Pastor and mother of nine Helen Devinish used to be terrified of public speaking. Now she walks the streets of Hobart twice a week, introducing people to the Gospel. Her new book, Let’s Go: Fearless Evangelism, is a practical guide to overcoming our anxiety, and making ourselves available to God.
In a recent conversation with Neil Johnson, Helen gave us four invaluable tips for becoming a fearless evangelist.
Devinish says she was once extremely shy and never talked to strangers. ‘I believe it’s been an enormous work of God in my life to get me to the point where I can just go up and talk to anyone. And I now actually can say I enjoy it. I love meeting new people, and especially when I get the opportunity to share my faith as well.’
Her journey began several years ago, when she realised that people who were seeking God weren’t walking into churches. She took weekly prayer walks around Hobart, asking God how she could reach the lost. She was inspired to start an outreach café, and she now runs Hobart’s Church on the Rock. But she realised the best way to bring people to church was to go and find them.
‘Since then,’ she said, ‘I’ve been doing more and more street ministry, just getting out there, being friendly, opening my mouth, and talking to people about Jesus, if and when I can.’
It’s not always easy, of course. On one four-degree day, Devinish was very reluctant to venture out into the cold. But her commitment was rewarded when she got the chance to share her faith with 24 people in 90 minutes.
‘That was a real confirmation from God, that sometimes when you let your feelings be submissive to what you need to do, and you just get out and do it, then you can reap a lot of good things for God’s kingdom.’
In an increasingly secular culture, the idea of sharing our faith is becoming more and more intimidating. We’re frightened of telling biblical truths because we know they’re no longer popular, and we’re worried people will make fun of us. But Helen Devinish says that this is a fear of man, and we need to let it go.
‘Really we should have a fear of God, and that awesome, reverential fear of god, I believe, is something that will then help us to be obedient to God, to follow the great commission, to go into all the world and preach the Gospel.’
‘I don’t believe every Christian is an evangelist,’ Helen said, ‘but all Christians should be willing to share the Gospel when the opportunity presents itself to them.’ She started small, smiling at people in shopping queues, and found that her openness could lead to conversations. ‘Just get used to being nice to people, and then I think it gets easier.’
Many people feel they can’t be evangelists because they don’t know what to say. But you don’t have to be a charismatic preacher for a one-on-one conversation. Sometimes, that personal approach is just what’s needed to open a heart.
Devinish’s book and many others offer advice on how to deliver the Gospel message honestly and confidently. ‘There’s many other tools and materials out there that can help you to be able to articulate the Gospel in a simple way, in today’s English, so that people can understand it. And that just comes from practice.’
Devinish suggests you ask a friend or family member if you can practice on them to build up your confidence. And she says that if you let God show you who to talk to, he’ll often lead you to someone who wants to hear what you have to say. ‘Ask God, who should I share with? Who can I start with?’
‘If we don’t open our mouths, and share the Gospel, there are thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people, heading to hell, without then realising, knowing the true message of the Gospel, of what Jesus did for us on the cross.’
If you don’t have that passion, Devinish encourages you to pray, and ask God to bring it to you. ‘Because that is the heart of the father. He sent Jesus not to condemn the world, but to save the world. And I think this is such an amazing message of hope and good news that we have, that often Christians are too afraid to share it.’
In a society which seems to be turning against the Bible on every front, you might expect that Devinish faces a lot of anger in her street ministry. But she has spoken to thousands of people, and her experience is very different. ‘I have seen that mostly, people are gentle, because if you’re nice to someone, generally speaking, they’re nice back to you.’
Occasionally, people refuse to talk to her, and whatever their tone, she blesses them and politely moves on. ‘But most people are open to listening. If you show them respect, they’ll show you respect. So I really encourage people to ask the Lord for that spirit of gentleness, which is a fruit of the holy spirit, to help in articulating the Gospel.’
‘Because in a sense, it’s more than just the message. The message, the truth, the power of the cross, what Jesus did is so important. But if you are speaking to someone with any sign of judgment or criticism, then they’re going to pick that up, and that’s what will provoke the anger.’
‘If you can just show them love, the love of Christ, while speaking truth, then I believe they will receive that.’
For more of Helen’s advice, check out her new book, Let’s Go: Fearless Evangelism. Or for a different perspective, try Pastor Jeff Vines’ Dinner with Skeptics, where he describes how by defending his faith with love, he softened a room full of hostile hearts in one night of conversation.