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Chess, Not Checkers: Part 1




Continuing this series on the "Text-Driven Soul-Winner," this article will observe how to approach evangelistic encounters, bringing people to the cross. The analogy of chess and checkers will be used to understand the evangelistic encounter. The corresponding podcast series will also use this same analogy over the next several episodes.


Explanation of Analogy 

The analogy of chess may frighten some people as they may have only had bad experiences playing chess. Frustration over rules, constantly losing, or the game taking hours are reasons many people quit trying to learn chess. Ironically enough, this is the first parallel chess has with evangelism. Many have tried evangelism, but they have become frustrated with it. While some may find the analogy of chess to be a restrictive analogy, it is a purposeful one. The game of chess must be constantly developed throughout a lifetime. The greatest chess masters study and develop their gameplay constantly. The never-ending development is also true of evangelism. No one has created the perfect method to where they don't have to keep becoming better at evangelism. Instead, the best soul-winners are the ones who are constantly seeking to be better. Yet, those same chess masters were first taught the game of chess when they were children, knowing nothing about the game. In the same way, the Christian who has never evangelized can begin the lifelong journey of soul-winning and developing into the best evangelist they can be. So do not fear! 


It is prudent to explain the analogy of "chess, not checkers" further. Evangelism, for a long time, has terrified many Christians. Questions such as "What if I don't share it right?," "Is it my fault if someone rejects the gospel?," and "How do I even engage someone in an evangelistic conversation?" are often asked by Christians who want to obey the command of Christ. In order to answer these questions, pastors and theologians have introduced a plethora of evangelism methods and classes. "Evangelism Explosion," "Share Jesus Without Fear," and "3 Circles", to name a few examples, were created to help Christians get active in evangelism. These are excellent efforts and are undoubtedly pleasing to the Lord, but all of these have the same fatal flaw: they're checkers. That's a bizarre complaint, but what that means is they treat the evangelism encounter like a preset encounter with a finite amount of moves with a quick conclusion. Anyone can play checkers before sitting down for dinner at Cracker Barrel. It's a simple game. When evangelism is treated like checkers, the soul-winner expects the lost person to react in predictable ways. When treated like checkers, the soul-winner believes he can work methodically through a system and easily arrive at someone accepting Jesus. These packaged methods are pristine in the classroom, but they can sometimes crumble when they encounter the real world and leave the soul-winner feeling anxious and guilty all over again. 


Evangelism is not checkers. Evangelism is much more like the game of chess. Chess has 10-40 possible positions in a given game. Chess is a complex game that takes thought and strategy. Evangelism is the same. Whenever one starts an evangelistic encounter, the possible responses are innumerable, and the soul-winner has to be strategic in handling the situation. As such, evangelism should be approached like a game of chess. That is no reason to fear, though. Approaching evangelism as chess does not mean discarding the various evangelism methods made available, but instead, using them strategically and eclectically. Before breaking down the "game" of evangelism into parts and discussing methods and tactics, which will happen in the following weeks, this article intends to argue how the "chess player," also known as the Text-Driven Soul-Winner, should approach the "game" of evangelism. To be a Text-Driven Soul-Winner, one must be person-focused and persuasive. 


Evangelism is Person-Focused 

In chess, a chess player will never decide all of his moves at the beginning of the game. Instead, he chooses specific moves in his opening and then makes moves based on his opponent's actions. He will use tactics in his gameplay but decide which to use based on his opponent's moves. In essence, he is playing the person, not the game. Evangelism must be the same. 


Before starting a "chess game," also known as an evangelism encounter, the Text-Driven Soul-Winner must decide to "play" the person, not the method. When someone learns a method of evangelism, he often jumps into a conversation, and no matter what response he gets, he's getting to the end of the method. The person evangelized might have their eyes glazed over, but he's to the end of the method. This approach isn't an effective way to evangelize. Look at the many examples of Christ; He spoke to the individual in the situation the individual was in. He did not treat the woman at the well like a pharisee, Zacchaeus like the rich young ruler, or Nathaniel like the woman with the issue of the blood. Every person is unique and must be treated that way. 

What this means for evangelism is that the Text-Driven Soul-Winner must start with the understanding that every person they evangelize is a unique person and will have unique objections to the gospel. Every person evangelized is a real person with real problems, a real background, real pains, and real sins. The soul-winner may encounter a wealthy and hardened atheist in one encounter and then a broken single mother in the next. These two situations differ vastly from each other and from every other evangelistic encounter, and the conversation must reflect that difference. To be clear, this isn't a socio-economic approach to evangelism where the soul-winner must know the demographics of the evangelized person, but instead, it is a person-focused approach to evangelism. Merely knowing the demographic information on a person is not specific enough; the soul-winner must address the individual. The soul-winner neither evangelizes the person he wishes he was talking to nor evangelizes the person he thinks he is talking to, but instead to the person he is speaking to. As the soul-winner engages with a lost person, he must listen to the responses of the lost person to address points of contention. If the soul-winner decides to address the person, he will more effectively choose and use the methods that bring the gospel to the person. 


Evangelism is Persuasive 

In chess, the objective of the chess player is to win. That is an obvious observation, but for the analogy, it is helpful to remember this. The chess player does not play the game of chess to say he played the game. Every move the chess player makes is to win the game. 


In evangelism, the soul-winner and the evangelized have a goal in the encounter. Except in the rare cases where the evangelized is ripe for the harvest, the evangelized goal is to leave the evangelistic encounter with an excuse to reject the gospel. In the chess game of evangelism, every move the evangelized will make is to avoid dealing with the reality of his sin and his need for a savior. In contrast, the soul-winner's objective is not to let the evangelized leave with an excuse. The soul-winner cannot force anyone to believe. The responsibility to believe lies solely on the evangelized, so the soul-winner's objective isn't to force conversion, albeit it is always his hope that conversion occurs. Instead, the soul-winner aims to bring the evangelized to a place where, if the evangelized rejects the gospel, he does so only because he does not want to, not because the evangelized thinks he has a rational reason for rejecting the gospel. 


Based on this objective, the Text-Driven Soul-Winner seeks to be persuasive in evangelism. In his book Personal Evangelism, Gray Allison writes that there are three possible approaches to evangelism: Presence, Proclamation, and Persuasion. Allison defines presence evangelism as a Christian exemplifying the gospel through a good life. Allison rightly dismisses this approach as antithetical to the New Testament approach to evangelism. Allison defines proclamation evangelism as declaring the gospel to a large swath of people without evangelizing a specific person. Allison defines persuasion evangelism as personal interactions with a particular person in an attempt to win him to Christ. He also writes that while both proclamation and persuasion communicates the gospel, persuasion is more akin to the New Testament model of evangelism. 


So, while proclamation can be obedience to the Great Commission as it does communicate the gospel message to the lost, the Text-Driven Soul Winner must seek to be persuasive in evangelism. In the chess analogy, it is not enough to have someone agree to play chess; the chess player must strive to play the game properly and win. As the soul-winner discusses sin, brokenness, the free offer of the gospel, and the love of God, he strives to persuade the evangelized that he needs all of those things and answers the specific objections the evangelized has to convince him that the objections are unreasonable. The desire to persuade will lead the Text-Driven Soul-Winner to use the most persuasive tactics and methods to the person he is speaking with instead of being bound to a specific method without regard to the person. 


Conclusion 

Approaching evangelism as a chess game may feel overwhelming. Yet, if the soul-winner dedicates himself to evangelism that interacts with individuals and persuades those individuals, then he is on his way to well-rounded evangelistic abilities. As this concept of "Chess, not Checkers" is further developed in later articles and Text-Driven Podcast episodes, with each concept and method described and explained, the Text-Driven Soul-Winner must remember that he is evangelizing real people who are really going to hell, and that person's only hope is the gospel. That reality must change the approach. 





Article written by Klayton Carson


The "What is the Bible" series is also on the Text-Driven Podcast. You can listen to the Text-Driven Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or at www.textdriven.org/podcasts.



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