My friend listened to the threats and demands for a while, and finally when there was a pause, he said quietly, "I can see that you care a great deal about your son."
The man suddenly began to cry. The mask came off. He was strong but aloof, and the only way he knew to do anything for his son was by bullying. When the principal spoke about relationship, the point of deepest hurt was exposed. Now the father was ready to be helped.
My friend knew he wasn't going to ask the teacher to change the grade. So why be defensive? Instead, he listened with his heart until he got in touch with the man's underlying journey.
I remember going to a Navigators conference in Colorado Springs during my student days. As part of our training, we were all going to go out and hit the city with a great witnessing blitz; Colorado Springs would never be the same. Jim Rayburn of Young Life had been invited to talk to us, and he said, "Well, I know what you're headed out to do … you're going to go out there and say to people, 'Brother, are you saved?' and you've got to say it real fast, because you may never see that person again … " He paused a moment before continuing.
"And you won't. You won't."
Then he shared his philosophy of evangelism, which was to take the time it takes to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with people.
I'm not saying we should not be urgent. But the gospel has its own urgent edge and does its own convicting of sin. Isn't it good that the Holy Spirit takes care of that as we simply witness to the truth?
A crusty engineering professor in our city was shattered when his wife died of a sudden heart attack just as they reached retirement age. She had been a Christian, and after the funeral, he came to see me. I steered him toward the Gospel of Mark and some additional reading. After several weeks, I could see the New Testament was gradually making sense to him. My closing comment in our times together was usually, "Let me know when you're ready to become a Christian." (I rarely say, "Are you ready?" Instead, I ask people to let me know when they have enough information to put their weight down on the trustworthiness of Jesus Christ. I believe the most central evangelistic question is "Are you able, on the basis of what you've discovered about Jesus Christ, to trust your life to his faithfulness and love?" This draws together repentance from sin and response to his love.)
One Sunday after church, with a lot of people milling around, the engineer stood in the back waiting for me. He's not the kind of man who likes standing around. Finally he got my attention so he could call out, "Hey, Earl … I'm letting you know." That was it; he became a Christian at age sixty-five.
We have to make room for people to struggle, because the stakes are so big. We should not be too pleased if someone comes to Christ with little struggle—it may mean this is simply a compliant person, and the same compliance that eases them into Christianity may also ease them toward the next thing that calls for their obedience.
The next-to-the-last word
The more sensitive we are to journey evangelism, the more we will recognize pre-evangelistic preparation. So many things in our culture are pre-evangelistic. Whether Robert Frost was a Christian I don't know, but "Mending Wall" is most definitely a pre-Christian poem. It raises all the right questions. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and the movie Apocalypse Now both raise huge questions that the gospel speaks to.