jtrhart

Whitefield and a Plan

In Uncategorized on January 3, 2008 at 8:21 am

whitefieldI’m reading through one of the excellent presents my lovely wife gave me recently. In it, the author tells a great story of what happened during Whitefield’s first missionary journey to Georgia. George Whitefield was the great preacher who God used to start revivals in England and America during the middle 1700’s. He is said to be one of the first “traveling, open-air” preachers, similar to Billy Graham’s style.

I’ll describe the story first and then conclude with what we can draw from it in our own evangelism.

Whitefield was hired as a ship’s military chaplain for the soldiers on board the ship taking him from England to America, but George took it upon himself to be chaplain to everyone on board as well (civilians, the crew, the captain, etc.). On the first morning at sea George stands up during public prayer time and tells everyone that his intention was “to know nothing among [them] save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

Of course, telling the people they are not worth getting to know didn’t go over very well and they instantly shunned him. But George had a plan. He started visiting the sick (very dangerous to do on a long sea voyage in the 1700’s) and spent time with them and prayed for them. Then he began developing relationships with the people on board. Every opportunity he had, he would just wander around the ship and strike up conversations with people. After the people’s trust in him continued to grow, he started up some classes; bible studies, catechism, education for children and adults.

By this time, everyone on board knew him and he seemed to be in their good graces. Then a terrible storm came about and he spent the entire time crawling on his hands and knees going about from person to person and group to group comforting them and praying with them and reading to them. Imagine the effect this had on people. Think of those times when you’re on an airplane in turbulence and the plane suddenly drops in altitude, it’s pretty scary. Now imagine there was someone walking around the airplane, showing no fear, talking to people, encouraging them, praying for them. It would make quite an impact.

Soon after this, the people on board began to be transformed by the gospel that Whitefield preached. It got to the point that every day, the people would set up benches on the deck and Whitefield would preach to the people. The other two ships that were making the journey with Whitefield’s vessel would actually come up along side them during these times of preaching so everyone on board could hear as well. A floating church building.

Of course by the end of the journey, many had come to know Christ and many were on their way. He had made such an impact during a few short months that the people on board begged to let them follow him on his missionary journey to Georgia.

It’s a great story and from it we can take a few pointers that might be helpful in our own evangelism.

  1. Declare our intentions soon. Whitefield make it known to the people what his plan was, he didn’t try and act secretly to trick people. He plainly stated his intentions to make Christ known and then went about doing it.
  2. Have patience. He knew it was going to take people a while to warm up to him and so he took his time. He didn’t start his classes and bible studies and preaching times right away but eased into these things once people knew him and saw that he was genuine in his intentions.
  3. Go to those in need. The first people he sought to know were the sick. His intention was not to prey on these people because they were weak but rather, it was to help those in need. If he had gone straight to the captain and gentlemen of the ship first, he would have been alienating the majority of the ship. By going to the sick first, he was able to help those weakest and most in need.
  4. Be intentional. He would ask people the hard questions and get them to think about eternal matters but he made it personal to whoever he spoke to. If he was speaking with the soldiers, he would speak about their jobs and the risks they took with their lives. If he was speaking with the sailors, he would speak on their conduct and language. He wasn’t cold and impersonal, running off some list of questions prepared beforehand. He asked people about their own lives and what they believed.
  5. Be selfless. Whitefield showed this in two ways. First, he didn’t concern himself for his safety or health. He visited the sick and of course got sick as a result of it. He risked his life by walking around during a huge storm so that he could comfort people in their time of need. Second, he could have easily locked himself in a room and spent all his time studying and reading as he loved to do but he choose instead to spend the majority of his time developing relationships with others. He didn’t concern himself with becoming their best friend either, he asked the hard questions and pushed people to think about more weighty matters.
  6. Be prepared. Once the people had warmed up to him, he was all set to put in place various types of structured learning. He was prepared to teach and preach as soon as the people were ready to hear it.
  7. Have the right goal. His goal was to make Christ known to the people. What more worthy thing could he have given the people other than the only thing they did not have?
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