Overcoming Barriers to Spirit-Assisted Evangelism - Part 1
Course: A Short Course on Evangelism
Welcome to session seven. This and the next two sessions we’ll be talking about overcoming barriers to Spirit assisted evangelism. I hope you find them helpful.
Last session we talked about a short theology of evangelism focusing on Romans 8, verses 1-4, especially verses 1 and 2. “Therefore there is no condemnation (condemnation being unresolved guilt) for those who are in Christ Jesus; for in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death.” And as we repent of our sin and put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, which creates a low pressure; when – translated by the Greek word “pneuma,” Spirit, “ruah,” Spirit, it is no accidental metaphor - wind moves from high pressure to low pressure. Spirit moves from high pressure to low pressure. What creates low pressure? Repentance and faith. That is a short theology of evangelism.
Now, most of us need to overcome barriers to Spirit-assisted evangelism. There are three primary reasons. There are lots of reasons, but three primary reasons. This session we’ll talk about lack of motivation. We lack motivation. The next session we’ll talk about fearing rejection. Then the next session, we assume inadequacy.
Lacking motivation. I mentioned just in passing in one of the earlier sessions, most of us have lost our sensitivity to fire and smoke. We don’t realize how critical it is to access the power of the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to die and go to hell, folks, I’ve been there. I just described a little bit of that at the end of the last session. Most of the world doesn’t understand what’s at stake.
Let me tell you a short story. I have a neighbor here in the neighborhood. He is a medical doctor. You would like this guy. He has no Christian memory. He had not been to church for 30 years for weddings and funerals, period. He hadn’t been to church. He and his wife had us over to dinner 15 years ago to get acquainted when they moved into the area. He said, “Bob, what do you do?” I said, “I’m a teacher.” That’s what I always say. If you want to know more, you have to ask the next question. He said, “What do you teach?” I said, “history and theology.” He pressed me. He wanted to know. “Tell me more.” My wife will tell you, I have a big tape recorder that sits on my left shoulder, right there, a big one, with a huge play button. And if you’re not careful, you’ll hit that play button. And he hit that play button and this tape starts to roll. My wife’s eyes start to roll. It’s a good tape, it has worked for 30 years. Two minutes into this tape, I’m looking across the table at my friend, Tom, the medical doctor. He gives five days a week to the Asheville Clinic, by the way. He is a good man. Just because he has no Christian memory doesn’t mean he is not a good man. I looked at Tom, realized not a whole lot was happening and I said, “Tom, are we communicating?” He said, “Bob, I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.” Would you like to know what I shared with him? Just what I shared with you in the last session, talking about – get this – the power of the Holy Spirit, available through personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Now, as a medical doctor, he understood a little bit about power. Personal meant “none of your business.” Faith meant trying to believe in something you couldn’t quite believe in. Holy Spirit was cosmic fluff. And Jesus Christ was a curse word. Right then I realized, “Tuttle, you need to re-tool.” So in the last 15 years I’ve become an anthropologist and a better theologian as a result of it. Just because you have the truth, folks, there is no guarantee the world will listen. Trust me on that. Just because you have the truth, there is no guarantee the world will listen. We have to speak words that people understand and do it in such a way that they can receive them. So, we lack motivation because we don’t realize. Do you realize, 60 percent of Americans, wherever you’re from, 60 percent of Americans cannot name the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Let me tell you something. I was a senior in college, a 28-year-old kid, and could not name the four Gospels and my father is a saint, a Methodist minister. My grandfather is a Methodist Minister, all with my name. I have their name. There has been an R. G. Tuttle in the Methodist, now United Methodist, ministry in most of North Carolina for 130 years. I was a senior in college, Duke University, had not had a serious spiritual thought. I was not an atheist, it never occurred to me not to believe in God. I went to church, kind of just to meet girls.
I woke up one day and realized I had never been used of God to effect any kind of positive change in anyone else’s life. Finally, I met a woman at the Grand Canyon the previous August. This was my senior year at Duke. She was a senior at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. So I decided I’d go see her over the Thanksgiving break. I hitch-hiked. I guess the reason she had me room with a guy named Bob Stamps. Some of you may know Bob Stamps, one of my oldest and best friends. I didn’t know anything about Christianity. I had a woman come up to me at a party and say, “How long have you been a Christian?” I looked at the woman and said, “With all due respect, that may be the stupidest question I ever heard. I’m an American, for crying out loud. My father is a minister. I was born a Christian.” Rather than pick at that, she just said, “Oh, that’s interesting” and walked away from me. Had she picked at that, she would have gotten all of my resistance, which has new meaning. Sometimes you put the pressure on by taking the pressure off.
No one suspected that I was not a Christian. I went back to Durham, North Carolina, asking myself, “Do I have to do something in order to become a Christian?” I asked Bob Stamps. He was very kind and loving and he said, “Bob, I’m gong to pray that God gives you the desire to want to become a Christian.” I didn’t know what that was. He was praying for me. I’m asking God, “Do I have to do something?” I called my dad, who was the pastor of the lead church in the conference, and said, “Dad, do I have to do something in order to become a Christian?” He didn’t know. He hadn’t gotten over his seminary education. God bless him. He was a man of God, though, let me tell you. He just sent me a King James Bible. I read the darn thing and halfway through the New Testament, I realized, whoa, there’s stuff I have to do in order to become a Christian.
To make a long story short, on the fifth floor of a fraternity house at Duke University I prayed this prayer and you will not be impressed. But I prayed this prayer: “God, if there is a God” - and I wasn’t real sure – “Christ if there is a Christ” – and I was even less sure of that – “I give my whole life to you. God, even if you do not exist, from this moment on I’m going to live my life as if you did.” I went to bed and woke up in Technicolor again. My life has never been the same.
I didn’t realize that my life was meaningless and then realized I just lacked the Word of God. I didn’t know that God could use my life as an instrument of grace for effecting positive change in the hearts and lives of others. Then I found out God could use my life as a means of grace for effecting eternal change in the hearts and lives of others. Right off the bat, I got a bit of a Messianic complex.
I took a little church at 28 years old on the south side of Chicago, just newly converted. My fiancée said she would marry me if I went to Wheaton for a year, just to get into the Bible. You had to have 20 hours of Bible to get in and I did not have one. At Duke you could take a religion course or a philosophy course. I took the philosophy course because I already knew all about religion. So, I didn’t have one hour. A man named Merrill Tenney who was the dean at Wheaton graduate school of theology, a wonderful man of God, Nyack and Houghton Boston MA, Harvard Ph.D, a smart man, took a sack lunch with me five days a week for nine months. He changed my life. He let me in as a special student. God bless him.
The biggest revelation to me was my own stupidity. I really didn’t understand what was at stake. He gave me the sensitivity to fire and smoke. I realized that most of my friends didn’t have to die to go to hell, they were already there and didn’t realize that Jesus Christ could speak to an eternal need in their hearts and deliver them, so they could measure up to whatever law and overcome the stuff that would attempt to swallow them.
I said at the very first session, I’m not into Christianity for the pain. You have something doing it better than Jesus, let me in on your secret, you may have a convert. But I’m into Jesus Christ. It’s the only way I know to access the power of the Holy Spirit, so that I can overcome the stuff that would attempt to swallow me.
Let me finish this session with just a brief word about the church as community. When I go for my weekends, I usually conclude with this thought. I may speak a little more about it later on in the one of the later sessions. Margaret Meade says, “We know civilization was in place at least from the date of the earliest discovered human fossil with a healed broken femur.” If you can see that. The point being, the only way for a femur to heal, someone else has to treat you. Richard Leakey, that world renowned anthropologist, wrote a book about 35 years ago, I think, maybe give or take, entitled People of the Lake. It was reporting on the research digging around the old dry lake bed, southern part of Ethiopia. This is just a theory, so don’t get your noses out of shape. But the theory was, between 1.2 and 1.5 million years ago, four strains of humankind were evolving simultaneously. Of course, we thought for strains to survive in modern humankind were the macho strains, the ones that ran around smiting themselves on the breasts. But you know what he discovered? They were the first to become extinct. Would you like to know why? They were loners and they got picked off. The only strain that dared to become evolved into modern humankind was Homo sapiens. Would you like to know why? I’ll bet you guessed. Homo sapiens was the only strain that dared to become community. Did I say that right? First, there were loners and they got picked off, the macho strain, the survival of the fittest. The only strain that survived, evolving into modern humankind, was the strain that dared to become community. They watched each other’s backs. That is how critical this is. You get singled out, you get picked off. We lack motivation because we don’t understand the concept. We don’t know how critical it is to be attached. We don’t realize how critical it is for someone to watch our backs, to pray for us by name. That is what church is all about. That’s what Christianity is all about.
Lord Jesus, we’re grateful for your goodness, for your grace and for the fact that you have not only given us to you, you have given us to each other. You watch our backs, but then you call us to watch each other’s backs, to pray for each other by name. Great God, we lack motivation because we so easily forget what is at stake. We’re like the nation Israel during the time of the judges. God, we ask you to quicken our minds and spirits, to help us see that our neighbors are in bondage and already in hell. Many of our dear, sweet, kind, wonderful neighbors are wallowing because they don’t understand how important it is to access the power of the Holy Spirit, to enable them to be who you have called them to be. Amen.