Why Otis Stayed Unsaved

May 15, 2018

My landlord, Otis, didn't have much use for the church. He saw it as a waste of time. 

Otis thought Christians were phonies. Worst of the lot, in his view, was the local church pastor who also ran a small business on the side. Otis had dealt with him once and felt he'd been cheated. 

I knew the pastor. He'd bragged to me about outfoxing clients on business deals. So it wasn't hard to believe Otis's version of the transaction, even without knowing all the details. 

Won't see me in church again, Otis grumbled. 

A few years later, Otis passed away. As far as I know, he died an unbeliever. 

That was a long time ago. I remembered Otis recently during a discussion of evangelism and ethics. Someone was putting forth the view that evangelism was the primary Christian task, and that other forms of churchly activity were secondary, such as promoting biblical ethics in business. 

Of course ethics were important, this person was saying, but the real core of the Christian life was evangelism, telling others about Jesus. You could do all the good you wanted, but it was all for nothing if you weren't explaining the way of salvation. 

Otis's case had been precisely the opposite. You could preach to Otis into the wee hours, but it was all for nothing because he already had a real-life image of what Christians were like. His pastor's business ethics had told him all he wanted to know about the Christian faith. 

Otis was demonstrating, in reverse, what church-growth research would begin to document years later: The vast majority of new converts are brought to faith not by organized evangelism programs but by friends, family, and positive personal contact with other Christians. Our relationships and behavior in daily life speak louder than any verbal testimony. 

What is our purpose on earth? Those who say to win souls sometimes tend to make Christian faith into an endless sales pitch, like a pyramid scheme. They give little thought to the product being distributed. With a more comprehensive view, we recognize our assigned task to glorify God and bear witness to our new identity as redeemed creatures, in a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17, NRSV). 

Clearly, there is a vital place for verbal witness. We cannot do without it. Those who bear witness to Christ's redemption in their daily life and work must also be ready to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Pet. 3:15, NIV). But do our verbal witness and our practical witness need to be separated into two camps? 

The great commission tells us not only to make disciples and baptize but also to teach all that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). It calls us to express the totality of his teaching and relationships. This means to love, serve, preach, and heal. 

Many of us may not be proficient at verbally explaining the way of salvation. But all of us demonstrate by our relationships and actions whether or not we walk in the light of the resurrection. 

Francis of Assisi said it right: Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.

Written by Wally Kroeker, President of the Mennonite Economic Development Association.   Used by permission. Content distributed by WorkLife.org > Used for non-profit teaching purposes only.