HOW TO EVANGELIZE ADVENTISTS WELL

 

Helpful tips from years of experience doing the very opposite:

 

by Lisa Winn

 

Not long after I left Adventism, I went on a camping trip to Death Valley with my family. I spent most of the trip awkwardly aloof, a map of the night sky in hand, memorizing the constellations of the northern hemisphere. One evening around the campfire, as I gazed at God’s marvelous creation, I overheard my Adventist aunt talking about her son-in-law. She was lamenting the fact that he was not a Christian. “But he’s a good kid,” she added thoughtfully. In a not-so-brilliant moment, albeit one filled with genuine love and concern, I piped in with the “helpful” hint that, “It doesn’t matter if he is a good person, if he isn’t a follower of Jesus Christ he is going to hell.”

Forgotten marshmallows burst into flames, oozing off their sticks and into the crackling inferno below. At the edge of the campground, coyotes yipped and howled excitedly as a little dog, having escaped his owner’s loving leash, sounded one last cry in the darkness.

Now, ten years later, I still have zero evidence that any of my perhaps-over-zealous, witnessing attempts have played even a small role in leading someone to Christ.

I have come to terms with this.

Truthfully, it is only within the last year that I have possibly learned how to witness more effectively, and even if I will never be stellar at it, I thought I could share some helpful tips with those of you who have left Adventism and are feverishly excited to witness to your Adventist friends and family.

I’ve broken all these rules—by the way—some perhaps today, so don’t feel bad. Remember, God can use even “failed” witnessing attempts for His Glory!

 

First, pique their interest in God.

Your Adventist friend is most likely so entrenched in the Adventist system that he has no desire to read that pile of anti-Ellen material you dump in his lap. Either he simply doesn’t care, or the thought of Adventism being wrong is too painful. Besides, Adventism is “working” for him! He is comfortable. Unless he starts to see and feel the deficiencies of Adventism, primarily through his own inability to keep the Law (God’s Law and Ellen’s never-ending list of do’s and don’ts), he won’t truly understand his need for a Savior, or just how oppressive Adventism is.

 

Share in small, chewable chunks.

You will not get to share the full-on gospel with most of the people you evangelize—at least not immediately. Most of what we do is plant seeds here and there. Oftentimes other people, years later, are the ones who will see the fruit. Before you can share the gospel with someone, you must identify his false worldview, and help him see its shortcomings. Try “putting a stone in his shoe,” as Gregory Koukl says in his book, Tactics. Putting a stone in someone’s shoe simply means asking him a question that will get him thinking; that will make him uncomfortable about a cherished belief, eventually causing him to seek out more truth on his own.

 

Read and study the Bible.

Let Adventists see you hungering and thirsting for Scripture. God works through his word, and if you are not taking it in, you will have little to offer others in terms of wisdom and truth, and little to sustain you in times of hardship or discouragement.

 

Meet people where they are at.

If an Adventist has something exciting to tell you about the Bible, or how she feels God is working in her life, don’t discredit it right off the bat. Listen earnestly and affirm any shred of truth you hear in her words. Encourage her, build her up… only then help her go deeper with applicable Scripture, letting God’s word do any correcting.

 

Logic doesn’t save, God saves.

There have been many times over the past decade during which I have ineffectively used reason alone to evangelize. While there is certainly a place for reason in evangelism, don’t let logical debate overshadow Scripture. God’s word is living and active. He works through it, and it is more powerful than anything you could possibly say. Adventists can be scripturally-dehydrated and not even realize it. Give them a taste, and they might drink it up. I can think of one example where just sharing a meaningful passage of Scripture with an Adventist friend lifted a terrible anxiety with which she had been burdened for a while.  

 

You can hate Adventism, but make sure to love Adventists.

Just yesterday I was at a restaurant and saw a man wearing a PUC Alumnus shirt—my alma mater. I felt too afraid and disaffected to say, “Hello! I went there, too!” since I am no longer Adventist. Emotionally I felt, “How could a conversation with him possibly go anywhere good, since he is likely to find out I am no longer Adventist?” As I was getting back in my car, I felt immediately that I had made the wrong decision and had missed an opportunity.

 

Actions speak louder than words.  

The people closest to you know you best. They know your faults and foibles. Seeing the fruit of your faith will be a greater witness to them than anything you have to say. If someone is not initially receptive to hearing truth, you might have to wait for him to come to you later with questions (after he sees changes in your character), before you can share gospel truth with him.

 

Spend quality time.

If you are enjoying a new community of Christian fellowship (which we all should be!), don’t abandon your Adventist family and friends. Spend time with them, especially if you live with, or are close to them. While sometimes avoidance is… unavoidable (i.e. in situations where your family is dangerously dysfunctional, abusive, or has disowned you for leaving “the truth”), if you can remain on good terms with your family (as an active, loving part of their lives), you have a much better chance of being a source of light to them.

On a side note, we are not called to make opportunities to share the gospel, but to “make the most of every opportunity.” You don’t need to manufacture opportunities to talk to people about Jesus. Instead, pray for God to give you opportunities in which to share the gospel.

 

Apologize.

Being born again does not rid us of fleshly, sinful tendencies. When you are in-the-wrong, be quick to apologize to your loved ones. Take full responsibility. Before I was born again, I was not able to admit wrong or say “I’m sorry.” Seeing you confess sin and repent from it can be an amazing witnessing tool, because most people simply make excuses for their bad behavior.

 

Turn the other cheek.

Assume the best of other people’s intentions, especially those closest to you. Let minor offenses go. Give grace as much as possible. Remember that God has given us grace through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and that we did not deserve such a gift. In turn, we are to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

 

Be all things to all people.

If you are going to or hosting an event where Adventists will be present, you don’t have to exercise your freedom in Christ by making a bacon dish, serving wine, or wearing jewelry. If Adventists are stumbled or offended by your external behavior, you may lose an opportunity to witness to them. There are times to stand firm in your Christian liberty, and times hold back, out of love for others. Use discernment.

On a side note, if a conservative Adventist knows you have left Adventism, he may be looking for external signs of your descent into “Babylon” as good reason to discredit your testimony. You don’t have to give him the pleasure of finding any (though I must confess, at times it is fun to ruffle feathers).

 

Hold Adventists to their professed beliefs.

The Bible calls us to keep our fellow Christians in the faith through exhortation. Adventists profess to be Christians, so you can hold them to their own strange convictions regarding God’s requirements, even if you disagree! If you see an Adventist friend breaking an Adventist rule, one which you know he claims to believe (be it eating meat or drinking coffee), express genuine concern. 

Also, do not aid and abet an Adventist in going against his conscience. Do not be a stumbling block for him. Should your Sabbath-keeping friend want to meet you at the movies on a Saturday before the sun sets, you can say something to the effect of, “No, I’m sorry, but I know your Sabbath conviction is important to you, and I don’t feel comfortable tempting you to go against your conscience.” This may anger your friend, but will hopefully help him see the legalistic nature of Adventism’s rules, and his own failure to keep them. (Caution: this will only work if you two are close and have first proven your love and care for him in friendship.)

Before I left Adventism, one of the most influential moments in my life was a Christian friend (non-Adventist), to whom I looked up and admired, pointing out to me that I was not taking my Adventist faith seriously. At the time, I was deeply hurt, but this encounter led me to ultimately realize that I wasn’t passionate about my faith in God as an Adventist, since I knew Adventism’s teachings were false.

 

Read books on evangelism.

Many of the ideas in this column are from these three books, which have helped me become a better evangelist (I hope!). I highly recommend them:

    • Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, by Gregory Koukl
    • Evangelism Made Slightly Less Difficult: How to Interest People Who Aren’t Interested, by Nick Pollard
    • Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons, by Mark J. Cares
      • There are more parallels with Adventism in this book than you might think, and many techniques suggested that easily apply to evangelizing Adventists. This book revolutionized the way I thought about witnessing to people in cults.

 

Give them literature, not lectures.

Pride often keeps us from hearing hard truths from the people we know and love, but if we read these in a book written by a stranger, the words can have a truly lasting and influential effect. I try to think of good books filled with biblical truth to give to Adventists—books that might make them think or perceive something in Scripture that they have never heard previously in Adventism. Truth doesn’t always have to come directly from your lips, especially if your relationship with someone is strained in any way.

One of my favorite books that I consider helpful for Adventists to read, is Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. In the book, Nabeel Qureshi takes the reader through his own process of realizing his cherished beliefs are wrong and realizing that he has been lied to about the history of Islam. Ultimately, he has to choose between the truth of Christianity and his culture (and the likelihood of being disowned by his family, if he chooses to convert).  There are so many parallels in Adventism.

 

Pray!

Perhaps the most underutilized evangelistic technique is prayer. Pray earnestly for the people to whom you have witnessed throughout the years, whether it be the random person you sat next to on a plane, or your beloved (albeit slightly frustrating) sibling. God listens to our prayers, delights in them, and works through them. Make a list of names of people to pray for and keep it where you will see it (ugh, I still need to do this!). Also, as I mentioned earlier, pray for new opportunities to share the gospel, as well.

 

Don’t give up.

It can take years, perhaps decades, for planted seeds to flower and turn into fruit. Also, it is God—not your efforts—who saves people. We are called to share the Good News, but we are not responsible for other people’s responses to that news.  

 

1 Peter 3

Read it. Memorize it. Live it.

So, there you have it! We suffer as we seek ways to share the gospel with our Adventist loved ones, but the Lord is faithful. We trust Him and love those He puts in our lives, and He soften hearts and opens their ears to hear.

“Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in yuou, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are sandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” (1 Pet. 3:13-17).

 

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