Sometimes Christians get the message right but the method wrong. This happened to me a lifetime ago. It’s a good example of good intentions but getting, well, almost everything wrong! Makes me cringe now…
It happened many years ago.
I can’t remember exactly why I was on the train but I was on the way back to Glasgow from either Edinburgh or London. I was in the finally stages of Bible College training at a College where there was a strong emphasis on making every moment count, not wasting a second. So if you had a spare moment you could pray or read or something like that. There was also a strong emphasis on practical evangelism and I was all fired up, ready to take on the world and I would probably have handed a tract (leaflet explaining the Christian faith) to the devil himself if I’d met him! Looking out the window admiring the scenery wasn’t really considered making good use of your time.
So I sat there on the train and, not wanting to waste a second, pulled my trusty little New Testament from my pocket to start reading (I imagine nowadays I’d happily stick my iPod earphones in my ears and tuck into a bag of Doritos). It had further been drummed into us that every situation was an opportunity to spread the message of Jesus. Every person we met, came into contact with, was a soul who needed to know about Jesus and if you were in remotely close proximity to anyone you could loosely call ‘human’ then it was your duty to tell them about Jesus. This was possibly where I learned the damaging evangelistic technique of telling people about Jesus whether they wanted to hear it or not. That particular lesson took some time to unlearn.
So, no-one should come into contact with you without hearing about Jesus, that was tantamount to a dereliction of duty. I had even been to a weekend course on evangelism somewhere in England where the speaker had challenged us to speak to at least one person about Jesus every single day, had even gone as far as to say we should see one person converted to Jesus every day. Of course later, when I started to think these things through for myself, I discovered that this, while it’s a nice idea (to see people believe in Jesus daily), it was actually a defective and even dangerous evangelistic method. The Bible certainly doesn’t define a daily quota of ‘souls’ for the Christian to ‘harvest’, and this method was more likely to turn people away from God, and certainly from Christians. It was also dangerous for the Christian doing the evangelising because it could create a state of anxiety, panic and guilt if the day was drawing to a close and you hadn’t told anyone about, let alone seen anyone converted to, Jesus.
But back then I was fairly easily influenced, ready to take on the world for God and the only way I really knew how to do that was to use the methods I’d been taught. I effectively believed everything I heard as virtually being instruction from God Himself. It never really dawned on me that these human teachers were merely human vessels and although their intentions were mostly good, their methods might just be a bit too forceful and might just make a young and impressionable Christian try a bit too hard at overly aggressive evangelism.
But back then I wasn’t really thinking for myself, I was simply accepting what I was taught. Only years later did I realise that this style of evangelism could also be utterly exhausting and arguably had more to do with ‘mind programming’ than the natural desire to share the good news of Jesus in wise and non-confrontational ways. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the world needs to know about Jesus but I also know that ‘pushing’ the Christian message into every situation you find yourself in isn’t the best way to ‘go about it’.
Anyway, back to the train. A young lady, about my own age at that time, early 20′s I think, sat on the seat opposite me and from the moment she sat down my ‘programming’ kicked in and I was trying to come up with a way to start a conversation with her about Jesus. I can’t remember how but I somehow managed to coax her into a conversion.
We chatted and I think it turned out she was a nurse and I told her I was at Bible College and when she didn’t automatically clam up and expressed some interest, I started to tell her about God and how He had a plan for her life (I could by now tell the difference between people who expressed a genuine interest and those who were listening politely but really just wanted to shut you up. Being somewhat misguided, I didn’t always care if they just wanted me to shut up).
At length I sussed she was tiring of my chatter and keen to return to her magazine. I drew the conversation to a close by quoting the verse in Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you…to give you hope and a future.” I thought that sounded suitably inspiring and hopeful, who wouldn’t respond to that? Now Jeremiah is a book in the Old Testament and I only had my New Testament with me so I couldn’t look it up but I was pretty confident I could remember the precise chapter and verse. I had, after all, just attended a Bible College where you had to memorise a verse from the Bible every day (if your name was called at breakfast time you had to stand and recite that day’s verse and if you forgot it or your memory blew a fuse then you had to recite it before all the students at meal time that evening). The Jeremiah quote was one of those ‘memory verses’ so I was confident I had the right reference.
Although I was ultra zealous I was also disorganised and didn’t have paper or a pen to write it down for her. Fortunately she had a pen and I gave her the verse reference from memory and she dutifully promised to look it up when she got home and she wrote it down. As she went back to her magazine I silently thanked God for the chance to tell this woman about Jesus and prayed that she would give her life to Him. Having done my bit of evangelism for the day I rested a bit easier, the pressure off for that day, and relaxed.
When I got back home, just to be sure, I looked up the chapter and verse in Jeremiah I had given her, chapter 29 and verse 17. Unfortunately for me, the verse I had given her said “…this is what the LORD Almighty says: “I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like poor figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten.” I cringed and my heart sank! My evangelistic efforts disintegrated into ashes! The correct reference was chapter 29 and verse 11. At least I had the right chapter but it wasn’t much consolation!
Realising there was nothing I could do to correct this terrible situation I prayed a quick prayer to God that He would either put it into the woman’s head that I had been a nutter and not worth listening to (she may not have needed much convincing), or that He would direct her to the right passage…or both.
I still cringe today thinking about it.
My sincere apologies for my youthful incompetence.
I am older and wiser today.
Thanks for reading 🙂