Standing in line to buy worms at Pastika’s Bait Shop, I ran into my buddy, Kenny. He carried a bucket containing a big fish.
“Wow, Kenny, what a nice fish! Where did you get it?”
“Right here,” he grinned, “I just bought it. It’s my bait.”
My worms suddenly felt very small.
In an attempt to console me, Kenny added, “But if I don’t catch a musky, I’ll just fry this fellow for dinner.”
That day, I realized there are two kinds of fishing.
There are also two different approaches to sharing the gospel: the pearl merchant and the treasure hunter.
The pearl merchant says, “I have something great and you need it.”
If the person on the receiving end is in the market for pearls, then this approach works splendidly. After all, everybody does better when they discover the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45–46). People certainly need Jesus, and knowing Him is the greatest joy on earth.
When our hearts are captivated by grace, we naturally want to share Christ with others. However, unrestrained enthusiasm in pushing pearls often backfires and pushes people away.
One pearl merchant pitfall is condescension — an attitude of superiority: “I have the answer, and you are clueless.” In extreme cases, sidewalk evangelists blast messages of repentance through bullhorns and wonder why nobody responds. We all recoil from those who convey a condescending attitude and immediately seek an exit strategy.
Another pitfall is coercion. Some pearl merchant evangelists are mean-spirited. They’re the ones who give evangelism a bad name, suffering from what B.T. Roberts called “a warring holiness.” These folks bulldoze and won’t take no for an answer: “You’re going to have it whether you want it or not.” Evangelism without loving-kindness is brutal coercion. I’m pretty sure Jesus has an anti-bullying policy for his children.
During my youth pastor days, Victor, a varsity football lineman, came to youth group with a glowing report. “Guess what? I led six freshmen to Jesus this week!”
“Wow, that’s great Victor,” I replied. “How did you do it?”
“Simple,” he explained. “I caught them in the hallway, grabbed them by the collar, slammed them into the locker, and asked if they’d rather have Jesus or a knuckle sandwich.”
The second approach is more along this line: “Here you are! I’ve been looking for you!”
This is how Jesus loves the lost. He seeks them out and reveals their true worth. Compassion always leads the way.
One April afternoon, our family combed the Lake Superior North Shore in search of agates.
“Here’s one, Dad,” Wes said from behind me. “You just stepped on it — and look, there are more.”
Sure enough, agates were strewn across the rocky beach, but they seemed so ordinary, I trampled on them. I was searching for something with more sparkle and zing. Thankfully, Wes walked with a different set of eyes. On the shoreline, buried in dust, the agates appeared insignificant. However, when we found one, dipped it in water and held it to the sunlight, it shone like a jewel.
Our job, as treasure hunters, is to look again — look beyond the ordinary. “The sacred gems are scattered at the head of every street” (Lamentations 4:1). Lost treasures are everywhere.
Dip them in God’s grace, lift them to the Sun of Righteousness, and they will gleam. Seek, and you shall find.
Be a Witness
A Barna Group survey found that 90 percent of non-Christian young people between the ages of 16 and 29 view Christians as judgmental. Perhaps one reason for this is because we have assumed the wrong role in the courthouse. We play the part of judge, jury or prosecuting attorney, rather than witness.
Your role as a Christ-follower is to simply be a witness. All you need to do is share your faith story. Here are a few pointers:
1. Pray that God will open doors for you to share.
2. When the door opens, have courage to speak.
3. Stay humble and never portray an attitude of superiority.
4. Keep it simple and brief. Don’t share more than they want to know.
5. Tell them what you experienced, rather than what they should do.
6. Focus on the message (Jesus) rather than the mess.
7. Don’t engage in argument. If they protest what you’re saying, back off and let the Holy Spirit work.
Mark O. Wilson is a pastor in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. This article is an adapted excerpt from “Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus,” which is available in print and e-book format at wphstore.com. Copyright 2014, Wesleyan Publishing House; used by permission.
1 Have your evangelism efforts been as a pearl merchant or a treasure hunter?
2 How can you discuss sin and the need for salvation without coming across as judgmental?