One of my heroes is a man called Billy Graham. He was/is famous for talking to people about Jesus. He did it in casual one-to-one situations like everyone else. And, unlike the rest of us, he also quite often did it in stadiums to thousands of people.
One thing I love about Billy is that he was always calling people to "make a decision." He'd talk about Jesus for a while, and then when he was done talking, he'd say to people that they should "get up out of their seat," come up to the stage, and pray with someone to begin a relationship with God.
If you want a classic dose of Billy Graham, check out this video from 1957. You can watch the whole thing, or just start exactly seven minutes in, in order to see the part about making a decision:
We're Often Not Like Billy
Billy Graham comes off as pretty old school these days. That's understandable, since his heyday is decades-past. I'm not suggesting the style of speech, the clothing, the haircut, or the choir-led background music are things we need to copy. We may not even need to ask people to stand up and come forward (though that's a debate for another day). What you do need, though, is to recapture Billy Graham's relentless passion for giving people the opportunity to decide to follow Jesus.
That does sound a bit obvious, I know. But I think that we're prone to do something quite different from Billy: We don't give people the opportunity to decide whether or not they will become Christians. Instead, we assess our friends and fellow-students in our heads and decide on their behalf whether or not we are going to even give them the opportunity to make that decision.
For example, awhile back, we were organizing a big event on one university campus. The event was designed for people to come investigate Christianity in a relaxed environment and ask some questions. At the planning meeting for the event, I began talking to one of the guys in the chapter and asked him if he was thinking of bringing anyone along. He said that he didn't know if he would. Now, I happened to know that he was the only Christian in his apartment and that he knows a lot of people who haven't really encountered proper Christianity. I asked, "What about your roommates?" He said that he thought they probably wouldn't be interested, so he wasn't going to invite them.
This is pretty common. Most of us think like that sometimes. But it's madness, because we are actually deciding on other people's behalf whether or not they will become Christians. Instead of "doing a Billy Graham" and giving them the opportunity to decide, we go ahead and assess their potential reaction to the gospel and decide against even allowing them the opportunity to engage with it.
Why It's Not Our Decision
There are a couple of reasons I think this needs to change:
1. We're not the best judges of what's going on in other people's hearts.
Very few (if any) people I have seen become Christians have been the "likely candidates."
Back when I lived in Romania, I used to hang out with the same bunch of people several times a week. Mostly, we would go to the movies and play volleyball. One of the girls in our group, Mihaela (right), was someone I usually ended up talking to afterward. She seemed very clever, and like a person with few problems and a clear sense of direction in her life. She was studying psychology and was pretty good at using it to interpret life.
I honestly thought to myself several times that she was the person in our group of friends who was least likely to become a Christian. I could see good reasons why the others might become Christians--obvious needs in their lives, etc.--but Mihaela just didn't seem to have any sense of need for it.
The funny thing is that Mihaela came to a summer camp I helped organize and she ended up becoming the only one of that group to come to Christ. I found out later that a lot more had been going on inside her than she had ever let on outwardly.
Same thing with my dad. Except with him, nothing much was going on inside, not a jot of interest or inclination to become a Christian, until a few minutes before he realized it was all real and handed his life over to Jesus.
2. We aren't called to pick and choose.
We really miss out on something when we decide not to talk to people about Jesus, and not to bring them to events where they can engage with the gospel.
Jesus actually told a story about this. It was about man who was sowing seed, and he chucked the seed everywhere: on the path, onto the rocks, where the weeds were, and on the good soil. The guy just wasn't picky where he threw the seed, yet in the end he got a pretty impressive harvest.
After he told this story, Jesus explained that the seed is the message about him. Part of Jesus' point in this story was that we aren't to get picky about who we invite to engage with Jesus.
So, maybe we could take Jesus' advice and be a bit more like Billy Graham and give people the opportunity to make decisions for themselves instead of making those decisions for them.
It may be the very people we have decided are disinterested who end up becoming the most passionate followers of Jesus in the future...if we give them the chance.
---------- Have a story about someone you thought would be an "unlikely" Christian who chose Christ when given the opportunity? Share it in a comment below.