by Joe McKeever
Why are good, normal, otherwise confident Christian people scared to death of knocking on a door?
I think I know, and it's not just that we don't know what to do or don't love the Lord enough or lack holiness. I think it's something else.
After many years of witnessing for Christ and teaching others to witness for Him, I still have to deal with the fear of approaching strangers with the gospel. Actually, fear and I have walked down many a street together over my four decades of ministry, fighting and struggling all the way. Sometimes I won out, sometimes fear carried the day.
"Fear hath torment," according to I John 4:18. Tell me about it. But, as one might expect, God used those experiences to prepare me for the help He was sending.
One day, I ran across a little booklet entitled, Here's How to Win Souls. You would have thought Gene Edwards had written that just for me. He laid everything out in detail, and even included pictures. I devoured it, then read it again and ended up memorizing it. By now, I was pastoring a little Baptist church in the Highway 90 West community of Paradis and eager to lead people to Christ. The morning after reading Edwards' booklet, I went down the street and knocked on a door and led a lady to Christ.
Everyone ought to know such joy. My head was bumping the clouds. This was the greatest thing in the world.
But fear was still hanging around the edges of every visit I made, still convinced that it could reclaim the territory it had lost. But I kept knocking on doors, then taught our people how to share their faith-in the only method I knew: Gene Edwards' plan (which was a good one). No trickery, no gimmicks-just your basic here's-how-to-tell-people-the-gospel-story.
In the 1960s my denomination had no plan for helping church members share their faith in Christ. Now, a pastor has his choice of a dozen proven plans that come complete with PowerPoint and printed materials and even gifted consultants available to visit his church and teach his people. We had none of that.
I recall the frustration from those days of hearing preachers harangue congregations from the pulpit about the Lord's command to share their faith. But no one ever told us what to do. For me, Gene Edwards was the first.
Later I jumped aboard the "Witness Involvement Now (WIN)" plan of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board. We learned a simple technique for witnessing, one easily transferable to our people.
No more fear, right? Very wrong. That old monster never went away but crept around the edges of everything we did, every visit we made, every conversation. But we barged ahead in spite of him, and as the Lord gave us significant victories, we gradually learned to ignore the fear. "It's lying," I would tell myself. "There's nothing to fear."
I would remind myself that some of the dearest friendships I had resulted from my willingness to walk up to a door and knock on it and begin the conversation that would introduce someone to the Savior. "The person behind that door is no enemy," I would coach myself, "just a friend I haven't met."
About the same time, in the early 1970s, Campus Crusade came to our town with its program called LIFE, "Lay Institute for Evangelism." At the end of the LIFE week, we spent that Saturday knocking on doors. Cold turkey. Assigned to a street, paired with another learner or two, and sent out into the cold. Fear again, big time. Every person in the building was frightened out of his mind by what we were being asked to do. But most of us went anyway. I had learned that fear will usually dissipate once you face it and go forward.
LIFE's method of getting you inside the house was to tell whoever opened the front door that you were taking a poll and ask if they could spare a couple of minutes. You asked simple leading questions and jotted down their answers, but the truth is you were simply priming them for the moment when you asked if they could spare a few minutes for you to share the greatest thing in the world with them. That would be the Four Spiritual Laws booklet, which began, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life."
Sometimes they let us present our message, mostly they didn't. But even when they did, and even when they accepted everything the booklet said and prayed that little prayer at the end, even then I did not have the sense that this human has just been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the light. There was this nagging sense in back of my mind that I have just manipulated this person into doing something he or she had not given enough thought to and now had trapped the person inside this "decision room." I felt like a user of people.
While big numbers flowed out of these meetings, with reports of many hundreds "praying to receive Christ"-and no doubt, a lot of people were actually born again as a result of our labors-but for myself, I determined to resist any witnessing plan that smacked of manipulation. And plenty of them arose. "Do this, say this, if they answer that, you've got them. Don't leave them room to say no, keep them answering yes, then slip this one past them." No thanks. Not for me.
Over the years, every time my churches would bring in an outstanding preacher, I would ask if we could make some home visits together. I wanted to hear his presentation of the gospel and try to improve my own technique. I was trying, and was gradually overcoming my lifelong bout with fear.
I started out to tell why I believe God's people are afraid to share their faith. I think it's the fear of getting out of our comfort zone. We go to great lengths to avoid any effort to move us from that zone.
Consider how reluctant the average church member is to even pray in public. Announce to the Sunday school class that "we're going to go around the circle, with each of us praying a short prayer," and watch the panic on the faces of several in the room. And yet prayer is something these people presumably do all the time and they're among close friends. Some of them would die a hundred deaths and risk heart attacks.
Now, ask those same church members to go down the street and knock on all the doors and tell anyone who comes about Jesus Christ. Good luck to you in that. Most are not going to do it.
Two quick remarks:
One, we see a little house-to-house work in the New Testament. Paul said about his ministry in Ephesus, "I taught you publicly and from house to house" (Acts 20:20). It's there. But you don't see a lot of it.
Two, what we see most in Scripture is a person telling his circle of friends what the Lord has done for him. Jesus healed a leper who went out and told everyone he knew about the Lord, resulting in crowds pressing in to the point He could no longer do His work. (Mark 1:45) Later, Jesus healed a demoniac who then volunteered to follow along on His itinerant ministry. "No," Jesus said. "Go home to your friends and tell them what the Lord has done for you and how He has had compassion on you" (Mark 5:19).
That's always been Plan A. The only reason it became necessary for us to concoct elaborate plans for confronting strangers with the gospel is that God's people have failed to do the easiest thing on the planet: tell your best friends your good news.
That's why soul-winning is so hard for most of the Lord's people and why we fear it so much: it's Plan B, not the Lord's original intentions. We're like a bunch of third-graders trying to do high school work, memorizing a plan which we will employ in an unnatural situation and hoping we will not be found out as the impostors we feel ourselves to be. No one is more surprised than we when someone buys into the message we are spreading.
Al Worthington said something once I've never been able to get out of my mind. This pitcher for the Minnesota Twins had come to Christ in a Billy Graham Crusade and then started phoning his large family to share the good news. An older brother told him, "Why, Al, I've been a Christian for eight years." Al said, "I don't believe it. If you had, you'd have told me about it before now."
We need to get back to Plan A.
Joe McKeever is director of missions of the Greater New Orleans Baptist Association.