October/November 2014 - Vol. 76
Person to Person: A practical approach to effective evangelism

group discussion

Earning the Right to Be Heard
by Jim Berlucchi

Excellency in character and conduct should be the trademark of every disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself, fully man and fully God, was perfect in all that he said and did. He was God’s example to us of peerless character – a man of courage, faithfulness, integrity, obedience, and loyalty. He conducted himself so that all who heard him listened. The crowds “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 8:28b-29). Jesus earned “the right to be heard.”

We, too, must earn the right to be heard. If our lives fall short under the scrutiny of a watchful observer, that same observer will be more apt to dismiss any spiritual message we might impart. On the other hand, if we demonstrate excellence of conduct and speech in our daily relationships, people will listen more seriously to what we have to say about the Christian life. Our message will be credible. Credible is defined as “worth of belief; trustworthy; reliable; entitled to confidence.” This kind of credibility accounted for the evangelistic success of Christ’s infant church: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47)

 The leader of that early church, Peter, later instructed the Christians regarding the effective witness. “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).

Similarly, the apostle Paul says to the church at Thessalonica: “We exhort you brethren . . . to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you; so that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).

Both Peter and Paul, great giants of the faith, emphasize the importance of the witness of a Christian life to outsiders. Every group that is interested in promoting a message or vision for life perceives how important their members’ conduct is. Many of us have heard of the Boy Scout law, the list of qualities that should characterize a scout. A scout is: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent.

Peter supplies us with God’s list of qualities in 2 Peter 1:5-8:

For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord wants us to be the kind of people who command the respect of others. We should be known as responsible and self-controlled people. Our word should be reliable. We should be able to be counted on. If we are not, our verbal witness will count for little.

 Two cases in point illustrate the necessity of good conduct, one negatively and one positively.

 A Christian college student by the name of Joe plays varsity baseball. He is especially known for his Christian commitment and aggressive evangelism. He talks to other players about following the Lord and uses every opportunity to give his testimony. As a matter of fact, his speech is always peppered with “Praise the Lord” and “Alleluia” in practices and games. Beside this, he is an excellent ballplayer who starts in every game.

One might think, given this description, that Joe is sowing some spiritual seed that will bear fruit. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Joe is known, not only for his fervor and talent, but also for his unreliability. He is usually late for practice and sometimes late for games. He can’t be counted on in the normal rigors of preparation and is sloppy with his schoolwork. As far as discipline and responsibility go, Joe is manifestly deficient, and this shortcoming costs him severely whenever he tries to witness for Christ. Because of his obvious unreliability Joe might, in fact, be doing the gospel more harm than good. Though zealous and well-intentioned, Joe has failed to earn the respect of his peers and coaches.

Just as poor conduct undermines verbal witness, excellent conduct promotes evangelistic success. Larry is a local businessman who has helped many of his associates draw closer to the Lord. As aggressive in his verbal witnessing as Joe, Larry concentrates even more on his behavior in the office and in general. He is not only competent in his professional duties, but reliable, respectful, and cooperative as well. Because he is so respected, others give weight to his Christian convictions and are positively influenced. Larry recently showed me a letter of recommendation his boss wrote for him:

I have had the pleasure of professional association with Mr. Jenkins for the past five years. In all my dealings with him, I have found him to be both fair and uncompromising in principle. His work is always of the highest caliber. Reliability is his trademark.

 Both clients and co-workers respect him, and as his supervisor, I too, hold him in high regard. I unreservedly recommend him in his area of expertise. In my frank opinion, he is a fine Christian gentleman.

 It is worth noting that Larry’s boss is not a Christian. However, his respect for Christianity has grown through his association and regard for Larry. He even mentions Larry’s Christianity favorably in his letter of recommendation.

 The respect and credibility we command through our actions and reputation can help us to assess how verbally aggressive we should be with the gospel. Larry’s verbal witness was effective because his life visibly reinforced his convictions. Joe’s verbal witness backfired because of his shortcomings. Joe should have taken steps to grow in responsibility. At the same time, he should have been more discreet in his preaching.

Though strength of character is important, I am not asserting that we must be perfect before we proclaim Christ. However, the better we are as persons, the more powerful our proclamation. In certain relationships, where we are particularly prone to error, we might wisely decide to subdue our verbal witness. We should not strain our effectiveness beyond its limits. Conversely, in situations where we have established a good reputation, we can and should be telling others about our relationship with the Lord. Whenever possible, we should take maximum advantage of our good reputation.

We should regularly and prayerfully appraise the quality of our conduct. Who are the people we often relate to? Are we respected among them? Do our neighbors know us as reliable and courteous? Are we patient and thoughtful with our roommate? Do we need to apologize for any wrongdoing we have committed in our family? How can we improve our behavior on the job?

This kind of assessment will not only help us improve our witness, but will give us wisdom in assessing how actively we should speak of Christ in various relationships (Colossians 4:5).

For those who work outside the home, the quality of our work will play a major influence in our ability to evangelize others at the workplace. Scripture offers wisdom for those under forced employment (slaves) that can be helpful for the Christian employee today. I am certainly not suggesting that we should conduct ourselves like Christian slaves on the job, but there is a rough analogy here. In Colossians 3:22-24 we read:

 Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not with eyesight, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not man, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ.

 These instructions are both clear and applicable.

 Obey in everything. Many employees set their own standards for obeying their supervisors. The Christian should be committed from the heart, even when no one will see, to obey his boss in everything related to his work, unless it is sinful.

Not as man-pleasers, but God-pleasers. The Christian should not be primarily motivated by the attention he will get from his employer. His motive should be to please God.

In singleness of heart, fearing the Lord. The motive of the Christian worker is pure and generated by the fear of the Lord – not the fear of the annual performance review or the opinion of others.

Whatever your task, serve heartily. A recent report in a national news magazine cited widespread corruption in the world of work. Tax evasion, theft, sloth, graft, and wasting time were described as rampant features in small and large corporations. Consider how brightly a hard-working Christian shines in this atmosphere of increasing greed and laziness.

Having favor both with God and man is instrumental in spreading the gospel. The key to godly character of course, is God himself. Not only can we accomplish nothing without him – we can be nothing without him. It is his power within us that enables us to be more than conquerors – victors over our own personal deficiencies and winners of men as well.

[This article is adapted from the book, Person to Person: How to be effective in evangelism, © 1984 by Jim Berlucchi, and published by Servants Books, Ann Arbor.] 

Person to Person: How to Be Effective in Evangelism
by Jim Berlucchi

> Part 1: True “No Limit” Message
> Part 2: Everyday Evangelism
> Part 3: Be Open - Be Natural
> Part 4: Building Bridges
> Part 5: Authentic Evangelism
> Part 6: Portrait of the Christian Ambassador
> Part 7: Prayer Makes a Difference
> Part 8: Speaking About Jesus Christ
> Part 9: Earning the Right to Be Heard

Jim Berlucchi is the Executive Director at Spitzer Center for Ethical Leadership. He formerly served as the Executive Director of Legatus, an international association of Catholic CEOs. He is the work/life columnist for Faith Magazine, and a published composer and recording artist. Sample audio clips of his music are available online. He served for many years as a community leader in The Word of God and The Sword of the Spirit.He and his wife Judy reside in Dexter, Michigan, USA. They are the grateful parents of eight children and enjoy a steadily increasing number of grandchildren. 
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