Discovering Your Style, Part 1

Acts 2:14-38; 17:16-31

February 25, 2001 | Brian Bill

Sometimes pastors take some heat for speaking too long.  One long-winded minister was preaching away when a woman remembered that she had left the Sunday dinner in the oven.  She hastily wrote a note and slipped it to her husband, who was an usher.  Thinking the note was for the pastor, he calmly walked up and laid it on the pulpit.  The minister paused, took the note with a smile, which quickly turned into a frown, as he read: “Please hurry home and shut off the gas!”

As we’ve already established, we must first own the mission that we’ve been given by being involved in redemptive relationships with lost people.  Then, we must be ready by making sure that we’ve set apart Christ as Lord of our lives so that we can give a clear answer for the hope that we have in Jesus.  We’re to treat pre-Christian people with grace and respect.

Two weeks ago, we learned through two biblical metaphors that we are salt and lightAs salt, we’re to give taste to a bland world, we’re to work as a moral antiseptic, and we’re to make people thirsty for Jesus.  As light, God chooses to use us to dispel darkness, to give guidance, and to reveal Jesus to others.  Every Christian occupies some kind of a pulpit and preaches some kind of a sermon every day.

Last week we were reminded that God wants us to participate in the process of evangelism by practicing some C-P-R on our friends.  We’re to appeal to emotions by cultivating relationships.  We satisfy their intellect by planting the seed of the gospel as we tell our story and His story.  We who know the need must be willing to sow the seed.  And, we reap the harvest when we call for a decision of the will.

Contagious Diversity

Not only must we have a good handle on the different stages of evangelism, it’s also helpful to understand the different evangelistic styles that God has given to each of us.  It takes all kinds of Christians to reach all kinds of non-Christians.  All people cannot witness the same way, but all people can witness some way.

Just as its freeing to understand that God wants us involved in some phase of the evangelism process with our pre-Christian friends, so too, it is very liberating to understand how God has wired you evangelistically.  Once you figure out your evangelistic style, you’ll have greeter freedom to make an eternal impact in the lives of those around you.

Unfortunately, one of the reasons the topic of evangelism creates so much guilt and fosters feelings of failure, is because the church has traditionally focused on just one method for sharing our faith.  For many of us, we’ve been taught that evangelism is going door-to-door and presenting the gospel to people we don’t know and then leading them in a prayer of salvation.

Let’s pause here and just admit something.  While this approach fits some of you like a glove, for the vast majority of us, the very idea fills us with terror!  Studies show that in a congregation like ours, maybe 5% don’t have any trouble knocking on doors.  While I applaud those who enjoy doing this, it’s always troubled me because it means that 95% of us either feel paralyzed by fear or demoralized by guilt when it comes to evangelism.  Has your passion for communicating the gospel been dampened by the thought that you’ll have to become something that’s contrary to your personality?  That’s not how God intends for it to be.  

Remember this: Evangelism is taking the initiative, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to help a person move one step closer in the process of coming to saving faith in Christ.  If God uses you to help someone take the next step toward Christ, you are successful in evangelism!

It’s time to get rid of the shame associated with witnessing.  It’s time to be free to be who God has made you to be!  Can you imagine what would happen in this community if we were all unleashed to communicate the gospel message in a way that is a perfect match for who we are?

God knew what He was doing when He made you! 

If we don’t want evangelistic entropy to set in here, then we must understand that God wants to use each one of us in the greatest mission ever given – to reach lost people with the life-changing message of Christ.  Instead of starting a program and trying to get each of you to fit into it, God wants to start by helping you discover the role He has designed for you to fill.  Friend, God knew what He was doing when He made you!  He custom-designed you with your unique combination of personality, temperament, talents, background, and spiritual gifts.  He longs to harness and use these in His mission to reach this messed up world

When Paul addressed the topic of spiritual gifts, he established the principle that God has built diversity into the very fabric of the church.  1 Corinthians 12:11 puts it this way: “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each one, just as He determines.”  God wants to use you in a fashion that fits the person He made you to be.  All people cannot witness the same way, but all people can witness some way..

During the next three messages, we’re going to look at the way God equipped six people in the New Testament to fulfill different outreach needs.  In the process, we’ll discover six biblical styles of evangelism.  As we go through these, ask yourself which one most closely resembles who God has made you to be.

Six Evangelistic Styles

Style Biblical Example Text

Confrontational Peter Acts 2

Intellectual Paul Acts 17

Testimonial Blind Man John 9

Interpersonal Matthew Luke 5

Invitational Samaritan Woman John 4

Serving Dorcas Acts 9

This morning we’re going to look at the Confrontational style of Peter.  I was also going to focus on Paul’s Intellectual approach but I didn’t want to be handed a note from one of the ushers!  We’ll tackle Paul’s preferred style and the Blind Man’s M.O. next Sunday.  We’ll then focus on the Interpersonal, Invitational and Serving styles two weeks from now.

Let me lay out some principles related to these 6 styles:

1. The key is to discover your style and begin using it.

Listen carefully today and the next two weeks and ask God to reveal which style most accurately describes you.  Once you’re aware of how you’ve been wired, look for ways to be unleashed in evangelism!

2. It’s likely that you will use a combination of approaches depending on the situation.

Each person you talk to is different and may respond better to a blended approach.

3. Remember that no style is better than another.

Resist the urge to judge others who witness differently than you do.  Be gracious with those who utilize a different style.

4. You will need to rely on others to help you.

We are not designed to do it alone.  That’s the beauty of the Friendship Banquet – together we can focus on “cultivating” and “planting.”  Make sure to invite your friends this week!

5. Each style has some inherent weaknesses and blind spots.

It’s important to recognize your inadequacies, rely on the Holy Spirit, and be willing to change.

The Confrontational Style of Peter

In 1993, a former prison convict took the podium to deliver an address before a prestigious crowd of people from various religious backgrounds.  Just prior to his message, a Buddhist priest had offered a chant.  When he was done, a Muslim got up and said a prayer.

Here’s an excerpt of what this courageous Christ-follower said:

“I speak as one transformed by Jesus Christ, the living God.  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He has lived in me for twenty years.  His presence is the sole explanation for whatever is praiseworthy in my work…that is more than a statement about myself.  It is a claim to truth.  It is a claim that may contradict your own…the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob reigns.  His plan and purpose rob the future of its fears.  By the cross He offers hope, by the resurrection He assures triumph.  This cannot be resisted or delayed.  Mankind’s only choice is to recognize Him now or in the moment of ultimate judgment.  Our only choice is to welcome His rule or to fear it…”

Cutting through our cultural cloud of confusion, Charles Colson delivered one of the most effective gospel presentations ever given in our generation.  Colson’s approach and style was very similar to Peter’s presentation in Acts 2 as he stood before the religious crowd of lost people in Jerusalem just weeks after the crucifixion.

Let’s take a look at how God used Peter’s personality and giftedness to confront people with the reality of their sins, the sufficiency of the death of Christ, and the truth of the resurrection.  Whatever Peter did, he did it with full force.  When Jesus asked the disciples in Matthew 16:15 who they thought He was, Peter boldly declared that Jesus was the Messiah.  And yet, a few verses later we read that he challenged Jesus’ stated mission head on.

When Peter was in the fishing boat and wanted to be with Jesus, he didn’t hesitate to do whatever it took to get close to His Master.  When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter became the “slasher” and cut off someone’s ear.  He was brash, he was bold, and he didn’t beat around the bush.

It’s not surprising that God chose him as His spokesman on the day of Pentecost.  It was a perfect fit!  Peter’s personality was custom-designed for this situation.  Relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:14 tells us that he stood up, raised his voice, and confronted his listeners with the facts.  And God blessed his efforts – three thousand people were saved and baptized that same day! 

Acts 2 contains the first public preaching of the gospel after Jesus returned to heaven.  It was a very powerful message for at least three reasons:

  • God’s people had been prayingActs 1:14 tells us that the believers “…all joined together constantly in prayer…”
  • The Holy Spirit was presentActs 2:4 describes how they were “…filled with the Holy Spirit…”
  • God chose to use Peter’s personal style in this situation because of who he was and how he had been gifted.
God wants to use our personality to communicate the gospel to those for whom Christ died

This is good for us to keep in mind as we seek to determine, develop, and deploy our evangelistic style.   No matter how we’ve been gifted, nothing will be accomplished without prayer and a reliance upon the Holy Spirit.  And as we pray and lean on the Spirit, God wants to use our personality to communicate the gospel to those for whom Christ died.  All these ingredients are designed to work together!

I see at least four key elements in Peter’s approach.

1. It was Personal. 

Peter personalized this sermon for his hearers so that it spoke to their exact situation.  Notice all the times he uses the word “you”:

Verse 14: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you…”

Verse 22: “…Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you…as you yourselves know.

Verse 23: “This man was handed over to you…and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”

Verse 36: “…God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Verse 38: “…repent and be baptized, every one of you…and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Verse 39: “The promise is for you and your children…”

Those who utilize this style look for ways to personalize the gospel story so that the listener sees him or herself as a person in need.

2. It was Plain. 

By looking at verses 14-36, we can see that his message was very clear.  He not only personalized his witnessing, Peter got right to the heart of the issue.  Those who feel most comfortable with the confrontational approach have a special ability for clarity.  They have a way to take theological truths and put them in an easy-to-understand format.

In verse 14, we read that Peter stood up and said, “…let me explain this to you, listen carefully to what I say.”  This literally means to “take in one’s ear so that you can know it fully.”  Peter wanted to present the gospel in a way that they could grasp and respond to – he wanted his listeners to get the story straight.

Because his audience respected the Bible, he quoted three passages from the Old Testament to prove who Jesus was and what the Holy Spirit would do.  In verse 22 he again told them to listen.  He didn’t want them to miss anything.  He didn’t mince his words when he told them who was responsible for the death of Christ.  

He unashamedly recalled the crucifixion and didn’t shy away from speaking of the Resurrection.  Verse 36 summarizes his message: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” The Message translation puts it this way: “All Israel, then, know this: There’s no longer room for doubt.  God made Him Master and Messiah, this Jesus whom you killed on a cross.  Can Peter be any more plain than that?

3. It was Persuasive. 

Peter was not interested in just giving them information; he was going after life transformation.  He was persuasive because he understood the consequences of ignoring Christ.  I love verse 37: “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’”  To be “cut to the heart” means that they were “violently agitated as if they were pierced with a needle.” It connotes a sharp pain associated with remorse.  They were shook up and smitten with horror.  They had crucified their long-awaited Messiah and rejected their only hope of salvation.  God had passed judgment and they knew He was right.  They knew they were guilty.

We have two choices when the Holy Spirit convicts us.  We can become hostile and try to defend our sin, or we can surrender.  The hearers that day chose the better route and wanted to know what they could do to avoid God’s judgment.

4. It was Practical. 

Peter was ready for this question as he told them exactly what they needed to do in verse 38: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Peter’s words were the best news they had ever heard – far better than they deserved or could have hoped for.  Those with the confrontational style are ready with the answer.  They’re quick to tell people what they need to do in order to be saved.  The proclamation of the gospel always ends with an appeal for repentance.  People with this style know how to “close the sale,” if you will.  They plant the seed in full assurance that it will lead to a harvest.

Because baptism was a sign of conversion in the Jewish faith that was normally reserved for Gentiles, Peter’s demand would have offended his Jewish audience and cost them respectability.  Peter is calling for a public, radical testimony of conversion, not a private decision that they could go home and think about.  God honored his boldness as 3,000 people were saved and then dunked in the many immersion pools located on the temple mount.

What This Style Means to Me

While only a small percentage of us utilize this approach, there are a lot of people today who won’t come to Christ unless a modern-day Peter boldly brings it on!  That’s exactly what my college roommate did with me over 20 years ago.  One day he brashly told me that he didn’t think I was a Christian!  Boy, did that tick me off!  But God used him because I was haunted by the possibility that he might be right.  That led me to begin reading his Bible and I started attending a Bible study.  He eventually laid out the complete gospel message for me and told me what I needed to do in order to be saved.  On October 3, 1979, I repented and received Christ as my Master and Messiah

Bruce personalized the gospel message so that I could see myself as a person in need.  He was plain and to the point.  He was persuasive and he was practical.  And, God used him to break through my hard heart.

Traits and Cautions

People with the confrontational style exhibit some common traits.  In general, they:

  • Are confident
  • Are bold
  • Are direct
  • Skip small talk and get right to the point
  • Have strong opinions and convictions

If this approach describes you, let me give you a few cautions.  By the way, each style has a “dark side” so don’t feel like I’m picking on you – the rest of us will get our turn!

  • Be sure to seek God’s wisdom so that you’ll be appropriately sensitive and tactful.
  • Allow the Holy Spirit to restrain your desire to come on strong in every situation.
  • Avoid judging or laying guilt trips on others who have a different evangelistic style.  Remember that all people cannot witness the same way, but all people can witness some way.

A Sign for the Savior

This past Tuesday I spent a day out of the office to pray, study, and plan.   I stayed at a very nice place about an hour from here.  For breakfast I went to a restaurant that’s attached to a gas station located in a very small town.  I knew this place was here not because of a sign or anything else, but just because I had been there before.  As I sat at a table in the corner with my work, I noticed that everyone in the restaurant knew each other.  People would come in and look at me as if to say, “Who’s that?  How’d that stranger get in here?”

As I listened to some of the conversations, it made me feel even more like an outsider.  When I left I drove around front to see if there was anything that was in the least bit “welcoming” about the place.  I couldn’t find any sign that mentioned there was a restaurant attached to the gas station.  I guess you just had to know somehow.  My guess is that the owners are pretty content to just have the “regulars” and haven’t given much thought to how they can attract new people.

Our responsibility is to stand up like Peter did and recognize that we need each other.  Take a look again at verse 14.  While its true that Peter stood up and preached, the Bible says that the other eleven stood up with him!   He wasn’t alone.  Most of his buddies were wired differently than he was, but they all stood together.

The same is true for us.  Let’s commit to stand with each other.  Let’s celebrate our differences and support one another.  We’re brothers and sisters and we’re called to work together until He comes.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?