Not so long ago a friend of mine, Gordon (not his real name), told me an evangelistic horror story. Gordon had many years experience as a pastor and had learned a thing or two about people and evangelism.
Gordon once had a neighbour whom he got to know by sharing gardening tools and talking over the garden fence. In doing so he had discovered that his neighbour was very anti-Christianity. There had been some difficult issues in his life which had brought some bitterness. He had also been on the receiving end of a few ‘sales-pitch’ evangelistic conversations in the past and considered Christians with little more than contempt.
Nevertheless, Gordon persisted, treating his neighbour as … well, a neighbour, and a positive friendship developed. Of course, his hope was that one day he would be able to share the gospel with him and he prayed to that effect. But for now he needed to remain patient as he sought to overcome the prejudice that had grown through past bad experiences. Gordon sought to love his neighbour.
One day Gordon had a visitor, Jim (again, not his real name). Jim saw himself as an ‘evangelist’. Regularly he was out street preaching. In everyday conversations he sought to bring the conversation round to Christ. Then he could outline the gospel message to his hearer. Getting to this point made it worthwhile.
He had done this for years, but to his knowledge had never seen a single conversion to Christ. Yet he was faithful and persistent to his ‘calling’.
When Jim was with Gordon, they both met Gordon’s neighbour and got talking. Sure enough Jim started ‘turning’ the conversation. Jim did not know the neighbour or about the patient work that Gordon had been doing in reaching this man. No matter. Here was an opportunity to be seized. Sure enough Jim got to his outline of the gospel message and delivered it.
As soon as he was finished, the neighbour made an excuse and left, not without some visible signs of impatience.
Gordon never had the same relationship with this man again. While persisting with his patient approach, he was always treated with some suspicion. Eventually, their lives parted company as circumstances brought about a relocation.
I think the lessons from this story are clear.