Mike Bechtle has advanced degrees-a master's from Talbot School of Theology and a doctorate in education from Arizona State-but a lot of basic street experience as well. He has been speaking at churches and conventions since 1974 and has seen numerous programs for evangelism. In Evangelism for the Rest of Us: Sharing Christ within Your Personality Style (Baker, 2006), he tells what he has learned.
WORLD: You implicitly criticize some current evangelistic techniques. Why is it a misconception to think that "you haven't really witnessed to someone until you've taken that person through the plan of salvation" or that "even when you share the gospel with someone, you're not successful until that person prays to receive Christ"?
BECHTLE: My intent wasn't to criticize current methods, because God uses them. But for an introvert, those methods don't go far enough. The biblical model of evangelism is a process, not an event. It involves meeting people at their level, developing a relationship and moving them along a notch or two in their spiritual journey. That's what Jesus did. If God allows me to pray with someone to receive Christ, I know that I'm only one person in a long chain of people God has used in that person's life. If I press someone to make that decision before they're ready, it could produce a spiritually premature believer-which could lessen the odds of his or her long-term survival and growth.
WORLD: You write that some aggressive methods of witnessing produce results, but many people "put up thicker emotional walls against Christians because of the evangelistic encounters they'd endured." How do you assess the success of what could be called spam evangelism?
BECHTLE: A college classmate decided to walk down Central Avenue in Phoenix at lunchtime and ask women to kiss him. He wanted to see how many people he would have to ask before someone took him up on it. After being repeatedly cursed and ignored, and slapped a couple of times, the 98th woman gave him a kiss. Using the logic of "spam evangelism," he might say, "It was worth it, because I actually got one person to kiss me." I wondered about the other 97 women who might be more hardened than ever, more suspicious, and more wary of men approaching them on the street. In the same way, I think a lot of unbelievers have been hardened by aggressive witnessing techniques.
WORLD: So, in contrast to some current programs, what do you believe the Bible teaches about evangelism?
BECHTLE: The purpose of evangelism is to introduce people to Christ. We're not salespeople. Our job isn't to force people to believe in God. Our job is to introduce our close friends to each other. Even the terminology we use fits that model: We lead people to Christ or introduce them to the Savior. We make the introduction, then act as a sounding board as they discuss their feelings about their initial encounter with God.
WORLD: You also write that standard evangelism programs seem designed for extroverts, but "when introverts spend time trying to function like extroverts, they're doing more than just wasting time. They're actually robbing themselves of the very tools God gave them to do His work." Why are programs designed for extroverts positioned as the way to witness?
BECHTLE: I've read a lot of Christian books. Often, it seems like someone has a problem and asks God for help. When they receive an answer that works perfectly for them, they assume that it must be the right answer for everyone. So they write a book about it. Most of the books on evangelism have been written from an extrovert's viewpoint. That doesn't mean they're wrong; it just means they might not fit everyone's situation. God made each person unique so He could use them in exactly that way. It's kind of like a bird teaching a turtle how to make progress. Both have the same goal, forward movement, but they'll only be effective getting there in the way they were uniquely made and gifted.
WORLD: How can introverts who don't like doing cold calls gain confidence from Christ's showing that "we can minister to people we encounter while going about our daily lives"?
BECHTLE: Jesus was a master at turning ordinary encounters into supernatural appointments. We don't see Him sitting down His disciples, setting up a PowerPoint presentation, and lecturing them on theology. He simply lived His life in proximity to their lives. Through that life-on-life process, they learned how to love the people they encountered and search for their needs. That's a freeing concept. We should live our lives close to God, and be open to the people who come into our path. We don't have to meet every need that's out there-just the ones God puts in our path.
WORLD: You write that we should "meet people where they are and move them one step closer to God." What does that mean in practice?
BECHTLE: Jesus didn't try to turn every encounter into a formal presentation of the gospel. Instead, we see Him meeting people in everyday situations, talking to them about exactly where they were at that point in their lives, and edging them forward to the next level of belief. If I look at each encounter as a God-arranged opportunity, I'll be sensitive to what God wants to do through our conversation.
WORLD: Since you note that writing can be an effective tool of evangelism, what do you recommend for those who prefer writing to talking?
BECHTLE: What we're really talking about is communication. Extroverts tend to communicate verbally, thinking quickly and handling the fast pace of a conversation well. Introverts often think deeper, but it takes longer to formulate their thoughts. That's why introverts often think of the perfect thing to say about 30 minutes after the conversation ends. I've learned that it's OK to say, "That's a great question. You know, I'm not really sure how to answer that right now-I'd like to think about it and get back to you. Can you give me your e-mail so I could send you my thoughts in a couple of days?" That gives me a chance to think through the issue, and formulate a thoughtful response.
WORLD: You write that "extroverts often accuse those who use e-mail extensively of hiding behind their computers instead of having face-to-face conversations"-but how and why can e-mail, blogging, and other computer uses be effective evangelistic tools?
BECHTLE: For some people, e-mail is a tool, not a crutch. They communicate more effectively through writing than they might in a conversation. It's not weaker for them-it's actually stronger. Writing gives introverts a chance to carefully think through their words before delivering them. On the other side, many quiet people can be reached more effectively when they read and contemplate a person's written words than by listening to a verbal conversation.
WORLD: What other "21st-century techniques" do you recommend for use by introverts or others uncomfortable with striking up conversations with strangers?
BECHTLE: The biggest thing is to accept how God made us. Introverts don't need to be "fixed"-they need to celebrate that uniqueness. Once that takes place, there are practical steps we can take to communicate more effectively with others (both in writing and in conversation):
- Read the front page of each section of the paper each day so you can converse about current events.
- Ask people about their families.
- Find out what other people know that you don't.
- Observe and talk about the details of the environment you're in.
- Make sure you have a couple of hobbies, and talk to others who do the same thing (common ground).
- Practice remembering a person's first name during a conversation.
- Don't try to steer every conversation toward faith; strive to build a genuine relationship that builds trust for future conversations.