Wrestling was definitely the most difficult sport that I experienced. Wrestling pits one wrestler against another. No one else can be blamed for a loss. Either the wrestler beats his opponent, or he loses. There is no middle ground. Tie matches in evangelism go into overtime. So, in the end, a tie match in wrestling is extremely rare. Each whistle of every period of a wrestling match tests the skills of two wrestlers going head-to-head.
The sport of wrestling provides an interesting comparative to evangelism. This article will address some of these similitudes. Perhaps applying this analogy will elicit further important spiritual insights to the reader.
(1) Just like wrestling, learning evangelism not a large group activity, it’s one-on-one.
Learning to share the gospel is a one-on-one activity. Where there are some large group or small group aspects to teaching evangelism, like wrestling, it is only effectively learned when being practiced one-on-one. In wrestling, there is no shortcut to the need for practicing wrestling moves on an opponent. Likewise, there is no shortcut to experiencing evangelism. The Christian must encounter responses to various concepts. It is only when hearing these reactions that the Christian can grow in understanding how best to give an answer. These lessons cannot be learned in the one-way communication of a large group setting. Once the Christian experiences, understands, and properly replies to individuals, then they become lessons he can apply to the large group settings. Learning evangelism is a one-on-one activity.
(2) Learning evangelism, like wrestling, focuses on application.
Much like the words of Jesus in the Great Commission in Matthew, wrestling is “teaching to obey.” Matthew 28:20. When a person makes this move, you need to counter with that move. If your opponent leans too heavily on this foot, then you can use an Ankle Pick on that foot. If your opponent drops his head, he might be a prime candidate for a Reverse Cradle. In each move, your opponent opens the door to a panorama of countermoves.
Similarly in personal evangelism, the Christian attacks the principalities and powers of evil. He experiences the need for the moves and countermoves provided in the Bible. It is as he “sits on thorns” and “dwells among scorpions” that he learns not to fear them:
“And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks, though they are a rebellious house.” Ezekiel 2:6.
One-on-one evangelism acts as spiritual bodybuilding. The Christian’s forehead grows stronger than his opponent’s forehead:
“Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house.” Ezekiel 3:8-9.
It is by one-on-one contact with opponents of the gospel that the power and beauty of the gospel become evident. These lessons can only be learned through one-on-one evangelistic encounters.
Evangelism, like wrestling, involves “teaching to obey.” Jesus inseparably linked teaching and obedience. Teaching is confirmed and fructified by the practice of obedience. Both are non-negotiable parts of spiritual learning.
(3) There is a goal in wrestling, just as there is a goal in evangelism.
The goal in wrestling is to win the match. In order to win the match, the wrestler must take down his opponent in the first period. In the second period, his goal is to reverse his opponent if he is found in the bottom position. If in the top position, the wrestler’s goal is to apply a pining combination on his opponent. He can earn back points or he can pin his opponent. In the end, the wrestler wants the referee to raise his hand as the winner at the end of the match.
In evangelism, as the Christian wrestles against the principalities and powers of sin and false ideas. His goal is to win the other person to Christ. He makes every effort, using every argument that comes to his mind, guiding the contact to every Bible verse that is available to him at the time, that the contact may repent and believe the gospel. His is in a spiritual wrestling match. Yes, there will be a raising and a lowering of hands at the end of life. The Christian wants everyone that he can to be won to Christ, so that they will have the victory of Jesus transferred over their sin debt. The Christian’s goal is to bring every contact to the point of decision.
“To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22.
(4) More participatory than spectator.
Wrestling is not so much a spectator sport. Yes, perhaps “Big Time Wrestling” gets crowds. But nitty-gritty high school and college wresting does not attract large crowds like other sports. Wresting is not a sport to be enjoyed. It is rather a sport that forms individual discipline, character, and drive.
Quite similarly, evangelism is best when it is not done to be seen by others. True evangelism is most powerful when the Great Commission is applied out of sheer obedience to the Master, without any view to human accolades from other Christians. The unsaved perceive a phony evangelist. God does not encourage us to seek to win brownie points with men. Evangelism is best when, like prayer, it is acted upon with a sole audience of God—along with the person with whom we are seeking to share the gospel.
(5) Like wrestling is best learned in one on one practice and matches, so evangelism.
Other than conditioning, the most important part of wrestling practice is found in pairing up with a teammate of a similar weight, and working through moves with that teammate. After the practice of the move, then the effort applied to the move goes to half-go. Then, finally, when in order to fully learn the move, the opponent needs to fully fight the move. Only when practicing full-go are the moves and countermoves really learned.
In evangelism, there is a need for a mentor to take out the learner and show him how to start gospel conversations. The fellow Christian sees his mentor share the gospel, and learns how people respond to certain questions and comments. He begins to emulate his trainer. Then eventually he begins to train someone else. Yes, evangelism is best learned through being paired up two-by-two sharing the gospel in initiative situations, where one person can be an formal or informal mentor.
(6) The close proximity of wrestling allows for eye-to-eye contact with the enemy.
At the beginning of the wrestling match, the wrestler looks at his opponent in the eye, and the referee raises his hand, and says, “Ready, Wrestle.” With those two words, the match goes live. The two opponents crouch like ferocious beasts seeking to discern their opponent’s vulnerabilities.
So, in evangelism, one sadly encounters those whose lives have been destroyed by the enemy of our souls, Satan. The Christian regularly encounters persons who are caught in the clutches of terrible sins. Others are so vehemently antagonistic to the gospel that it appears that there may some form of demonic activity involved. All these types of people are regularly encountered when involved in street evangelism or door-to-door. God uses these negative experiences to warn the Christian to avoid pitfalls. He observes the enemy’s playbook in operation in other people’s lives. He learns the tricks and moves of his prime enemy, the devil.
(7) The wrestler can apply the moves he has learned in practice with success.
In a wrestling match, the wrestler has the opportunity to learn the power and effectiveness of certain moves against his opponents. I remember when I first used a Sit-Out to get away from an opponent in a match when I was in the bottom of the Referees Position. It worked. I got away from my opponent. Earned two points. Now came the hard work of trying to take him down again. Later I learned that I could use the Sit-Out to lead to a reversal on my opponent. As I practiced, there were certain moves that came to me as if by second nature.
Evangelism takes practice. Yes, evangelism can become second nature to the Christian. He can lovingly and naturally start conversations and move them into the gospel. It is not easy. It requires repetition and constant dedication. But it is possible.
Further, as the Christian uses Sword of the Lord, the Word of God, with success, he becomes more agile in wielding that Sword. He observes the impact of the Word of God. He experiences it melting a heart. He notices the Holy Spirit convicting of sin, judgment, and righteousness. His practice and repetition spur him on.
And lastly, the Christian has the privilege of leading other persons to repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus Christ. He is there when a person calls on the name of the Lord to be saved. He notes the tears and marks the conviction. He empathizes with the spiritual pain. God gifts the Christian with the opportunity to lead the convicted one to request forgiveness and cry out to follow after Christ. These last occasions are perhaps the most elating experiences of my life. All glory to God!
So, there are some interesting links between evangelism and wrestling.
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:10-12.