April 1, 2002 - "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."
—Matthew 5:16, NIV
by Joe Aldrich
The wedding was over. About 100 guests waited for me to finish the ceremony by introducing "Mr. and Mrs. Chad Olson" (not their real names). It was a long journey that brought Chad and Val to this special day.
I had met Chad in his barber shop. We became friends. If he had no appointment following mine, we'd visit for a while. Discussion could move in many directions—from the mundane to the significant, from automobiles to zebras. Meanwhile, I prayed daily for his salvation. I tried to listen carefully for that point in his life at which the Gospel would become Good News.
During one discussion, an attractive young woman entered the barber shop. Chad introduced us and we made small talk. After she left, Chad said, "Val and I are living together. We have both gone through the hell of divorce, and we don’t want to face that nightmare again."
He continued, "If we could find something that would enable us to make a lifelong commitment, believe me, we’d get on board. Don't take me wrong. I know you've been around the church quite a bit. We tried the church—even signed up for a new-members class, but we didn’t join. I guess I'm not very religious."
"Chad," I asked, "if I could show you something that could enable you to make that commitment to each other, would you be interested?"
And I went through the simple message of God's grace. I asked him if there were any reason why he would not want to receive Christ as Savior. And the new birth took place—what a joy! We continued to meet. Some time later Chad said, "I know that I either need to end my relationship with Val or marry her. Will you marry us?" The three of us met for dinner, and I talked with Val about the Gospel. We all held hands and wept as Val joined God’s forever family.
So now, there I was, in the ball field surrounded by dozens of their loved ones. They had been asked to gather at the ball field for a special meeting. The wedding was a surprise.
"It is my privilege to introduce to you Mr. and Mrs. Chad Olson," I said, following the ceremony.
Before the guests departed, Val told the crowd: "You need to know that I have become a Christian!"
Immediately a woman cried out, "Val, oh, Val, I've been praying for 16 years that you would become a believer. Thank You, Jesus!"
So, who had led Val to the Lord Jesus? Me? Some people might say so, but I was only one of many people who had helped her to find Christ. Jesus taught His followers that evangelism is a process involving at least three phases: cultivating, sowing and reaping. Jesus said, "I’m sending you out to reap what you haven't worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you will reap the benefits."(1)
Certainly Val's friend was a cultivator and did the hard work. But if we could search Val's past, we could expect to find others who coached her toward the cross: perhaps God used a neighbor, a team member, a sorority sister, a coach, a youth leader, a tract, a book.
In almost every salvation experience someone does the hard labor. Helping a neighbor build a deck or wax a car. Delivering meals or feeding pets. Finding ways to serve. Evangelism is gift-driven—God takes our gifts and uses them for the Gospel. If you're mechanically gifted, God can use you. If you're a craftsman, God can use you. He can especially use those with the gift of hospitality.(2)
A friend of mine, Ted, has a ministry among people of other faiths. He told me that he introduces them to Christ through "serving them" into the family of God.
His strategy? Every Sunday Ted and his wife invite international students to their home for dinner.
Week after week they open their home to serve these students. The students begin to feel as if they belong before they believe. They all pitch in. Some set the table, others stir the pot of chili. Some prepare the salads, some toast the bread. After the food is prepared and served, conversation flows.
Eventually the students ask my friends why they give so freely of their time, resources and energy. At that point Ted explains the Gospel. The students have heard the music of the Gospel. They're ready to hear the words.
Our Lord taught that "he who listens to you listens to me."(3) Those who experience Christ’s love find it irresistible. Our mission is not to look down on unbelievers to save them, but to look up to them to serve them. Evangelism is not something we compartmentalize; it's a way of living.
Many people may not have the gift of the evangelist, but all are called to do the works of evangelism(4)—such as taking a meal to someone or mowing a lawn. God's communication strategy is to wrap ideas into people and deploy them into their world as light: "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and [glorify God]."(5) What do people see when they see the light?
Light shines when the naked are clothed, when the hungry are fed, when prisoners are released, when the oppressed are delivered, when senior citizens are cared for. The Apostle Paul said, "I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible."(6) No serving, no winning. The true servant yields his rights to the needs of others and looks for opportunities to serve.
The first phase of evangelism, cultivating, is an appeal to the heart through the building of a relationship. This is the hard labor of which Jesus spoke. Don't feel bad if you don’t have the gift of teaching or evangelism. Can you bake an apple pie? Or fix a garbage disposal? God may use those gifts in the cultivation phase.
The second phase of evangelism, sowing, is an appeal to the mind through the communication of revelation. Sowers put materials into the hands of pre-Christians. Books, tapes, films, videos and tracts prove to be effective. Certainly personal testimony is a vital way to communicate the work of God in your own life.
Evangelism's third phase, reaping, is an appeal to the will in the anticipation of a response. Gifted reapers have spiritual sensitivity to the readiness of a seeker. Gifted reapers avoid manipulation. They anticipate a response and expect that people will come to faith. Reapers reap because others have cultivated and sowed.
About a year ago I drove to my family's old homestead, and I stopped for a few moments to reflect on God’s goodness to us. A woman walked toward my car. I greeted her and told her I used to live in that house.
She said, "You must be an Aldrich." It turned out that she was Chad’s sister. She said, "You're the one who led Chad and Val to Jesus. I was at the wedding."
It had been 10 years since I had seen Val and Chad. I asked the woman how they were doing and learned that they were active members in a local church. She said, "They were alcoholics, you know. But from the moment they believed in God, He delivered them from alcohol."
I hadn't known that. But I do know that if we discover our gifts and bring them under the Lordship of Christ, God will magnify our impact. He can use us—even in a barber shop!