How did you become a Christian? How do you describe your conversion story? How can you better help others understand the decision to become a follower of Christ?
There are different kinds of conversion experiences throughout the Bible, especially in the book of Acts, just as there are different experiences of conversion within each congregation and community. The way we describe our own conversion experience likely depends on our denominational background and our personal vocabulary as much as it does how well we understand the biblical concept of conversion.
How can we lead others to a conversion experience without unintentionally force-fitting our experience and terminology on them? As a family of faith, we will be called upon to discern and affirm variety of expressions and descriptions of conversion experiences. Our bottom-line criterion is, does the experience lead the individuals to a lifestyle of following Jesus?
In the book of Acts, there are many types of conversion experiences. Consider these examples as representative typologies:
–Relationship connection. Simon Peter, the primary post-resurrection spokesperson for the disciples, was introduced to Christ by his brother, Andrew (John 1:40-42). This seems to be the norm for evangelism in the early church. A friend or family member introduced other friends and family members to Jesus.
This is not a new method. In Joshua 24:15, we find Joshua urging others to choose whether or not they will live in covenant with God, but “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
–Mysterious encounter with God. Saul of Tarsus was traveling on the road to Damascus when he was blinded by a mysterious light. There is no explicit mention upfront of a church, preacher, religious tract or even the Scriptures. But Saul recognized this experience to be of God. This is not the normative conversion experience in the Bible, but there are other historical testimonies of individuals who had a “mysterious encounter” with the Lord that resulted in their spiritual transformation.
–A life-changing event. After witnessing the singing and praying of Paul and Silas, and experiencing the eventual “quake” that set the prisoners free, the Philippian jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?”
There are faith stories that have been published about individuals who were so shaken by the events of September 11 that they turned to God. I have personally listened to the stories of persons who have turned to Christ after a near-tragic automobile accident or some other near-death experience. It is possible that dramatic life events can cause people to awaken to a higher purpose.
–Exposure to the Scriptures. In Acts we are introduced described as “the Ethiopian Eunuch.” He is in his chariot reading the prophet Isaiah when God sends a messenger to explain the text more fully. The Eunuch is eager to seal his conversion with a baptism in nearby water.
I have a friend of many years who testifies that he became a Christian when on one of his most desperate nights, he found a Gideon Bible and gospel tract in his hotel room.
The Holy Spirit still uses Scripture as a tool to convict and convert those who are searching for meaning in life.
–Public response to preaching. When Peter preached a sermon at the feast of Pentecost to a gathering of people who had never heard of Jesus, over 2,000 made commitments to follow Christ.
Mass evangelism has been popularized in our day mostly by Dr. Billy Graham. Dr. Graham, I believe, has preached to more people in his lifetime that anyone in the world. And we can be grateful for the thousands who have come to Christ because of the faithful preaching of revivalists and evangelists. However, mass evangelism tends to be most effective in reaching people who have not been continually exposed to the gospel.
While individuals in the postmodern world may come to Christ in a variety of ways, it seems that the majority respond to a faithful personal witness. Wayne McDill contends that, “Evangelism will be effective to the extent that it depends on the establishment and cultivation of meaningful relationships.”
Barry Howard is senior minister at Brookwood Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches.