There are moments in life where we are blown away when someone else displays their craft, like listening to Jimi Hendrix play the guitar or watching Tim Lincecum throw a curveball.
But little compares to watching two people with the gift of evangelism utilize it.
I got a chance to witness Living Stones Pastor, Bobby Grossi, and Elder-in-Training, Gary Walker, utilize theirs last Monday. They are like two heart detectives. And they are good.
After an elder meeting, four of us (Rob Griffin, Bobby, Gary, and myself) were sitting at a table at St. James Brasserie drinking strong beer and discussing stronger theology. But at one point during the conversation, Gary seemed like he was spacing out, so Bobby asked him if he was tired. He said he was just thinking, but kept staring off into the distance. I assumed that Gary was just hungry, as we had just served chili at our elder meeting and he won’t eat anything that has ever had a pulse.
But almost immediately after Bobby asked Gary this question, our table received an offer to shoot pool from a girl, whom I will refer to as “Zooey,” and a guy, whom I will refer to as “Aaron.” They were the only other people in the room. I was about to finish my thought, which at the time I felt was going to tie the whole conversation together, but Gary abruptly interrupted my sentence and said “Let’s evangelize,” like he was a fireman who just heard the alarm ring. Bobby and Gary accepted the offer to play, and Rob and I sat at the table and watched the encounter as we waited for our turn.
Few police interrogators can get a person to open up with such ease as Bobby and Gary, and within moments Zooey starts spilling her guts. During the game, she revealed that
1) Her dad was a pastor
2) She had been a missionary with YWAM, and had gone to a school in New Hampshire that specialized in Dream Interpretation and other charismatic practices
3) She has rejected Christianity
4) She has recently broken up with her boyfriend.
It is pretty interesting how God used #4 to set up this whole situation. Zooey and Aaron had been up at the bar, where Rob was purchasing a round of drinks, and Zooey’s heart fluttered when she gazed upon Rob’s rugged charm (If you know him, you’d understand why). After Rob rejoined our table, Aaron, playing the role of her wingman, convinced her that they should go shoot pool in the back room where we were because one of us was bound to take her home. (I’m assuming that at this point his spidey sense did not alert him that we are four married pastors who were discussing the Bible).
Now, the story seems normal up to this point, but here is where it starts getting freaky.
During the game of pool, after Zooey has vehemently denounced her faith to us, Gary makes a wager with her. If he and Bobby win, then she has to go to Living Stones on Sunday. Bobby and Gary were clearly the better players, so she refused the offer. Then Bobby makes a second offer: “If we lose will you go to church?” She reluctantly agrees to this. Then, a couple shots later, Bobby’s cue ball ricochets off his intended target and prematurely knocks the 8 Ball in. Bobby and Gary have lost in a bizarre way (Bobby seriously did not intend for this to happen), and Zooey now has to attend church. God controls the outcome of a dice roll (Prov. 16:33). There is no doubt he was controlling Bobby’s game-losing shot.
So Zooey is in disbelief, but she refuses to attend Living Stones because she feels like “everyone will be laughing at her” while she’s there. But Aaron, now ironically playing the role of our wingman, tells her that he will make sure she honors her bet by taking her to Living Stones on Sunday.
Then the story gets really freaky.
While Rob and I are having a side conversation with Aaron, Gary looks directly at Zooey and says “God wants me to let you know that he loves you and cares for you, and that you don’t have to find love anywhere else.” And Bobby, at the leading of the Holy Spirit, places his arm on her shoulder to comfort her. Gary’s words bypassed Zooey’s ears and went straight to her heart, like she had just been given an adrenaline shot Pulp Fiction-style, and tears immediately exploded in her eyes. She said “You’re going to make me cry” (which is like someone saying “This is going to hurt” after they’ve already been hit by a truck) and Bobby replied “That’s ok. Gary cries all the time.” Gary nodded. (He does).
By this point Rob and I were part of the mix, but we were definitely extras in this movie. We continued the conversation with Zooey and Aaron, but the spiritual heart punch had already been administered. Before she left, Zooey, clearly frustrated, told me “I’m not mad at you guys. I’m mad at God. He won’t leave me alone.” She is right. When she was leaving, she tilted her head up and let out an “uggghhh,” as if to acknowledge that she will not be able to escape God. Again, she is right.
Upon conversion, we all receive at least one spiritual gift to serve the kingdom of God. But we possess these gifts not just to use them but to teach other Christians how to use them. Those with the gift of administration, say, serve by organizing God’s people but also teach God’s people how to better organize. So with this, Bobby and Gary taught those of us without the gift of evangelism some very important lessons.
1) Evangelism can cross relational barriers
Zooey and Aaron are in their mid-twenties. The combined age of Bobby and Gary is Methuselah. Also, Zooey and Aaron are both of a different race than Bobby and Gary, but this did not stop them from evangelizing.
2) Evangelism is more than words
Gary and Bobby did not simply spit out verbal gold. Zooey’s heart did not get rocked because they reasoned away her doubts with well rehearsed answers. It happened because God had been undeniably directing her life and had ordained this encounter. She knew it, Gary and Bobby sixth sensed it, and they were prepared for it.
I was curious why Bobby and Gary seemed to have a secondary focus on Aaron, who was very interested in talking with us and had even attended Living Stones before. The natural target would have been him because of his receptivity to us, not Zooey, who clearly expressed that she is not interested in Jesus anymore. Gary admitted that that the Holy Spirit had directed his heart towards Zooey. If the reliance was on conversation alone, she would not have been reached.
3) Evangelism is not just for extroverts
The gift of evangelism is not dependent on personality. Neither Bobby nor Gary are the salesman type who will talk your ear off and convince you that now is the time to act on the Charter Bundle. They simply love people who do not know Jesus, listen to others and the Holy Spirit, and can communicate effectively.
4) Evangelism requires preparation
As was seen on this night, opportunities for evangelism can come at any time. We did not set out to witness to people, we merely wanted to hang out with each other. But the opportunity presented itself.
So how did Bobby and Gary prepare for this specific encounter?
We were fresh out of an elder meeting, where Bobby prayed out loud that his gift of evangelism be cultivated and used. The prayer was answered within an hour.
This was not their first rodeo, and because of his evangelistic training Bobby told me that he was sensitive to certain signs. He later said “When she told me that she was a pastor’s kid I knew that the Spirit was behind it. I guarantee she has had teams of people praying for her. We are reaping what others have sown.” The gift of evangelism is cultivated through practice.
Gary revealed that not only was he fasting by default that night because there was a salad famine (he doesn’t drink alcohol either), but that he had fasted the day before to seek the Lord. He asked me “How often are you fasting? When the world is silent, you can hear Jesus speaking.”
“In game” prayer
Gary admitted that while we thought he was spacing out during our round table discussion, he was actually praying that God would show his love to Zooey. He had not even made eye contact with her yet, and we were in a deep theological conversation, but his evangelist radar was going off the entire time. Our conversation wasn’t meaningless, but, to him, it definitely meant less than this opportunity. Bobby and Gary have no problem leaving the 99 sheep to chase after the stray one (Matt. 18:12). We shouldn’t either.
Finally, evangelism requires the courage to respond to God’s leading, regardless of results
As one who has personally had encounters like this but with few tangible results, I asked Gary and Bobby why this was. They assured me that God only asks us to be faithful, and that, like the prophet Isaiah, our ministry might not ever bear recognizable fruit. Bobby told me an embarrassing story about this. While attending Maui Community College, he felt the Spirit prompt him to stand up in the school cafeteria and proclaim the gospel to everyone there. He did, succinctly, and offered an invitation for people to come up and talk to him afterwards. He said he sat there, awkwardly eating soup, or something, while everyone stared at him and no one responded to his invitation. But he was obedient to the Spirit’s leading. That is all we are asked to be.
But in this story, by the grace of God, there were tangible results. Zooey and Aaron did attend Living Stones on Sunday, and both were visibly affected by the gospel message. While the service was still going on, Zooey went into the hall, sobbing, and both Bobby and Gary were there to talk to her. Sometimes we will never see the people we witness to again. But other times, there is another chance to share God’s love. Bobby and Gary were ready for that opportunity too.