What Dr. Pepper taught me about evangelism
Several years ago, I had a student at my summer project named Josh Pepper. Having decided to defer medical school for a year, he asked to live with me at the end of the summer for further training in discipleship.
I sensed his eagerness, invited him to get a job in the area and to live with me for a year.
The job market was great and Josh Pepper is one of the most outgoing guys I’ve ever met. I was sure if anyone could land a job, it would be him.
But after weeks of looking and continuously lowering his standards, he still did not have a single offer.
Confused, he wrestled with God wondering why he had not provided a job yet. Josh told God that he would work wherever He chose.
Finally, after a month of searching, he got one job offer … as a telemarketer with MCI.
I watched Josh tackle this less than ideal job with enthusiasm, coming home ecstatic almost every day. Why was he enjoying this so much?
I asked him about his success rate. “Three percent,” he said, unaffected. I was shocked.
Three percent?! “You mean you get turned down 97 out of 100 times? How do you not give up?” Here was his response:
“I KNOW God called me to this. I don’t take it personally when someone says no or hangs up on me. Each person that says no gets me one step closer to the three who will say yes.”
As I pondered Josh Pepper’s response (who eventually went on to become Dr. Josh Pepper), I couldn’t help thinking about the similarities between his telemarketing job and my own experience of sharing my faith.
Let’s walk through Josh’s perspective on his MCI job while considering the topic of evangelism.
“I know God called me to this.”
Do you know that God has called you to sharing the gospel with those who don’t know Christ? I don’t just mean do you know in theory, but do you really know and believe that this is what God wants and expects you and those in your ministry to regularly do?
2 Corinthians 5:19-20 says, “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
How can God make His appeal to those around me if I’m not willing to open my mouth?
Ambassadors speak on behalf of whom they represent. The one who sends an ambassador on their behalf expects them to act in accordance with their values. But they also expect them to talk!
Acts 17:26 says that “God has determined the times set for people and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”
This verse tells me that God has purposely placed every person around me.
I believe with all my heart that I am His chosen instrument for telling them about Jesus. I strive to not let myself believe that somebody else will tell them.
Yes, God can use somebody else to get the gospel to those around me, but I believe that He wants to use me, and I want to be used!
And I shudder to think, what if I was their one chance to hear the gospel, but I got distracted with other things or didn’t muster the courage to bring them the life-saving message of hope?
Consider setting a daily reminder this semester to pray and ask God to convince you that you are His means for reaching those around you.
May he so burden your heart for those he has intentionally placed around you that you cannot help but share the Good News with them!
“I don’t take it personally when someone says no or hangs up on me.”
Jesus promises that if people rejected Him, they will reject us.
The gospel is often an offensive message to those who don’t yet believe! Peter tells us that we must stumble over Christ to come to Him. (see 1 Peter 2:7,8)
Do you remember in Acts 5 when the disciples were arrested and put in jail for preaching the gospel?
People were enraged at them for the message they brought and put them in jail. An angel of the Lord freed them from the jail at night, and the next day they continued to share the very gospel that got them arrested in the first place. And folks weren’t just a little offended. They literally wanted to kill them!
After being flogged, the disciples left there “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”
Not only did they not take it personally when rejected, the disciples received rejection as confirmation that they were acting in obedience to Christ!
I will never forget Tim who first shared the gospel with me. He challenged me and told me I was a sinner. I was shocked.
At the time, I was convinced that I was a pretty good person. I was offended that Tim would suggest that my sin separated me from God. I thought “Here we go, one of those holier-than-thou religious guys trying to judge me when he barely even knows me!”
I argued with Tim and arrogantly tried to show him how he was narrow-minded and wrong. Yet somehow, Tim didn’t take it personally. In fact, it wasn’t long before Tim showed up to my house to hang out.
I said something like, “How did you find out where I lived? You know, you shouldn’t just show up to somebody’s place if they haven’t invited you.” Tim acted as though he hadn’t heard a word I just said!
He knew that though I was rejecting him, it was really God whom I was rejecting. Tim just smiled and told me he was praying for me. And he KEPT SHOWING UP!
Over a year’s period, Tim outlasted me with his love and the gospel. He kept reaching out to me and sharing of God’s love and desire for me to turn to Jesus in spite of my consistent rejection of him and his message.
Tim gave me a Bible and I secretly began to read it. Over the course of a year, I became convinced that I was a sinner and in need of a Savior.
I am so grateful that Tim didn’t take it personally or give up on me when I rejected him and the gospel.
Ask God who He would have you “outlast with the gospel.”
Are there some who you have shared with who didn’t respond well and you took it personally? What if you were to share with them again?
Remember, though at times it feels like it, they are not ultimately rejecting you, but rejecting God.
I find that if I don’t pull out but keep initiating toward my friends and family with whom I’ve shared the gospel, our relationship often continues to deepen, even if they never believe. It’s only when I take it personally and withdraw that it gets weird and that I short circuit God’s process.
“Each person that says no gets me one step closer to the three who will say yes.”
In Acts 17, we see Paul bring the gospel to a group of people who considered themselves good in Athens.
After delivering a powerful message, including a call for them to repent, we are told that some of them sneered, others said, “we want to hear you again on this subject” and that a few became followers of Paul and believed.
I have found this experience true in my own evangelism. Many sneer or act uninterested.
Others may be skeptical or suspicious, but are interested in hearing more, especially if I don’t give up on them but continue building relationship.
Still others whose hearts God has touched will accept the message of salvation found in Christ and become new creations.
If I told you God would give you the privilege of personally leading 5-10 students into a relationship with Jesus this semester, would you be willing to be used by Him to do so? Of course you would!
What if that included being rejected 50-100 times to find that handful that God is drawing to Himself? Would you still be willing? I hope so. It’s worth it!
In 1 Corinthians 15, after reminding us that God has given us victory through Jesus, Paul encourages us with these words:
“…stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Remember, “the work of the Lord” includes evangelism. It can be very easy in our busy ministry schedules to either forget evangelism, or try to squeeze sharing the Good News into a small portion of our week.
God does not call us to be successful at evangelism. He does however call us to be faithful in evangelism.
Start keeping track in your weekly schedule of how much time you are specifically sharing the gospel with students on campus.
It amazes me how easy it is to allow time for evangelism to get crowded out by other things.
Plan on blocking out several hours into your weekly schedule for sharing the gospel with students.
Do an assessment of your ministry and honestly ask the question, “Are we helping students with evangelism, or busying them with so many Christian things that they don’t have time to be among the lost?”
What things can you take off your student’s plates in order to assure that evangelism is on their plates?