“What would Jesus do if He physically lived in your house?”
This question was asked by a leading apologist during the State Evangelism Conference at First Baptist Church in Pelham.
Lee Strobel, director of the Lee Strobel Center for Evangelism and Applied Apologetics at Colorado Christian University, was featured speaker at three sessions of the Feb. 27–28 event. He is perhaps best known for his book, “The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus,” that details his journey from atheism to faith.
“I think the first thing [Jesus] would do is pray for your neighbor,” Strobel said. “The Greek tense in the gospels is in the imperfect tense, so it suggests Jesus’ prayer from the cross that God forgive His tormentors was continual.
“I baptized a man and his sister told me later she’d prayed for him for nine years,” Strobel recalled. “We must never give up in prayer.”
He said the second thing he imagined Jesus would do is “leave the door open for questions.”
“Apologetics doesn’t mean ‘apologize’; it means we offer reasonable explanations for our faith,” Strobel explained. “Some objections from skeptics are smokescreens. I ask them if we might find answers together through dialogue.
“I think many skeptics have poor father images and it makes faith difficult for them. I frequently quote C.S. Lewis who asked unbelievers to imagine what the ideal father would be like, then I explain to them this is the character of the heavenly father.”
Strobel said a third thing Jesus would do is to be authentic in relating to His neighbors.
“You don’t need a Ph.D. to lead people to Christ,” Strobel declared. “We love them into the kingdom of God.”
Setting the example
He added the pastor must set the example of concern for unsaved people.
“The speed of the leader is the speed of the team,” Strobel noted. “I encourage every pastor to build one loving and caring relationship with a hell-bound sinner, and to use this relationship to talk about faith. The pastor must also instill value through preaching and teaching, and he should empower someone to be in charge of the church’s evangelism program.”
Strobel said it’s best to find a full- or part-time staffer or volunteer for whom the evangelism program is a responsibility, just as others are in charge of children, youth, senior adult and other ministries.
“Some are gifted in sharing faith, and we must unleash them,” Strobel said. “We also should plan catalytic ministries and events that are attractional and bring people to us so that caring relationships can be formed.”
During the Monday session Strobel noted six styles of evangelism.
“Not everybody shares Christ in the same way,” he explained. “Everyone must discover their style and do the work as God has gifted them.”
The first style is “direct,” as Peter was in Acts 2.
“He told the people the unvarnished truth, that they killed the messiah,” Strobel noted. “Some people have the temperament to be bold in their witness, and they do it matter-of-factly and not rudely.”
The second style is “intellectual,” like Paul in Acts 17.
“Paul reasoned with the philosophers on Mars Hill,” Strobel noted. “This is the work of apologetics where we give reasons for faith and don’t shy away from science, history and philosophy.”
The third evangelism style is “testimonial,” according to Strobel.
“The blind man in the gospels said, ‘I once was blind but now I see,’” he recounted. “Every Christian has a story, and many use their conversion stories effectively.”
“Invitational” is the fourth style, which Strobel related to the woman at the well who “went back to the village and invited everyone to come and meet the Messiah.”
“Studies show that one in four unchurched Americans would come to our churches if someone they know invited them.”
The sixth style is “service,” Strobel said.
“Tabitha in Acts 9 served others unselfishly and had a great impact in the spiritual life of the city.
“When Hurricane Harvey decimated Houston, 75% of the relief efforts were by the churches. This is a powerful witness.”
Strobel encouraged pastors to preach sermons about the six styles and “free people” to feel comfortable sharing the gospel in the way God has gifted them.
‘Salt of the earth’
Preaching from Matthew 5:13–16 Jarman Leatherwood, pastor of the House of Hope and Restoration Church in Huntsville, said, “The days are dark, but people can have hope. We’re the salt of the earth and we can keep society from decay.”
Leatherwood exhorted Christians to love their neighbor, preach the good news and speak truth to power.
“We must lift up the blood-stained banner of Jesus Christ,” he declared. “This is the way we turn the light on in our dark world.”
Host pastor Daven Watkins concluded the conference with a look at Philip the evangelist in Acts 8.
“Philip began his work in Samaria,” Watkins said. “Who are the Samaritans in our lives? These may be people of a different skin pigment, voting record or lifestyle, but we have a message to share.”
Watkins said Philip went from a ministry to the many in Samaria to a ministry to one when he met the Ethiopian on the Gaza Road and shared Christ.
“He ran beside brokenness and proclaimed wholeness through Christ in place of brokenness,” Watkins said.
Daniel Wilson, director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions evangelism office, which sponsored the conference, said he planned the annual event to be different this year with four regional gatherings. Events were conducted previously in Mobile and Montgomery, with a fourth planned for First Baptist Church in Cullman March 13–14.
The Pelham event also featured special gatherings for Hispanic and Korean Baptists. Coverage of those events will be posted soon, but you can learn more about the Hispanic Baptist Churches of Alabama here.