A friend and I have been going through Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J I Packer. This study has taken me to the place where I am thinking in terms of a “planned evangelistic encounter” as the way to regularly be engaged in witnessing for Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8) and to be an active “fisher of men” (Matt. 4:19). The following are notes as they appear on my working page.
The gospel has complexity (astute quote from Packer in chapter 3). This means that the evangelist must plan in advance what portion of the full gospel he is going to present in the evangelistic encounter.
THE PLANNED EVANGELISTIC ENCOUNTER
In the “entire gospel,” there are many complex ideas to communicate to the other person (God, sin, fallen man, judgment, Jesus Christ, death on a cross, resurrection, repentance, forgiveness of sins, heaven and hell, eternity, guilt, born again, the church, etc.). Because it is impossible to communicate this information in a short time or in a single sitting, I am proposing that the one who is “sowing seeds” (Matt. 13:3ff) and who is “fishing for men” (Matt. 4:19) on a regular, intentional basis (shouldn’t this be every disciple of Jesus?) should develop a “planned encounter” containing a “desired message.” That is, I am proposing that the evangelist plans the evangelistic encounter from initial contact through disengagement so that:
- The evangelist’s DESIRED MESSAGE is clearly communicated.
- The hearer has been given a clear opportunity to respond to the message.
- The hearer’s response can be evaluated.
- The hearer has been given a “next step” which they can pursue if they so desire (this would most appropriately be information about our church that was consistent with the evangelist’s message).
- The overall encounter can be evaluated and improved.
THE DESIRED MESSAGE
Note that the DESIRED MESSAGE must be drawn from the gospel message as communicated in the New Testament. Therefore, in this sense, the DESIRED MESSAGE is the most constrained portion of the evangelistic encounter. This message is the heart and soul of the encounter. Indeed, it is the entire reason for the encounter. The other variables and components (see below) that make up the evangelistic encounter are largely up to the personality and creativity of the evangelist and are, therefore, not tightly constrained. For these variables, there is no right or wrong. There is no eternal truth at stake. But the DESIRED MESSAGE portion of the encounter is not like that. This gospel message contains essential truth that must be understood and believed for the hearer to be delivered from the wrath to come. For this message, the evangelist is accountable to the Lord (Romans 1:16-17; 1 Cor. 1:23-24; 2:2; 15:1-2; 2 Cor. 4:7; Gal. 1:8,9; 2 Tim. 1:14).
THE COMPONENTS OF THE ENCOUNTER
Here are the components of the evangelistic encounter that should be planned.
- Venue. Where will this encounter take place? In a park? On a plane? On a street corner? At the beach? At work? In a café? Homeless shelter? Food pantry?
- Hearer. Whom do you envision as your hearer, the one who will hear your DESIRED MESSAGE? Having your hearer in view can help you anticipate roadblocks to your DESIRED MESSAGE.
- What is the means of engagement or initial contact? This is an important part of the encounter to consider. How do you plan to gain the person’s attention so they will even listen to you? How directly do you move to your message? You are in control of this part of the encounter. How do you move from stranger to person worth listening to? Thought-provoking question? “What is your opinion” on something related to the gospel or to Jesus? Short opinion survey that leads to the DESIRED MESSAGE?
- DESIRED MESSAGE. What is the good-news gospel message you are going to proclaim? The message must contain enough information to point to Jesus, to His death and resurrection and His offer of salvation and eternal life for all who turn from their sin and trust in Him. Remember, this is the main purpose of the encounter. The evangelist should aim to proclaim the DESIRED MESSAGE in every evangelistic encounter, whether that is done fluently and according to plan or done awkwardly. It is the message that has the power to save (Romans 1:16) and so it is the message that must be communicated.
- Interaction and reaction to the message. How will you continue the conversation after the message is proclaimed? How will you seek a clear response from the hearer? What follow-up questions will you ask? What reactions might you anticipate?
- Disengagement and end the conversation. At some point, either the evangelist or the hearer will seek to disengage from the conversation. The aim here is to make sure that the contact is not wasted. Prolong the conversation until you believe you have been heard and the hearer has given you an acceptable response. When it is time to disengage, do so graciously and be sure to hand out a deliverable that gives the hearer a follow-up opportunity, like information about a local church with service times and church address. It would be appropriate to include a gospel tract with the follow-up information.
BRAINSTORMING. Planning and developing ideas for these evangelistic encounters would very profitably be done in brainstorming sessions, where six to ten disciples from the church gathered on a Saturday morning for training and brainstorming workshops.
The next post related to this topic will focus on the contents and the delivery of the DESIRED MESSAGE.
Soli Deo gloria rmb 5/1/2023 #645