(Im)Possible: One-on-One with Lon Allison about His New Book on Evangelism
Ed: Lon, why did you write (Im)Possible?
Lon: I wanted all God’s people to know that they can share their faith as a way of life and enjoy it! It doesn’t have to be a ‘must do,’ but can become a ‘want to.’ The truth is, we were made for this. It’s in our spiritual DNA. I just want to help people release what’s in them because the Spirit who lives in them is a witness for Christ.
Ed: What stops people from a witness life?
Lon: There are several things that stop people, but the biggest one is a four-letter word—FEAR. I understand that. I’ve been doing evangelism for 46 years. My training is in this field; I teach it at both a Masters and Doctoral level, and I’m still afraid. Why? The bottom line is Satan.
When I realized that fear of witnessing was as much a temptation as any other temptation, a light went off for me. All the concerns like fear of rejection, persecution, embarrassment, etc. are inflamed by the tempter making them bigger than they should be.
But what do I do about it? Expect fear, ask God for courage, and witness anyway. Whenever I do, both His love for the lost and my joy and sense of purpose when I share far exceed any fear that assailed me in the beginning. My wife, Marie, likens witness to riding a roller coaster. The initial fear as the cars are drawn up the high track is soon replaced by exhilaration. She calls it “scary-fun.”
Ed: You define evangelism or witness in an intriguing way. What is it?
Lon: To witness is to cooperate with God and others to bring a person at least one step closer to God.
Ed: Unpack that for me.
Lon: First of all, God is the evangelist. His prevenient grace is at work in a person’s life before we ever pray a word for him or her or talk to him or her about Jesus. God makes Himself evident to all according to Romans 1. When we show up to witness, God is already there.
Second, we cooperate with others. To coin a phrase, it takes a village to save a soul. I’ve found that most Christians trace their own journey to Jesus Christ through at least seven people. We each have different roles to play in different people’s lives. Some sow, some water, some harvest. It’s incredibly freeing to know you are not alone in witnessing to a person. Others were there before. Others will follow. God is present and working in the whole journey.
Ed: You talk about Prayer and Care as also part of the witness life. What do you mean?
Lon: Since the god of this world blinds the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4), why do we think we can bring them to faith by our cleverness? It is a spiritual war for every soul. Praying for people to be saved participates with the word spoken to draw people to Christ. And the more we pray for lost people, the more we are drawn to them. So prayer draws people to Christ and draws us who pray, toward them.
Caring is simply the word I use for “displaying our faith.” Our life is a testimony. Paul says in Titus 2 that our lives and works “adorn” the teaching about God (Titus 2:1-10). Caring is never a substitute for words, however. Caring adorns the words. But the words must come.
Ed: You describe the Share part of witness as the verbal part of witness. You suggest there are three types of sharing. What are they?
Lon: First, we need to practice listening and asking questions. The more we listen, the more we learn about the heart longings of the people we are sharing with. Those heart longings are the initial pathway to God and His gospel. So, Share 1 is listening and dialogue.
The second kind of sharing is telling our yet-to-believe friend of how God brought us to Jesus AND how we see Him working in the course of our days. Both aspects are important. Our life is our best apologetic. So, how God saved us and how He is daily saving us opens up curiosity and longing in our listener.
Finally, we can all have the joy of inviting our friends, relatives, neighbors, or strangers to come to Jesus Christ by faith. I call this Share 3. When someone is being drawn to Christ, you won’t be able to stop him or her. This is God at work. A simple question like, “Would you like to personally know God?” opens the door for the new birth. The book gives a few different ways to do this.
Ed: Doesn’t Prayer-Care-Share make it all too complex?
Lon: No, Prayer and Care and Share make it easier. Most Christians only think of evangelism or witness as verbally convincing someone to commit to Christ. While it is that, it is more. Understanding our calling to prayer and care and share encourages believers to see they are witnessing through all those means.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.