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Evangelism for introverts

Religion | Author and speaker Mike Bechtle says ordinary encounters can become supernatural appointments

Issue: "Autumn books," Oct. 7, 2006

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.

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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.

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