During our first years of ministry, my wife, Sharon, and I were invited to associate on a short-term assignment with a veteran evangelist who would teach us the finer points of obtaining spiritual decisions. We eagerly planned for the six weeks during which we expected to learn new skills and insights into the art of working with people.
Within a few days of joining his team, we quickly came to the realization that we might learn more by observing what not to do than by seeking a pattern to emulate. For example, in his public preaching, he would divide his attendees over inconsequential issues such as telling females who were wearing pantsuits that they were bound for perdition and not to return to his meetings if they could not dress appropriately. As you can imagine, the next night about half as many guests attended as the evening before.
Then there was his technique of intimidating decisions from the students at the parochial school where we had been invited to conduct a Week of Prayer. Although I had been given the assignment to present the messages, my supervisor—quite certain I was failing to sufficiently warn the youngsters of the dangers of rejecting his plan to baptize them in the next two weeks—took the platform one morning to announce in the sternest tones imaginable that he had one simple question to ask the kids: “Do you want to go to hell or don’t you?”
The students were stunned at an interrogation so incongruent with the messages they had been hearing. Their parents were angry. The teachers asked us not to return. The evangelist decried the Laodicean attitude of all involved. Sharon and I began one-on-one visits with the families in their homes and accomplished more in gaining favorable choices through friendly visitation than could have ever been extracted by hellfire admonition.
I learned that heaven cannot be proclaimed as merely a “fire escape” and that the best motivation for following Jesus springs from a loving, concerned relationship far more than it does from fear or intimidation.
Today, I believe we still have the opportunity to best represent Jesus’ character by a joyful countenance and friendly demeanor rather than stern, joyless approaches. I have learned not to argue theology or debate finely divided issues. While I could typically win the argument, I could easily lose a friend in the process.
Jesus’ methodology is far different. Instead, He asks us to invite people to share the benefits of knowing our Savior by demonstrating His love and interest in their welfare. “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’ ”1
Evangelism is a process, and that process begins with making people glad they know me as Christ’s ambassador. If they don’t like me, they will probably not warm to the idea of knowing my God. Several passages of inspired counsel will help us comprehend the necessity of doing Jesus’ work in Jesus’ way.
“A cultivated intellect is a great treasure; but without the softening influence of sympathy and sanctified love it is not of the highest value. We should have words and deeds of tender consideration for others. We can manifest a thousand little attentions in friendly words and pleasant looks, which will be reflected upon us again. Thoughtless Christians manifest by their neglect of others that they are not in union with Christ. It is impossible to be in union with Christ and yet be unkind to others and forgetful of their rights. Many long intensely for friendly sympathy.”2
“He who is successful in His work for God must be courteous. Courtesy gains access to hearts. The worker for Christ must be to principle as firm as a rock, but at the same time he is to reveal the Saviour’s gentleness. He is to be kind as well as true. He is to observe the weightier matters of the law, and he is also to observe the little proprieties of life. Christ desires our lives to be fragrant and refreshing, a blessing to others. The Christian is to be true and honest, and yet kind and forbearing, pitiful and courteous.”3
“We are taught in the Word of God to be kind, tender, pitiful, courteous. Cultivate Christlike love. Let all that you do bear the impress of this love. Those who do not speak the words and do the works of Christ are trying to climb into heaven by some other way than through the door.”4
“The religion of Jesus softens whatever is hard and rough in the temper, and smoothes whatever is rugged and sharp in the manners. It makes the words gentle and the demeanor winning. Let us learn from Christ how to combine a high sense of purity and integrity with sunniness of disposition. A kind, courteous Christian is the most powerful argument that can be produced in favor of Christianity.”5
1 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA:
Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), 143.
2 White, Mind, Character, and Personality, vol.1 (Nashville,
TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1977), 85.
3 White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 18 (Silver Spring, MD:
Ellen G. White Estate, 1990), 146.
4 White, This Day With God (Washington, DC: Review and
Herald Pub. Assn., 1979), 266.
5 White, Gospel Workers (Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald
Pub. Co., 1901), 122.