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You are the horse: low-bar evangelism strategy

You are the horse: low-bar evangelism strategy

I love my sport, but I’m not a particularly big fan of show jumping. Nonetheless, it has one thing in its favour: it provides some good metaphors for personal evangelism.

Remember personal evangelism? It seems to have a participation rate similar to the sport of show jumping these days. (And I’m not looking at you here; I’m looking right at the sheepish guy in the mirror.)

But I don’t think we’re actually the riders in this ‘sport’ of evangelism. We’re the horses. We have a rider with us guiding us in the right direction, and we do want to trust him and do what he wants us to. But when we see those big, tall fences labelled “evangelistic opportunity” in front of us … they just look so intimidatingly and off-puttingly high. Perhaps we’ve tried a jump like that before and it came unstuck. Or perhaps we’ve never even tried jumping and it’s hard to imagine how we could possibly ever get over something as tall as that.

That’s when many of us do what I believe in show jumping is called a refusal. That’s when the horse comes to a sudden halt just before the jump, having completely lost its confidence at the last second and signalling to the rider in no uncertain terms: “No, I can’t! And I’m not going to, even though I know that’s what you want and it brings you glory!”

Of course, evangelism has always been a pretty scary thing for most of us, and in our Western society it even seems to be getting harder, scarier and perhaps also more costly for our job prospects. And so some of us just refuse the jump. We don’t have the confidence to open our mouths and articulate the reason for our hope and joy in Christ. We don’t feel like we have the skills to be able to explain the gospel to someone, especially in a somewhat hostile environment like a workplace.

Part of the problem is how high we—or our pastors—set the bar (or should I say rail?). If a horse is new to show jumping, or it has had a bad experience recently, it’s surely time to jog gently around the paddock and jump over some very low rails for a while. Once those have been safely negotiated and confidence built, then we can think about gradually adding some extra height and difficulty.

So what might that low bar look like? Here’s an idea of how your church could get the horses running and jumping again—three simple things people could be asked to do:

  1. Pray daily for some non-Christians they know. I suggest referring to it as your church’s 242 Prayer Challenge: praying for two non-Christians, every day, for two minutes.1
  2. Look for opportunities to say to non-Christian friends or family “I’ll pray for you”. That is, when we hear that someone we know is going through something a bit challenging—a sick child, a tough situation at work, even just being stressed because they have an important meeting—we say “I’ll pray for you” or “Sorry to hear that, I’ll pray that the situation improves” or something similar.2 For further thoughts about why this can be a helpful evangelistic strategy, see my video. The video also explains how the What I mean when I say “I’ll pray for you” leaflet can be a useful follow-up tool after you say this to someone. (Maybe the church could buy a stack for people to take and use? To slightly switch metaphors, take a small amount of church money and back the horses in!3)
  3. Invite a non-Christian (perhaps one of the people you are praying for each day) to a church event, whether that’s a regular church service, an introduction to Christianity course, a church social event or anything similar.

That’s it. That’s all you're going to ask people to do for a while—at least until they’ve built up a bit more confidence. Sure, after a while you can provide some more training and equip them for some bigger jumps where they might start articulating the gospel to other people and answering their questions. But for the moment, some evangelistic initiative is better than none.4

1. Actually, to be fair, this is Rory Shiner’s suggestion. Thanks Rory!

2. And then actually pray for those situations!

3. Church treasurers, please don’t quote me out of context!

4. Technically speaking, none of those three things are evangelistic, because they don’t communicate the message of the gospel; but they hopefully lead to evangelism!

Ian Carmichael

Ian has been with Matthias Media from its beginning (1988). In late 2020 he stepped down from the CEO role, and now works as an honourary consultant and editor for Matthias Media and Vinegrowers. Ian and his wife, Stephanie, have two adult children, two (gorgeous) grandchildren, and are part of Chatswood Presbyterian church in Sydney. Ian is one of the Vinegrowers team providing free consultations for church leaders who want to more effectively grow the disciple-making culture in their church.