There is a lot of emphasis today on sports in general and on team sports in particular. We are in the heart of college and professional football season and baseball is busy deciding which two teams will compete in the 2009 World Series.
Football and baseball are team sports. Football has eleven players on both sides of the ball while baseball has nine players in the field and in the dugout. Both sports are considered to be “team sports” but when you think about it, both sports depend on a one on one matchup. When a quarterback drops back to pass, looking for the open receiver, football becomes a one on one sport between the quarterback and the receiver. When the quarterback releases the ball, the one on one shifts to a contest between the receiver and a cornerback or safety.
The same is true for baseball. It takes all nine players in the field playing defense for a baseball team to be successful but the outcome of the game comes down to a one on one dual between a pitcher and a batter.
Evangelism is a team effort that should involve every member of the Body of Christ working together to see the lost come to Christ. But no matter how much teamwork is involved in planning an evangelistic event or how many witness teams fan out to win a city or a community to Christ, eventually evangelism comes down to a one on one encounter between a person who is following the Way and a person who is following their own way.
Acts 8 tells the story of Philip the evangelists’ one on one encounter with a seeker in the desert. Acts 8:25-40 has six action phrases that give us a guide for effective one on one evangelism. In verse 26 the angel of the Lord told Philip to “get up and go…” The first task of anyone who wants to share the Gospel is to “get up and go” where God leads. The Great Commission begins with the command to “go.” Before we can go we have to be willing to “get up”, that is to be ready to respond to opportunities for sharing God’s Word. The Church in America today has a “come and see” approach to sharing the Gospel. But the invitation to “come and see” needs to be extended by people who have left he comfort of the church pew in favor of the challenge of engaging people in the culture. People will come and see if we are first willing to get up and go where they are, meet them where they are, and persistently refuse to leave them where they are.
Verse 27 tells us Philip, “got up and went.” Philip must have thought the command of the angel of the Lord was strange. He was in the middle of a reformation that was taking place among the Samaritans who were coming to Christ in great numbers. He must have wondered why God would take him out of a revival and send him to the desert. But while Philip had winning a group of Samaritans in view, God had a winning a continent on His mind. Even though he knew almost no one travels through the desert in the heat of the day, Philip walked where he could not see because he trusted the view of God. Many church historians believe the witness of Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch marked the beginning of the witness of the Gospel on the African continent.
Verse 29 says Philip was commanded to “go up and join” the chariot. Philip closed the gap between himself and the Ethiopian by running alongside the chariot and calling out to him. We will never win the lost of our world from a distance. We can’t simply shout the Good News through a megaphone and expect lost people to come to the sound of our voice. If we are going to win people to Christ we have to be willing to get close enough to build a relationship.
Dr. Delos Miles was my evangelism professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His definition of evangelism was “building a bridge from your heart to the heart of a lost person so Jesus can walk across.” Bridge building requires close contact. It requires a radical commitment to relationship building. Jesus practiced up close, one on one evangelism with the woman at the well; the woman caught in adultery, and Matthew the tax collector. He was criticized by the religious elite of the day but He rejected their taunts in favor of spending time with lost people. We must be willing to do the same.
Verse 31 has the invitation from the Ethiopian to Philip to “come up and sit.” Philip had to climb over a lot of barriers when he climbed into that chariot. He had to climb over the race barrier, the class barrier, the culture barrier, and the barrier between Jew and Gentile. None of those barriers mattered to Philip and they must not matter to us. We must be willing to go up and sit, to spend time with those who are hungry to know God. We should be willing to pour out our lives for their sake.
Verse 35 really holds the key to the entire witness experience. Philip “opened his mouth and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” It isn’t our clever stories or our preaching method that will win the lost to Christ. It isn’t enough to live our lives in front of lost people hoping they will catch our faith through some kind of spiritual osmosis. We must be willing to preach Jesus Christ crucified, dead, buried, and raised again to new life.
Finally, when Philip and the Ethiopian came to place where there was water, verse 38 says they “both went down into the water.” This speaks of walking with a new believer through the early stages of his new faith. Christ called us to “make disciples” not count converts. Disciple making requires a willingness on our part to become a mentor for new believers. One who is willing to pour into their life the goodness God has poured into our life.
Evangelism one on one…it worked with a seeker in the desert. It will work with lost people today.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.