“Why is it that we can tell others how an iPad has changed our life, but we can’t explain how Jesus is changing our lives for all eternity?”
Stephen A. Hayner, president of Columbia Theological Seminary, threw up his hands in disbelief as he asked this question in the middle of his talk Thursday at the Evangelism Breakfast. The former president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship told listeners he never expected to become a professor of evangelism until being called to teach at the seminary.
“I’m a very shy person,” he said. “I don’t have a gift for evangelism, but I do have a passion for Jesus.”
Unfortunately, many Presbyterians have a low opinion of evangelism, or they think of it as “membership management,” Hayner said. One reason for this is that we tend to speak of God in philosophical terms, using words like “transcendent” and “omnipresent.”
In contrast, he said, Jesus’ parables portray a “compassionate, hot-blooded, missionary God” who loves all humanity and seeks out the one lost sheep.
Hayner went on to describe another problem Presbyterians have: “We have assumed that anyone who might be interested in God will come find us – they know we’re here! But in actual fact, they’re not coming to find us.”
Hayner offered several tips for doing evangelism:
• “Focus on the main thing – Jesus – and lift up Christ’s invitation to follow him.”
• “Help people become comfortable talking about what Christ is doing in their lives.”
• “Encourage people to follow the way of Jesus day by day, in our jobs, neighborhoods and leisure activities.”
• “Pray and help people in our churches to pray” for their coworkers and neighbors.”
“The point of evangelism is not church growth,” he concluded, “but people coming to know Jesus.”