Evangelism Is a Process
Most people associate evangelism with an event (conversion), but from a Scriptural perspective, it is more of a process. In fact, the Bible uses agricultural imagery to portray the dynamic process of evangelism (e.g., John 4:35-39; 1 Corinthians 3:6-9). Crops do not simply “happen”— reaping a harvest is the outcome of a lengthy series of events that cannot be bypassed or overlooked.
The first phase in this series is the preparation of the soil. Unless the ground is cleared and plowed, it will not be ready to receive the seed. After the soil is harrowed and furrowed, the second phase, sowing the seed, takes place. Cultivation, the third phase, is the lengthiest part of the agricultural process since it involves irrigation, fertilization, and weed control. Only when the crop is mature is it ready to undergo the brief fourth phase of reaping.
When we substitute “soul” for “soil,” the spiritual analogy of these four phases to the process of evangelism becomes obvious.
Before people are ready to receive the seed of the Word, their souls must be prepared, and there are many ways in which this can happen. Often, God uses adversities and setbacks to pull people away from their illusions of autonomy, so they can begin to see their true condition of spiritual need. The sowing of the seed is exposure to the truths of the Word of God, and the process of cultivation is the gradual realization that these truths speak to their deep needs. The Lord uses His servants in each of these phases as they pray for people without Christ, develop relationships with them in areas of common ground, and share their own journeys when appropriate.
Jesus “prepared the soil” when He asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of well water (John 4:7-10). Even in speaking to her, Jesus overcame three barriers: first, the racial barrier (Jews had no dealings with Samaritans), second, the gender barrier (Jewish rabbis would not address women as Jesus did), and third, the social barrier (this woman had a poor reputation among her own people). Jesus knew everything she had done, and yet He gently and lovingly offered her the living water of eternal life.
The parable of the soils in Matthew 13:3-9 and Mark 4:1-20 illustrates the phase of seed sowing and underscores the need for receptivity to the Word of life. The seed does not take permanent root when the soil is unprepared.
The cultivation phase is illustrated in the fact that Jesus was called “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19) and in Paul’s desire to find areas of common ground in order to win Jews and Gentiles to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
The final phase of reaping the harvest is depicted in the metaphor Jesus used of the Samaritans as a field that is white for harvest (John 4:35-38). This image is immediately followed by an account of the Samaritans’ coming to faith in Jesus (John 4:39-42).
The key concept to be gleaned from this process principle is the liberating truth that, if we are involved in any one of these four phases, we are doing evangelism. Believers who prepare the soil, sow the seed, or cultivate the planted soil are as much a part of the evangelistic process as those who are given the privilege of reaping the harvest. In addition, when we are sensitive and responsive to the opportunities God places in our path, we will find ourselves participating in different phases of the process, depending on the individual and the purposes of God. With one person we may be given an opportunity to participate in the seed-planting phase by sharing truths from Scripture. In another case, we may have an opportunity to water or fertilize the spiritual truth that has already been sown. While our desire is to see that our friends come to Christ (the harvest), we can be assured that whether we are involved in preparing, sowing, watering, or reaping, we are part of the same process.
Taken from Ken Boa’s Handbook to Spiritual Growth