Got style? Personality-based evangelism

Got style? Personality-based evangelism
Jeffrey Johnson
Judson Press
ISBN 978-0-8170-1555-8

Johnson explains the background to his book:

The stories of Andrew and Phillip – and the experiences of other people I have known – have always led me to wonder exactly what it is that allows or enables people to share their faith with others so freely and so immediately after their conversions. It seems clear that a believers’ early communication then and now is about a personal encounter and experience with Christ, not really a doctrine or dogma. Why? It certainly is because the Holy Spirit leads and moves people, and the Spirit’s role cannot and will not be minimized. But is there also some God-given something in people the Holy Spirit works with that enables them to be early and effective witnesses, even without special training? I believe there is. My study and experience have led me to this conclusion.

More than anything else, personality is the human component involved in effective evangelism.

By personality, I mean much more than the traditional dichotomy of extrovert vs. introvert, which pits three-fourths of population against the other fourth, respectively. Extroverts and introverts can be found in varying degrees in any of the personality styles. By personality I mean God’s inherent wiring as to how people generally engage and interact with the world.

People seem to instinctively know this even if they have different ways of expressing it. A recent informal poll found only 8 to 10 percent of Christians regularly share Christ with others. When asked, “Why don’t Christians share Christ?” several responses were given:

33.5% – Afraid of being rejected, embarrassed
21.7% – Afraid of not having answers
19.2% – Rarely think about the need
17.3% – Don’t know what to say
8.3% – Haven’t found a way to share that fits personal style (In other words, it’s not comfortable or natural.)
Though the last response names “personality” specifically, personality seems to be behind the other responses; people are really saying they haven’t found a way to do evangelism naturally – as a part of how they are “wired.” Because evangelism has become associated with something unnatural or forced, it feels “bad.” I never understood why sharing the something so good makes so many feel so bad until I realized most people are doing evangelism in a way contrary to the way God made them. We are called to do evangelism out of “grace, not guilt. It can be enjoyable, not just an endurable experience”

I began searching the inspired pages for how Scripture views and values evangelism. While contemporary examples are helpful, they cannot replace New Testament examples. What I began to see was evidence that we all have this “personality thing” and it influences how we share Christ with others. One of the most striking examples of Spirit-used personality is in the book of Acts where we read about Saul, whom we come to know later by his Greek name Paul. Examining some of Paul’s story will give us a glimpse of how the Spirit works with personality, not only to find faith (Evangelism) but to mature in it as well (Discipleship), but that’s content for another book at another time.

Paul was, from Scripture’s earliest references, a passionate persecutor of those who held the new Christian faith. He was present at the martyrdom of Stephen and, though only watching over the outer garments (coats) of those who stoned Stephen, he was guilty by association.

“At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him [Stephen], dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:57-58 NIV).

Paul’s passion finds further expression as he traveled north to Damascus to, in his words, “persecute the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9) and “try to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). It is clear that for Paul, this was more than completing a job task. He took his responsibility personally. Personality is very personal. For each of us, it is unique. It defines who we are and directs how we interact with others.

And yet it was en route to Damascus to carry out this persecution that Paul had a life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ.

“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:1-5 NIV).

The record goes on to tell us that after only three days, Paul walked south on the same road, but he was changed from Christianity’s greatest persecutor or Christianity’s greatest promoter!

“Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 9:19-22 NIV)

What strikes me about Paul’s story is this: it was only three days between the time he was an enemy of Christ and when he became a first-class friend of Christ. More striking is he attended no online training program, no school of evangelism, no workshop or seminar. What did God’s Spirit tap in Paul to move him out to promote that which he passionately and intensely had persecuted days before? God used Paul’s inherent assertive personality. Surrendering his entire life to the Spirit, personality included, was a part of his transformation. With the same vigor, the same personality, Paul promoted the very thing he tried to destroy.

Paul’s conversion was evidence of the Spirit’s working in his heart. Paul shared the Gospel using his personality as he surrendered himself to the Holy Spirit. This was just one example in Scripture. I wondered if there were other kinds of evidence for how the Spirit views or uses personalities, so I searched Scriptures further. This is what I found:

Whoever speaks, does so using the words God provides, and whoever serves, does so using the strength God provides, so that in all these things, God might be acknowledged” (I Peter 4:11 NIV, italics mine).

This verse indicates everyone in the world fits into two broad groups: those who naturally engage the world by what they say and those who naturally engage the world by what they do. The first group uses words (verbal or written) and emphasizes the head. The second group uses works and emphasizes the hands. There are three styles I believe under the “Words” and three styles under the “Works” with a couple substyles under a few. These two groups describe how we all are generally wired as God created us.

Looking further in Scriptures, 1 Peter 3:11 gives additional insight into the styles of presence: “...won, without a word, by their conduct” (NIV). Here, it is not what is said, but what is done that can win people over. People who are basically doing people get their hearts and hands dirty in their evangelistic efforts. But just so there is no misunderstanding: words also have a vital place. 1 Peter 3:15 reminds us “we should be ready always to give the reason for the hope that is within us” (NIV). This verse assumes our lives will cause people to want to know “why” – and we need to be ready with words to explain because they will initiate the conversation and ask the questions.

It must also be understood here that evangelism is not about convicting, convincing, or converting the non-Christian. That is the work of God through the activity of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart. Evangelism is about introducing people to Christ through persuasive presentation, using both speech (lips) and actions (life) to share the Good News. Presentation only appeals to a need already present in a person or that can be perceived during the encounter. Thus, evangelism is really about conversing with the person in such a way that communicates the Gospel. Again, words and works are the two basic ways we can evangelize. God wired us with one or the other of these broad based personality categories.

Though I have been touting this dichotomy for years, the most concise descriptors I’ve read that contrast between words and works are presented in Irresistible Evangelism. Below are several pairings, representing two sides of a continuum; word or proclamation styles are on the left and works or presence styles are on the right.

Monologue ... Dialogue

Presentations ... Conversations

Our language ... Their language

Count (quantity of) conversions ...Count (quality of) conversations

Front door approaches ... Back door approaches

Fishing from the bank ... Swimming with the fish

Scripted ... Spontaneous

Winning ... Nudging

Gospel presentations ... Gospel experiences

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