Learning How to Share Life's Most Important Message
February 1, 2012 - Could something as old as the “Steps to Peace With God” tract, written in the 1960s, still help a Christian lead someone to Christ? Dai Franks didn’t think so.
By Kristen Driscoll
Franks was attending the Christian Life and Witness Course in Thurrock, England, in preparation to serve as a counselor at Rock Thurrock with Will Graham this past September. Gary Cobb, director of Counseling and Follow-up for BGEA, had just begun to explain how to use the tract.
Franks, a retired science teacher, was familiar with this and similar evangelistic tracts, and he had doubts about their effectiveness.
Cobb seemed to anticipate such thoughts and said, “You may think this is a bit simplistic or perhaps not for this day and generation.” Franks agreed, of course, but ?then Cobb issued a challenge.
“Do you know why it’s not as effective as it once was? Because we’ve stopped using it. I’m going to give you some homework. I want you to share this tract with at least one person this coming week and just ask them what they think of it.”
The next day, Franks met with a man who had asked for his help with a project the previous evening. After doing the favor, Franks said, “Look, I’ve helped you. Any chance of you helping me out? I couldn’t meet with you last night because I was taking a course.
You’re not going to believe this, but they gave us some homework. They gave me this little booklet and asked me to share it with someone and ask their opinion of it. Do you mind if I share it with you?’
The man replied, “No, that’s fine. I’ve got time.”
Franks began reading through the tract. When they reached the page that shows a chasm—the great divide between holy God and sinful humans, bridged by the cross of Christ—the man said, ‘I knew that was going to be the answer. I knew it would be the cross of Jesus.’
“I just kept on with the material and had the terrific privilege of hearing him pray the prayer of committing his life to Christ,” Franks said. “It was all I could do to contain myself.”
The man now faithfully attends Franks’ church and is helping with the congregation’s community work.
Franks’ eyes twinkled as he sheepishly admitted, “Of course, I had to go back to Gary and say, ‘This stuff works. Thanks for reminding me. And I’ll have no hesitation in actually using this material again when the Holy Spirit prompts.’”
Cobb has been teaching the CLWC in Crusade cities for 20 years, and he hears stories like this all the time.
The church has lost sight of the Great Commission, Cobb explained. “Jesus said that we are to go, and as we’re going, to make disciples. That involves walking with Him and sharing Him with others. We need to be focused so that we might reach all nations.”
Pastors often notice that when their churches get involved in CLWC, they become focused more on evangelism. Christians receive practical tools for sharing Christ and discipling others, and although six or seven hours of classes might seem like a big commitment, Cobb said it is training Christians need.
“We train to drive a car, for our careers and all sorts of things, but so many times we don’t train to share life’s most important message—the Gospel. That’s why we have the Course. We want to teach people how to walk with God, keep their relationship with Christ up-to-date and vital, and also how to share the Gospel with others.”
Cobb says that evangelism training often starts in the wrong place, only teaching people how to share their faith. While that is certainly important, Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1:8 to wait until they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and then they would be witnesses. The CLWC starts with a spiritual tune-up that readies believers for the next step by explaining how to walk with God.
“After that they’re ready to learn about sharing their faith,” Cobb said, “and they’re excited about doing it. I think that’s a real key thing about the Course. We don’t just blow in and out of town. We invest in the church. Even if a church isn’t having an evangelistic event, the CLWC provides a strong foundation for future evangelism and discipleship.” Cobb called the Course the lasting legacy of Billy Graham Crusades, Franklin Graham Festivals and Will Graham Celebrations. “When we survey pastors,” he said, “the training is always at the top of the list of benefits.”
Steven Kirkham, an eye surgeon in Marion, Ohio, not only agrees with that assessment—he has put his CLWC experience into practice in his life, business and church.
Kirkham reluctantly agreed to attend the Course in 2001 because his wife asked him to attend with her before a BGEA Crusade in their area. It was Kirkham’s first experience with an organized outreach event. And, although he had attended church throughout his life, he had only recently begun a relationship with Christ. He was working on making Bible reading a daily habit, but he felt he was too busy to do much more. The CLWC changed that.
“Knowing how to share your faith was a new thing for me,” Kirkham said. “It didn’t just help new Christians with sharing their faith, but it also gave people who were familiar with sharing their faith yet another perspective on it. And when you got comfortable doing that, you started to pray and consider where else you would put that into practice.”
Bob Kendig, coordinator of counseling and follow-up for BGEA in Asia, taught the Course, and he began to mentor Kirkham in evangelism. The two grew close, and Kirkham says he left the Course convinced that witnessing and evangelism were an important part of every Christian’s call to follow Christ. His pastor, Michael Reynolds, also encouraged him in evangelism. Kirkham started with small efforts like keeping evangelistic tracts in his car. He gave them to employees who served him at fast food restaurants, asking them to read it on their breaks and adding, “Have a nice day.”
His business partner at Marion Eye Center was a Christian and had been offering evangelistic materials in the office for years. But now the two men talked about how they could do this more effectively. They put Christian materials in the waiting rooms where people might be inclined to pick them up—everything from evangelistic tracts to grief literature—and then they put free Bibles by the front door. Now, patients take home anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 pieces of literature a year. And many return with stories of how God has used the materials to help them find Christ or help them reach out to family members with the Gospel.
The partners didn’t stop there. When the movie The Passion of the Christ was in theaters, the eye center sponsored two evenings of the film at a local cinema and invited friends and patients to attend.
Before the movie began, the doctors welcomed viewers and invited them to accept Christ. After the film, volunteer counselors from Kirkham’s church, Marion Bible Fellowship, and from the eye center were available to pray with anyone who wanted to receive Christ. Twenty-one people made commitments to Christ, including three eye center employees. In the following weeks, the doctors hosted a discipleship group for the inquirers, using “Thirty Discipleship Exercises,” a BGEA follow-up book.
“That was our own crusade,” said Kirkham. The response encouraged him to do more. With his church’s help, he has since organized local churches to hand out thousands of pieces of evangelistic literature at local events like the Marion Popcorn Festival. Kirkham says any person or church could do what they have with a little creativity and boldness.
“Most of my time is spent either in activities with Marion Bible Fellowship, or at Marion Eye Center, where I work. Whether it be with the youth or adults at church or with patients at the eye center, the CLWC gave me encouragement as well as a structured way to counsel people, not only for sharing the Gospel, but also to counsel them in growing and applying the commandments of God to their lives. That was helpful to me. I was encouraged to talk to anybody at any point in their faith.”
Ty Choate, pastor of First Baptist Church in Red Bank, N.J., saw his congregation grow in the same way when they took the classes last year.
“The CLWC was an awesome thing for our community and for my own church,” Choate said. “We had a number of people go through it, and they are now more comfortable with sharing their faith and growing in their faith as well.”
Cheryl Allocco is one of those people. She has been a Christian for years and has often tried to start conversations about Christ with people. But the class was a wake-up call, she said.
“We get a little bit stagnant with devotional time or prayer time and with paying attention to what God says we’re supposed to be doing.”
One illustration from the CLWC really got her attention. The instructor said he had visited an exhibit about the Titanic. As he entered the museum, he was given a ticket that represented an actual passenger on the ship. At the end of the tour, he saw two signs. One said, “Lost.” The other read, “Saved.” The name of each passenger was listed underneath one sign or the other. The instructor explained that this reminded him of the Christian’s responsibility. We are comfortable in our Christian boats, but will we go out to rescue the lost, those who are drowning without Christ?
Allocco felt that she was making good efforts to reach people through her church activities in the Red Bank area, but was she doing anything in her own neighborhood, 25 minutes away? No one else was outside on Sunday mornings when she and her husband left for church, which made her wonder if any of her neighbors knew Christ.
“I have had very little contact with anybody around here,” Allocco admitted. “Over the last couple years I have felt so burdened about it. I thought, I need to do something here. … How come I’m not being effective in my own neighborhood? God put me here for a reason, and I’ve really been searching and asking God about how I can reach out to people.”
Like Kirkham in Ohio, Allocco started out small. She took invitations to the Will Graham Celebration with her to the gas station around the corner. She gave them to neighbors. She stopped by her dentist’s office to tell them about the Celebration.
“It wasn’t hard,” Allocco said, “but I think a lot of people get held up on how to approach people and talk to them.” The CLWC says to meet people where they are, and Allocco found that helpful in her conversations. She would start a little bit of discussion about something and then the conversation would often turn toward spiritual topics.
“You’ve got to talk to people, and you can’t be afraid,” she said. “Quite a number of people in my church were happy to take the Course. They felt that it was such a relief. They were so stressed out and afraid about talking to people about Christ for the first time, feeling that people would judge or ignore them. But the way the material was presented helped them build the confidence they needed to talk to people.”
Now, Allocco’s church is launching small groups to teach the basics of studying the Bible. Allocco is planning to start a group for her neighbors and will soon be putting invitations into their mailboxes. She says if she doesn’t try, she’ll never know who might respond to the Gospel.
“The CLWC is a good spiritual thermometer to see where you are,” Allocco said. “If you’ve been a Christian a long time and there’s no growth, well … something’s wrong. You can get so busy with life that you don’t pay attention to what you’re supposed to be doing for Christ.” ©2012 BGEA
5 SIMPLE STEPS FOR SHARING YOUR FAITH
By Gary Cobb
1. Understand that your own life is a great part of your witness. If my relationship with Christ isn’t vital, then I really don’t have a lot to share. People not only listen to your words, they look at your life. We still fail and aren’t always a good example, so our only hope is to come to God and surrender to Him. It’s nothing that we can do. It’s God’s work.
2. Realize that we earn the right to be heard by sincerely listening to others. Everyone has a story. You can’t just blunder into a situation and callously share without listening. The Bible says that Jesus was a friend of sinners. That’s our example—to be a friend, to listen to people, see where they are, and then take them where they need to go.?
3. Recognize that people are looking for a cure. When you go to the doctor, you don’t say, “I have cancer.” Instead, you describe your symptoms. That’s where most people live. They only see symptoms. “I’m lonely. I’m suffering from a broken relationship. I’m stressed. There’s darkness within me that I don’t know what to do with.” How do we share Christ with someone who is overwhelmed with their symptoms? We know the ultimate cure. It’s Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t die for their symptoms. He died for their sins. Yet, people don’t wake up in the morning and think, You know, I need to accept Jesus. They wake up with the symptoms, and so as people who are attempting to rescue those who are lost, we need to start with their symptoms, show them the disease (sin), and take them to the ultimate cure (Jesus).?
4. Keep it simple. The Gospel is already simple. Christ died for our sins. He was buried. He rose again. We need to turn away from the things that are wrong in our life, and accept what Jesus did on the cross for us and receive Him as Lord. Don’t complicate it. So many times we throw in things like our denomination or other doctrines or we use religious terms that a lot of people don’t understand. We end up confusing them and creating barriers. Explain the Gospel in a way that people can understand. ?
5. Stress the love of God. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (NIV). It starts with love, and that’s where we need to start. Ultimately, we have to explain that we’re all sinners and have violated God’s standards, and, because of that, there is a judgment. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, NIV). But don’t start with that. People know they’ve done a lot of wrong things, but they first need to hear that God is still open to forgiving them.
EVANGELISM TOOLS AT A CLICK
Now BGEA’s online evangelism tools are available at billygraham.org/resources. ?You’ll find free iPhone and Android downloads of the BGEA app and the “Steps to Peace With God” app, as well as a digital “Steps to Peace With God” booklet, videos and other trusted tools to help you share your faith in Christ.
EVANGELISM TRAINING IN YOUR HOME OR CHURCH
Millions of Christians around the world have taken the four-week Christian Life and Witness Course training for volunteer counselors at BGEA’s Crusades. The Course is now available to individuals and churches through the Christian Life and Witness Course DVD set, sold online at Ruth’s Attic online bookstore. The set includes Course DVDs, a Course book and eight other evangelism tools, including “Steps To Peace with God” and “Thirty Discipleship Exercises.”
Visit billygrahambookstore.org to order.