by Jefferson David Tant
This is written with some reluctance. I feel as Paul must have felt as he tried to make a point to help his readers. “Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little” (II Corinthians 11:16). Thus I pray that the readers will bear with me. The following is not written to boast, but to prove something.
In my 60 years of preaching, it has been a great joy to have even a small part in teaching the gospel to many and seeing their baptism into Christ. In truth, personal evangelism is how the Lord’s church will grow in the 21st Century. In my grandfather, J. D. Tant’s day, two or weeks of a gospel meeting might produce 25, 50, or even 75 baptisms. Those days are over. There was no internet, TV, movie theaters, etc., nor numerous sports teams to distract, and people would come out to hear the gospel. In my father Yater Tant’s time, extended gospel meetings were no longer in vogue, but the Jule Miller filmstrips were very effective. These five-night home studies resulted in untold thousands of conversions. But to get people to commit to five nights for a study has become difficult. Furthermore, as our nation has become less religious, it is difficult to get people even to visit our church services.
So … what to do? Personal evangelism is the answer — person-to-person contact. But some complain, “I don’t really know anyone who is interested.” You don’t know anyone? You don’t shop at stores? You don’t have a neighbor? Do you live in a cave? How do you know they aren’t interested until you ask? Please allow me to list some I have studied with. Hopefully, that will give the reader some ideas.
- Don was my postman. We talked occasionally as he delivered mail. He was an elder in a large denomination. His conversion resulted in about a dozen conversions over the next year.
- Elaine was an office receptionist. A conversation while I waited for a delivery resulted in three conversions and her marriage to a gospel preacher.
- Theresa was our children’s school teacher. Our studies led to the conversion of two families (8 people).
- Joe was a next-door neighbor who agreed to several studies with his family.
- Bobbie owed a mail addressing business. Monthly visits to address our church mail-out resulted in weekly lunch hour studies with her staff and the conversion of one of her workers.
- Minneka helped me find some merchandise in Home Depot. A conversation led to studies.
- David ran out of gas by my house. Took him to get some. Had a study. Came back for more.
- Andrea served our table at a restaurant in another city. Continued studies via the internet.
- Studied with Sibongile, a teller at 5th 3rd Bank.
- Stella cared for my mother in an assisted living facility.
- Nancy was a young store clerk. Baptized after study.
- Hazel was my wife’s contact through a business. Four baptisms resulted.
- Victor was a hitch-hiker I picked up on the highway. Stopped in Murfreesboro for baptism.
- Margaret, Lisa, Ricky, and Michelle were homeless young people we took in.
- Sharon was an office worker who overheard my telephone conversation while in her office. This resulted in three baptisms.
- Kathi worked in a drug store. Baptized after study.
- Vivian was a next-door neighbor.
- Roger owned a small store where we shopped. Three baptisms.
- Glenn, Sherry, Joe, and Janet were friends of our teenage children.
- Charlene worked at my bank. She and her husband were baptized.
- Jeff owned the used car lot where I shopped.
- Francie was a bank teller.
- Darlene worked in her father’s vacuum cleaner business.
- Eugene was an 84-year-old resident in a nursing home.
- Jennifer’s family needed help with bills. This resulted in several conversions.
- Cathy’s husband was a mechanic who worked on my car.
- Terri was the wife of the Fina station owner who worked on my car.
- Denise was a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus. Baptized her and her boyfriend.
- Jade was a young Jamaican prostitute, as was Patricia. Both baptized.
I could go on, but you get the point. From 34 names listed, some 60 baptisms resulted. These were not the result of some church program or gospel meeting. They were the result of personal contact — personal evangelism.
Jesus told the disciples to “make disciples of all the nations,…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Thus Christ’s chosen ones were to go teach others, and then they were to do what the chosen ones were to go — go make disciples. Therefore, all Christians are to be disciple-makers. Paul told the Philippians that “you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16). These “lights” are not just elders, preachers, etc., but Christians — all Christians. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls” (Proverbs 11:30).
Something interesting is seen in Acts 8 after the stoning of Stephen. “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. ... Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:1, 4). We know there were some 15 or 16 nations present on Pentecost, and 3,000 were baptized that day, with thousands more to come. It is evident that some of the new converts stayed in Jerusalem for a time. Obviously, they wanted to learn more. But now in Acts 8, it’s time to go home. And what did they do when they went home? It says they “went about preaching the word.” The disciples were excited. Joseph talked to the man who made horseshoes for his horse. Mary talked to her next-door neighbor. Jacob talked to the man he bought hay from to feed his horse. Anna talked to the clerk at the grocery store. Well, you get the idea.
While reading the Bible a while back, a light went on when I read Colossians 1:23: “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.” Now, remember this was written some 30 years after Pentecost. The gospel had spread to the whole known world. No internet, to phones, etc. The few apostles that traveled could not have done all this by themselves. How did it happen? Personal evangelism. Too often today we leave it up to the preachers. Yes, they have their responsibility, but they had helpers — everyday Christians who were carrying out the Great Commission.
We have too many churches that are dying today. We need the spirit of the early Christians. This is why I and others are preaching on personal evangelism. I know Brent Hunter and others have some good lessons on this, and this writer has done a series for various churches. Brethren, as our nation turns further and further away from God, we must go out and spread the Good News!
Jesus told the disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:37-38). Now, are you the answer to God’s prayer?