictory to this advice was a little confusing, but I still recall the relief I felt when the burden of manipulation was removed.
I was never much of a salesman of the door-to-door kind. The idea of sneaking up on people’s blind side, then trying to sell them something they didn’t know they needed, was a fearsome prospect and not for me.
Thereafter, as I searched to learn how to present the gospel in the most natural and effective way, transparency became one of my paramount considerations.
Nothing to hide. No hidden motives, no secret agenda, no subliminal persuasions. Just be yourself, tell who you are and what you are doing. See if they want what you have to offer and if so, give it to them. If not, shake the dust off and go on to the next person.
Does that sound familiar? It’s pretty much what our Savior was instructing the disciples in Matthew 10. Check out some of these instructions and see how important transparency was to our Lord.
“There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (10:26)
“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light, and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” (10:27)
“Everyone who confesses me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.” (10:32)
There is no place in the Kingdom of God or in any of the methodologies that the Holy Spirit employs for manipulation, for subterfuge, for camouflage, or for anything less than open-handed honesty.
“We have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” (II Corinthians 4:2)
One more from my early years in the Lord’s work.
A friend, let’s call him Glenn, called to ask if he could bring his evangelistic team to the town where I was pastoring. They had been used of the Lord to do some amazing things in the schools of that area where they lived, he assured me, and cited incredible numbers of young people turning to Christ. The figure of 12,000 comes to mind. I was impressed. Why, even Billy Graham could not cite such numbers! This was surely of God. So I invited them to spend a few days in my town, hosted by my little church.
Then I saw what they did.
Glenn had a fellow along with him who was an entertainer. In school assemblies–back when we could get into schools–he would act goofy, tell his silly stories, get the kids laughing and singing some of his singalong ditties, and then turn it over to Glenn. In a brief presentation, Glenn told how really neat it would be if these young people invited Christ into their lives to have this same kind of joy all the time. Then he directed their attention to the cards that had been distributed.
“We’d like to have a record of every person here today,” he said, and led them in filling in the blanks. Then, at the top of the card, if they wanted Jesus Christ in their lives, they could circle “S” which represented “Salvation”.
He probably led them in some kind of salvation prayer. This was many years ago and the details are a little murky. But what I remember most is trying to do follow-up from those cards.
In a Christian school, I think every child there had indicated they wanted Christ in their lives–I mean, who doesn’t?–and had circled the “S.” When I phoned their homes to talk with them, parents wanted to know who this adult was calling their kid. When I told them, they were suspicious. “We go to Wesley Presbyterian” or “Calvin Methodist,” they said firmly, and wanted none of what I was offering.
The few youngsters I actually got to talk with did not have a clue that they had done anything life-changing such as give their heart and life to Christ.
My friend Glenn, however, went on his way with his band of merry men, proudly touting the large numbers, “literally hundreds who came to Christ in our meetings.”
Oh, that it were so. But it wasn’t. Not even close.
The problem in transparency is that once people know who you really are and what you are actually up to, they might not want what you are offering. Well, that’s the whole point. Did you think by disguising your identity or your purpose you could get their name on the dotted line and slip them into Heaven before they figured out that you are a Christian spreading the gospel?
And where from the Scriptures did you learn this technique of winning people to Christ? I think I know the answer: you didn’t. It’s not in there.
One of these days, someone with a passion to share his faith with others is going to do it the way they did it in Scripture and it will be hailed as a great discovery.
Just after the arrest of Jesus, the brief episode at the home of the high-priest-godfather Annas has always been fascinating to me. The scene is recorded only in John 18.
“(They) arrested Jesus and bound HIm, and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.” (18:12-13)
I can’t read about old Annas without thinking of Don Corleone, the movie godfather played by Marlon Brando, rarely leaving home–you want to talk to him, you come to his place!–but pulling the strings of his underlings and ruling his empire with a strong hand.
Historians tell us Annas served as Judaism’s high priest from A.D. 6 until 15, then saw each of his five sons follow him in that exalted office. At the time Jesus appeared on the scene, his son-in-law Caiaphas held the job. No one was under any illusions where the power lay. Annas was the man.
That’s why, the first thing the officials did when they arrested Jesus was to take him to the home of Annas. He had heard many things of Jesus, had been present at various discussions on what to do about him, but had never actually met him. Tonight, he would see for himself this rabble rouser, this heretic, this “troubler of Israel”.
“Tell us what you’ve been teaching,” demanded Annas. Jesus was bound and standing before him. “I’ve heard so many conflicting reports. I want to hear with my own ears. What have you been saying?”
Jesus quietly responded, “Ask anyone who heard me. I had no secrets. Everything I had to say, I said in the synagogues and the temple where the people meet. I have spoken openly to the world.”
He added, “Question those who were there. They know.”
That answer earned our Lord a slap from an official and a rebuke for his lack of respect. “That’s no way to talk to the high priest!”
Jesus said, “If I was wrong, tell me how. If I was right, why did you slap me?”
Uncomfortable with this response and unable to get anything more, Annas sent the Lord on to Caiaphas for the kangaroo court that had already been set in place. Jesus’ condemnation was a foregone fact.
Speak the truth. Tell no lies. But more than that, tell the whole truth. Do not sneak up on people with the demands of the gospel after you have talked them into joining your church. Tell them up front what they will be getting into.
Jesus said, “No one constructs a building without counting the cost.” He said, “No one can come after me who does not deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
There are no hidden costs, no rules that are going to rise up and bite you after you have signed on the dotted line for salvation, and certainly no time-release revelations about the demands of the gospel that you were unprepared and unable to hear when someone first presented Christ’s message to you.
You get the impression that the new members of some churches must feel betrayed. No one told them when they were sweet-talked into joining that the church was involved in a massive building campaign and they would be expected, not only to donate ten percent of their income to the church on a regular basis from now on (forever and ever, amen), but to give over and above that a pretty substantial sum to the fund-raiser.
The fear on the part of the ministers, of course, is that if we tell them the whole story, they won’t come.
We respond, if you don’t tell them, you are violating your call, betraying your people, and dishonoring your Lord. Furthermore, what money they do put in the offering plate, if any, will probably be given begrudgingly and sparingly.
And besides, at what point in his downward slide into the bottomless pit of secularism did the preacher come to the conclusion that the purpose of winning people to Christ is to pay for his buildings? How sick is that?
Better to tell a person the whole truth: You are a sinner as we all are. Here’s what the Bible says and here is the fate awaiting you as a result of your sin. However, God is love and here is what His love did–sent Jesus Christ into the world as your Savior, to die on the cross and rise again. His full salvation, his complete forgiveness, and the gifts of His grace are available to all who repent of their sins and turn their lives over to Christ. Would you like to do this?
If they say “Yes,” and some will but some will not, then tell them how. Do not ask them to pray the sinner’s prayer before you tell them what that prayer is. Explain what they will be doing. Tell them a new life is awaiting them. Tell them God will make demands on them, and that “old things are passed away; behold all things are made new.” (II Corinthians 5:17)
No cards up your sleeve. No agenda that only the dedicated believers know. No secrets of the Kingdom which only the insiders get to learn. None of that garbage.
Just the gospel. Pure and unadulterated. The greatest news this planet has ever received.
Tell them. And make sure you show them.