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Pumping gas, other gestures fuel ‘servanthood evangelism’

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Danelle Summers already had her
mind made up as she and her husband, Clay, arrived at the
Texaco gas station in downtown Wake Forest, N.C., prepared
to share the gospel.
She would volunteer to pump gas for customers while
her husband attempted to witness to them.
The plan was part of a witnessing technique called
“servanthood evangelism.” It’s a simple concept — random
acts of kindness coupled with the sharing of the gospel.
“Well, I listened a couple of times and thought, ‘I
can do this!'” Danelle recalled. “It was exciting.”
Less than two hours later, Danelle had led a woman to
accept Christ as her Savior. Martina Morgan prayed to
receive Christ declaring him Lord of her life before leaving
the gas station on her way back to college in Virginia.
“She was just ready,” Danelle said. “I said, ‘You can
pray to receive Christ right now’ and she said, ‘OK, I’m
ready.’ She said the prayer right then.”
Students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
began an organized effort of witnessing at gas stations in
1996 as a result of an assignment in an evangelism course
taught by Alvin Reid, the seminary’s Bailey Smith Chair of
Evangelism professor.
Reid introduced the concept in one of his classes in
the summer of 1996 and has since included it as part of the
course curriculum. Other examples of “servanthood
evangelism” projects include washing cars, cleaning windows
or rest rooms, offering to pay for someone’s washing
expenses at a coin laundry, yard work, giving away free
light bulbs or soft drinks by going door-to-door throughout
a neighborhood. All services are provided at no charge.
Reid said he got the idea of servanthood evangelism
from his friend, David Wheeler, evangelism director for the
state Baptist Convention of Indiana. Wheeler had learned
about the concept by reading the book “Conspiracy of
Kindness” by Steve Sjogren, pastor of the Vineyard Church in
Reid and Wheeler have since collaborated to produce a
manual tentatively titled, “How To Do Servanthood
Evangelism,” to be published by the Southern Baptist
Convention’s North American Mission Board later this year.
When Reid presented the evangelistic concept to his
class, he received an enthusiastic response. After giving
the students some ideas, he organized the class into work
groups and asked them to come up with a project utilizing
the witnessing concept.
Dean Sieberhagen, a master of divinity in church
planting student from South Africa, and a group of his peers
decided to target gas stations with the gospel.
“We went twice, and the second time we went someone
was led to the Lord,” he said. “We saw how well this opened
doors. We would say, ‘Good morning, ma’am. We are here today
to try to show the love of the Lord in a practical way.
Would you mind if we pumped your gas for you?’ Most people
are responsive. They react with a little bit of shock. But
whether you pump the gas or not, you’ve get an opening.”
Reid said that during a 1996 two-week summer school
course in evangelism, 43 people made professions of faith as
a result of class members sharing the gospel.
“I knew then we were on to something,” Reid said. “Not
all of those (conversions) were (a result of) servanthood
evangelism, but the servanthood evangelism added fuel to the
fire. They were witnessing like crazy. People were coming
into class weeping (about how they had seen the Lord work
through servanthood evangelism). It was a great experience.”
After the two-week course ended, Sieberhagen developed
gas station visitation into an ongoing witnessing program.
He wanted to give other students and seminary wives who
aren’t enrolled in evangelism classes the opportunity to
learn how to share their faith in practical ways.
Throughout 1997, Sieberhagen led a group of seminary
couples who lived near him on the same block to share the
gospel at gas stations on the first Saturday of the each
month. Each week new participants were introduced to the
“Eternal Life” tract and given a crash course, if needed, on
how to share their faith. After a time of prayer, volunteers
visited area gas stations.
Participants were grouped in pairs. The Christian
least comfortable with sharing his or her faith usually
pumped gas while the other person got acquainted with the
customer. A leading question, such as, “Do you ever think
about spiritual things?” or “Do you go to church anywhere in
the area?” often opened the door to sharing the gospel,
Sieberhagen said.
“Many times, people are fearful about sharing their
faith,” he said. “They are encouraged just to come, even if
they just want to listen and pump (gas) the whole time. By
the end of the two hours, all the participants have chosen
to speak, because they see the Spirit of God work.
“A lot of humorous things have happened,” Sieberhagen
recounted. “If someone is pumping $5′ worth of gas and the
conversation is going really well, then you want to pump
real s-l-o-w-l-y,” he mused.
During one witnessing encounter, the person pumping
gas got so involved in listening to the witnessing
conversation that she pumped $5 of gas onto the ground,
Sieberhagen said.
Since starting the evangelistic outreach at gas
stations, Sieberhagen said, six people have made professions
of faith. Many times group members run into Christians who
are then encouraged to share their faith or develop a closer
walk with the Lord as a result of the encounter, he said.
Around Christmas, Sieberhagen said, seminary students had
the opportunity to share the significance of Christ’s birth
while volunteering their time wrapping gifts at a local
Reid said servanthood evangelism is not just social
ministry, but intentional evangelism.
“People are twice as open to talk about the gospel
when you use servanthood evangelism,” Reid said. “If I was a
pastor, I would have our people blitz the community before
Christmas. I would have our ladies make nice inexpensive
Christmas ornaments and give one to everybody in the
community. Before Mother’s Day, give a carnation to all the
moms in the community. You do this three or four times a
year, and people are going to start thinking good about your
church. You don’t have to compromise the gospel to do that.
Jesus did merciful deeds coupled with truth.”

    About the Author

  • Alison Wiseman