Let’s face it, we all struggle with personal evangelism. It is hard for many reformed people–why do so many struggle to share their faith? We all have our litany of excuses:
Not my job…
I don’t like…
Let me tell you. I struggle too.
Wilhelmus a’Brakel, a seventeenth century Dutch pastor-theologian, understood that his students and congregation also struggled with personal evangelism. In the midst of his four volume systematic theology (1.535-537), a’Brakel encouraged his flock to do the work of an evangelist–and to grow in this discipline.
May you find some encouragement to talk to a friend or neighbor or stranger about Christ and the benefits that he brings, which are of eternal importance.
One will argue: (1) ‘I have no qualifications for it, and if I wish to begin with this task, the words freeze upon my tongue and I do not know what say if I say something, it has no effect.’ To this I respond, ‘You learn by doing.’ If you are not capable of speaking to certain individuals, and about such matters, speak to others. Begin with [those] by whom you are not intimidated, and discuss general and rudimentary principles. You will subsequently acquire more skill.
(2) You may say, ‘I do not know much myself, and I am in need of being instructed myself.’ To this I respond that if you are a Christian, you will have some knowledge. If you know three words, then teach others two, even if you were only to say, ‘We are going to die, which will be followed by eternity.’ This could be a means to someone’s conversion.
(3) ‘My words have no effect. They neither have authority nor power. None wish to listen to me. They even laugh at it.’ To this I respond that fruit upon your words does not come forth from you. You will not be held accountable for fruitlessness, but for faithfulness. If any do not wish to hear you, you will be able to find another who will readily hear you. If anyone laughs, another will weep.
(4) ‘I am sinful and people see my faults; thus I am incapable of edifying even to some degree. Yes, it will be an offense and one shall say, ‘At that time he acted and spoke in such a fashion and now acts as a pious one. It is nothing but hypocrisy, which is true for all who are like him. ‘Yes, I am in such a sinful condition that my lusts have the upper hand, and thus I cannot speak.’ My response is that if someone were to wait with prophesying until he would be without sin or without obvious errors, there would be silence over the whole world and one would not hear Christ proclaimed. All His messengers are men of like passions as others. Let it be evident that you are conscious of your failures, that you grieve over them, and do battle against them while seeking to improve in these areas. Own your insignificance more frequently. When you address others, include yourself; do not say you, but we. In doing so you will perceive that while using your talent, you will become more careful and be more watchful against your own sins.
(5) If you are truthful, you will say, ‘I am ashamed to speak of spiritual matters, even to my children, and to those who are placed under me—yes, even to the poor to whom I wish to give temporal support.’ How dreadful this is! Ought you to be ashamed of Christ and His words? Ought the Lord Jesus detect shame of Him in you? Where is your love? This is being irresponsible. If you are overcome by a feeling of shame, press on that much more forcefully, and do not yield to such feelings—feelings which Christ will detect. As you engage in your task, you shall overcome this sense of shame.
(6) Laziness is another obstacle. If one examines the inner recesses of the heart, one will say, ‘This task is too heavy for me; I look up against it. It is as if I become ill when I decide to proceed with that objective in mind. I postpone it from one time to another, and thus nothing comes of it.’ Be ashamed, you who are lazy in reference to this great, glorious, and beneficial task. Consider what befell the lazy servant. Therefore be diligent and fervent in spirit.
(7) ‘I perceive that I seek myself in this work; that I am motivated by my own honor, and a desire to be praised by those who hear me. The fear of not doing well makes me fearful to begin. Therefore I think it best to refrain from saying anything.’ I respond that it is first of all a desirable fruit to have self-knowledge which gives you much strife and causes you to pray and to struggle while proceeding in this work as well as can be expected. In so doing the purity of your motivation will increase. To refrain from engaging yourself in this task for this reason, however, is but to continue in your impure pursuit of seeking yourself.
Having overcome all obstacles, and having been inclined and made willing to begin this work of evangelism upon due consideration of its obligation, glory, sweetness, and advantage, it is necessary to engage in this task properly. For this purpose one ought to read much in the gospels with the objective of making Christ your example, observing in what manner the Lord Jesus engaged in this task.
(1) It is essential to begin with those individuals by whom you are not intimidated, who are under your command (such as children and servants), or those who depend on your financial support. Such persons will have a hearing ear, or they will at least pretend to be desirous and attentive.
(2) One must conduct himself according to the circumstances. Sometimes it will be wise to speak of civil matters. Thereby we will manifest ourselves as being discreet, and it will prevent antipathy for us or prejudice against us from arising. Upon having inclined their hearts somewhat towards us, however, one should not cease at this point. At that moment or at a future occasion, create an opportunity with your words, be they few or many, and impress upon them the necessity of repentance and faith in Christ. Sometimes you will have set some time aside to speak with this one or that one about nothing else but spiritual matters. This could be when catechizing by way of questions and answers those who are subject to us, or when one seeks to engage in spiritual conversation. If our heart is but determined to be thus engaged, numerous opportunities will present themselves, and subject matter for discussion will be at hand.
(3) Above all, one ought to be watchful against pride and an air of superiority; otherwise there will be no edification. It must all be done in an amiable, loving and humble manner. Our conduct must be such, however, that we are serious about our intentions, have great reverence for God, and greatly esteem spiritual truths. It will soon be noticed whether we merely speak of spiritual matters, and thus it will have no effect.
(4) One must therefore often be engaged in private prayer; there must be prayer before one begins and while one is engaged. There must be prayer for enabling grace, as well as for fruits in others. Having performed the task with humbleness concerning the shortcoming in our own performance, we ought to again lift up our hearts to God with thanksgiving for having received proper motivation and for the fact that we were able to say something. Oh, that the Lord would touch, move, and qualify many to do the work of a prophet! Indeed, the congregation would be blessed and many souls would be converted.
You can order a’Brakel’s four volume systematic theology here.