For five Saturdays in a row, you've spent about an hour working side by side with Lenard to prepare his garden. It is exciting to walk through the steps with him, the same steps which Loola taught you. Though it was fun to learn them from her, you had no idea how exciting it would be to share them with others.
Lenard is a quick learner. His fruit tree takes root and begins to reach for the sky. A few more months of instruction, and the balance begins to change. You're learning a lot from each other. Within six months, Lenard involves his wife in the gardening. She is a natural. They make an amazing gardening team. You always look forward to your time with Lenard and his family as you all strive toward the ultimate goal.
A year, then two more have passed. The time together strengthens your friendship with Lenard, his wife Beth, and their three kids. You're no longer just gardening together, but spending free time as an honorary member of their family. You and Lenard's family decide to tear down the fence between your back yards. This opens up the space in an amazing way.
The two fruit trees reflect the fellowship you share. Through the season, you see bees and butterflies flitting between the two trees, a good sign that pollination is taking place. The shade of the two trees is a gathering place for your new circle of beloved neighbors. You, affectionately and somewhat ironically, decide to call the unified backyard The Orchard.
“Lenard, Beth, have you guys seen the Orchard,” you say as you knock on their back door one sunny Saturday morning. They come out quickly to the scene that awaits. Lenard gasps.
"No, way!" Lenard says, bubbling with enthusiasm. "Look at that, Honey!"
"Wow!" Beth says. "Hey, Kids, come and see."
The two trees are teeming with color and life. Hanging from what seems to be a thousand branches are budding sprouts. As you approach the tree with the family, you all examine the branches with wonder. You have a good feeling. This is going to be the year you finally get fruit, abundant fruit.
Many cringe when they are told to evangelize. I want to demystify evangelism and help you see a path toward evangelism that makes sense.
Step one is to attend a church that clearly expresses the saving message of Jesus. Many churches fall woefully short of clarity on this topic. However, if you trust the leadership of your church to share the gospel with newcomers, then evangelism can be as simple as inviting outsiders into the fellowship. If you don’t trust your church leadership to share the gospel, this same concept could work for a small group Bible study led by someone who clearly shares the gospel. If you don’t have a clear-gospel sharing group of any kind, then you might have to modify the following ideas to fit your situation.
Jesus said that people don't light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.1
There is a difference between allowing people to see your fruit and trying to produce fruit so that people can see. You are to live out your abundant life in such a way that it draws others to the orchard. Show strangers love. Talk about your joy to outsiders. Demonstrate peace in adversity. Serve people that don't deserve it and won't be able to pay you back. It's important not to do these things for the sake of pride, but it's ok to allow others to see your good works as well.
When people see your good works, your love for one another, your peace with each other, and your joy in fellowship, others will glorify God. This is a way of attracting outsiders into the fellowship. When you do this, it is a great setup for evangelism.
One powerful tool in evangelism is to be part of a loving group of believers. This starts with a simple concept. A fellowship of believers should be a very inviting place. Note what Jesus said, By this, all will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another.2 The world is a savage and dangerous place. It's full of vengeance, rivalry, and spite. Any group of ordinary people is going to experience these negative aspects. So a group of people who genuinely love one another is unique in this fallen world. So unique, in fact, that Jesus promises that people will see the difference when you love one another. They will be able to recognize Jesus' power at work in that group.
Believers should, Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.3 When someone new comes to a church, Bible study, or gathering, they ought to be welcomed as if it were Jesus Himself welcoming them. When a new person is invited and welcomed to take part in a gathering of believers, especially one who shares the saving message on a regular basis, evangelism will happen naturally. The newcomer will hear the gospel by simply being present. This is why it's important to be welcoming and be part of a group that shares a clear gospel on a regular basis.
I think this organic style of evangelism is what Jesus had in mind when he said, Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.4
Jesus doesn’t say to evangelize people in this famous passage. Discipleship is a separate thing from salvation.5 Instead, it's assumed evangelism will happen as people come in contact with groups of believers. Evangelism can happen in a very short amount of time, whereas discipleship should last for the rest of a person's life.
So, the concept that you need to share your faith doesn't need to be as intimidating as you might have once thought. It can be as simple as inviting a person to take part in a gospel-sharing fellowship of believers. As you do that, questions might come up. Of course, Peter said, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect.6
Notice that Peter's instructions are not to force people to listen to answers for which they asked no question. Instead, we are to be prepared to answer questions that come up. It's more than passive but less than forceful. Notice the final words he uses. These answers should be given with gentleness and respect.
So, we invite new people into our gospel-sharing fellowship, we work to be welcoming, and we ready ourselves to answer any questions they have.
There are many who are not able to attend a church that shares a clear saving message on a regular basis. If that's the case, the above method may fall flat. In fact, I'd be hesitant to invite a new believer to a church that shares a convoluted or confusing gospel message. There are plenty of them out there. If that is the case with your church, you might have to simply do what Paul told his star student Timothy, do the work of an evangelist.7 This might include starting a small group Bible study. If you need help with a practical approach to sharing the saving message, I’d suggest my book, Eternal Life, Believe To Be Alive.
Sweet news spreads the fastest. After years of waiting, your joint effort with Lenard's family has paid off. All of the work has now resulted in a massive crop of the sweetest fruit you've ever tasted. It turns out that Loola was right. With the first basketful of fruit, you are already looking for people to share with.
“Hey, Beth and I were thinking we could pass out some fruit,” Lenard says one Saturday morning. Beth holds a large basket at her waist which is filled to overflowing.
"Pass it out to who?" you ask as you pluck sweet handfuls to fill your own.
"Well, we have way more than we could ever eat or even preserve," Beth explains. "We could give some to the neighbors."
“Give some,” Lenard says to Beth. “We could give tons to the neighbors and still have too much.” It doesn’t take any more convincing. You’re in, as long as Lenard and Beth are there.
You spend the morning going door to door with your baskets of fruit. It doesn't take long to empty the baskets. Your neighbors are overjoyed to have fresh fruit. You’re walking back toward your house with Lenard and Beth after all the fruit has been disbursed.
“Did you notice how many people said they wanted to grow a fruit tree?" you ask.
“The Johnsons,” Beth offers.
“Eric too,” you say.
“Didn’t Linda say she wanted to plant a garden as well?” Lenard asks.
“Wouldn’t it be cool to start a garden club?" you say. “Think how many different kinds of fruit we could have in the neighborhood.”
"Not to mention, getting to know everyone better. I mean, it was gardening that brought us together," Beth says.
Over the next few weeks, you make more fruit deliveries to your neighbors. You bring up the idea of starting a garden club with Eric, Linda, and the Johnsons. They all respond with enthusiasm but insist that they don't have a green thumb. Lenard shows off his human-colored thumbs and wins them over each in turn.
Lenard offers to help Eric start his garden. Beth makes friends with Linda, and they do the same. You offer to help the Johnsons get their portion of the orchard started, and they accept.
Over the following years, the neighborhood changes in the sweetest ways possible. More fences come down; more fruit trees go up. The Johnsons share their newfound passion with Gary. Gossiping Gary complains a bit, but even he plants a tree. It rarely bears much fruit, but at least he gets to be in the garden club. Eric and Linda spread the excitement to others as well. With every season, calling the joined backyards the orchard, is less and less ironic.
After many years have passed, you find yourself standing in the shade of the fruit tree. You think back to that seminal moment when you dropped that seed into the wild earth. It feels like a lifetime ago, and it was. So much has changed, but one thing has remained. Your ultimate purpose, your grand gardening goal. You have always been:
In Pursuit Of Fruit.
1 Matthew 5:15-16
2 John 13:35
3 Romans 15:7
4 Matthew 28:19-20
5 For more on this topic see my book Salvation and Discipleship: Is There A Difference?
6 1 Peter 3:15
7 2 Timothy 4:5