Austin Smith has been taking the course “Issues in Evangelism” this semester at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but he recently encountered one issue he was hesitant to face.
Smith, a Master of Divinity student from Boerne, Texas, has been neighbors with Alan* for over seven months, and they see each other daily. The two are friendly with one another but have little in common. Smith initially pegged Alan as “a guy whose actions were clearly not following Christ,” and over time, he felt the Holy Spirit calling him to evangelize to his neighbor.
However, Smith “was concerned about starting a conversation with a guy I see every day,” he says, adding that it would be awkward living next to Alan if he was unresponsive.
“I made excuses about how busy I was and all this stuff I had to do,” Smith says, admitting this is “what my sinful heart said.”
In “Issues in Evangelism,” taught by Matt Queen, L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism, Queen encourages the students to pray for one another and the people whom God puts in their lives to evangelize. Convicted about his attitude toward his neighbor, Smith asked his class to pray for Alan to be saved.
On a Wednesday night earlier this semester, at around 10 o’clock, Smith and his wife, Selena, were walking back to their apartment. As he often does, Alan was sitting on his patio, and he called out to them, “What are y’all doing?” Smith replied that they had been to their Wednesday night service at the First Baptist Church of Rowlett, where Smith serves as associate pastor for young adults.
To Smith’s surprise, Alan was interested in what they did there and asked some follow-up questions. Ultimately, the two men discussed the Gospel late into the night.
Smith asked Alan about his beliefs and what he knew about God. Though Alan knew the story of Jesus dying on the cross, he did not fully understand the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice.
Smith shared 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Smith says this was apparently the first time Alan truly understood why Christ died, sharing his amazement that “Christ died for me.”
This was “a big one for him,” Smith says—“realizing why Jesus died and the actual substitutionary atonement idea.”
Over the next few months, the men continued to meet weekly. “We talked so much Scripture,” Smith says, adding that he was in awe of their deep discussions of the Gospel. Alan was particularly moved by Romans 10:9-10, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.”
“The whole idea that you don’t have to work your way to salvation was big for Alan,” Smith says.
Smith used the “Three Circles” guide for evangelism to help demonstrate God’s design for mankind, man’s brokenness, and the redemptive power of the Gospel.
After spending so much time together, Smith started greeting Alan by asking, “Is today the day?” By this he meant, “Is this the day you will finally accept Christ as your Savior?”
One day, Smith pressed Alan to explain what was holding him back. Alan answered, “It’s me not wanting to trust Him.” Smith replied earnestly, “You know it’s true; you just need to do it.”
Finally, Alan agreed, and he decided to abandon his reservations and invite Christ into his heart. Alan prayed a “beautiful prayer of repentance” in his own words, Smith says, and afterward, Alan was “stunned.”
“I can’t explain it, but I feel something going on in my heart,” he said. Smith explained that this was “the Holy Spirit living inside of you.”
Shortly thereafter, Smith sent an email to Queen and his class, saying, “Y’all have been praying for Alan, my neighbor. He accepted Christ 30 minutes ago!” Smith thanked his class for their “prayers, encouragement, and instruction.”
The two men are now studying the Gospel of John together. Though Alan has yet to visit his church, Smith continues to pray that he will soon, be baptized, and that he will lead his family to Christ, as well.
Smith is enthusiastic about his new brother in Christ and is amazed how the Holy Spirit works—namely, that despite Smith’s “sinful heart” and “excuses” to not talk to his neighbor, God continued to pursue the lost.
“I love that God still wants to use me even when I’ve been disobedient to his prompting,” Smith says.
*Name changed to protect anonymity.