Portrait of a Soul-Winner

Bible Book: Acts  20 : 17-27
Subject: Soul Winning; Evangelism; Witnessing

Acts 20: 17-27

A recent poll shows that church membership in the US has dropped sharply in the last two decades, from 70% in 1998 to an all-time low of 50% in 2018. Among millennials, church membership drops to 42%. If you ask about actual church attendance, 22% of Americans say they attend church every week. We are living in a post-Christian society for the first time in American history. But, there is one thing that could turn the tide in short time: if our churches would get back to the business of soul-winning again.

Lead In:

In this passage of Scripture, we find a very poignant scene. The Apostle Paul is revisiting the mission field where he had founded a church in Ephesus. So, he gathers together the Ephesian elders, and they begin walking down memory lane. They talk about the good times that they had together, and all of the great things that they’ve seen God do. Paul rehearsed it all.

But, in the course of sharing his memories, we get a penetrating look into what made his heart beat; how he was wired both emotionally and psychologically; what his spiritual motivation was. He gives us some insight, a glimpse, a portrait of a soul-winner.

I. The Soul-Winner’s Priority

(vs. 24b) “...that I might... testify the gospel of the grace of God.”

The priority of every soul-winner is to share Jesus Christ with others. Let me ask you: Do you share your faith? Now you say, “Well, I keep the faith.” Well, not only should you keep it, you ought to give it away!

James Stewart, 20th century Scottish minister, “The real problem of Christianity is not atheism or scepticism, but the non-witnessing Christian trying to smuggle his own soul to heaven.”

Acts 1: 8, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me...”

What is the desire of the Spirit? That you share Jesus. The chief duty and privilege of the Christian is soul-winning. It should be our heart’s desire that everything we do should have the ultimate end of leading people to Jesus.

Consider a couple of examples from the Bible.

1. In John 9, Jesus heals a man who has been blind from his birth. When the man is confronted and asked who healed him... John 9: 11, “He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes...”

He didn’t have much theology, but he could say, “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.” A witness is not the judge, not the jury, and not the attorney. A witness simply tells what they know, what they’ve seen, and what they’ve heard.

2. The disciple Andrew is only mentioned just a few times, but pay attention to the details when he is mentioned. He was not a big shot. He didn’t have a flamboyant personality. But, there’s something very wonderful about the man named Andrew. Once, we find him bringing his brother Peter to Jesus. Another time, he brought a little lad with a few loaves and fishes to Jesus. And yet another time, he brings the Greek men searching for Jesus to Him.

Andrew had a unique ability to bring people to Jesus. Now, all of us are going to be preachers, but we can all be reachers and bring people to Jesus Christ!

Francois Huber, the Swiss naturalist, “There’s something remarkable about a wasp. If he finds some sweetness, if he finds some nectar, if he finds some syrup or honey on the ground, that wasp will fly back to the nest immediately and communicate that to the other wasps. And before long, you’ll see a string of wasps coming back to this one place of sweetness.”

II. The Soul-Winner’s Passion  (vs. 19a, 31)

The apostle Paul was a man of tears. When I think of church life when I was young in ministry and compare it with today, there is one thing noticeably absent: we’ve lost our tears; we’ve lost our passion.

At a time when there is so much to weep over, our eyes are dry. Do you weep over a lost world? Do you weep over a lost co-worker or neighbor? Do you weep over your lost children? I wonder, has God seen your tears? Tears touch the heart of God. The prophet Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet.

Jeremiah 9: 1, “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!”

Lamentations 3: 48-50, he said, “Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people. My eye trickleth down and ceaseth not without any intermission, till the Lord look down and behold from heaven.”

You know, you can tell a lot about a man by what makes him laugh and what makes him cry.

Charles Spurgeon, “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for."

III. The Soul-Winner’s Pursuit  (vs. 20c)

“...have taught you publicly, and from house to house.”

Now, Paul was a man who put his faith into shoe leather. He didn’t just preach about soul winning, but he put it to practice in his personal life. Now, Jesus was the Master soul-winner, and we are told in Luke 19: 10, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost.” – But, then He commissioned His disciples in Mark 16: 15, “...Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” It literally means “as you go.”

Listen, you can put all of the Bible into two words: come and go. Come to Jesus and then go tell others. You’ll never be a soul winner until you get at it. Nothing will take the place of going.

A little boy was talking about his friends, and they were having a party, and he said, “I ain’t going.” His mother didn’t like his English, and she tried to correct him. She said, “It’s I am not going, you are not going, we are not going, they are not going. Do you understand that?” He said, “Yeah, it looks like ain’t nobody going.”

Luke 14: 23: “And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in…”

Billy Graham, “In a day when sects are thriving because their adherents dare to take their message directly to the people, the church must regain the urgency and compulsion of soul-winning, or we fight a losing battle for the minds and hearts of men.”

IV. The Soul-Winner’s Persuasion  (vs. 20a, 35a

“...have shewed you...”

The Christian’s task is to make the Lord Jesus visible, intelligible, and desirable. The real mark of a Christian is that he makes it easier for others to believe in God. When it comes to Christian living, one example is worth a thousand arguments. It's the life behind our words that makes our testimony ring true.

1 Peter 2: 11-12, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

Gandhi, “I would have been a Christian, if it were not for the lives of the Christians.”

May I submit to you that the greatest argument for Christianity and the greatest argument against Christianity is the life of a Christian. The proof of Christianity is not a book but a life.

In John 4, we have the classic example of this. We are told that Jesus needed to go through Samaria, and it was because He had an appointment to meet a shadly-lady there at a well. She had lived with the failure of 5 failed marriages, and the man she was living with now was not her husband. She did not condone nor condemn her; but he met her where she was. After this life-changing encounter with Jesus, she went back home and said in John 4: 28-30, “The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? Then they went out of the city, and came unto Him.”

She wasn’t a theologian or a Bible scholar, but she had met Jesus and her life was changed, and others saw it and wanted it for themselves. The light of a holy example is the gospel’s main argument”

V. The Soul-Winner’s Plea  (vs. 21, 27)

He was preaching the Gospel. Do you know what the word gospel means? It means “good news.” What do you do with good news? You tell it.

Acts 8: 4, “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” – more literally, “gossiping the gospel.”

Once when Lord Tennyson was on vacation in a country village, he asked an old Methodist woman, “Is there any news?” “Well,” she replied, “there is only one piece of news that I know, and that is that Christ died for my sins.” Tennyson responded, “That is old news, and good news, and new news.”

1 Peter 3: 15, “..and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”

Now, lost people have some good questions. But, we’ve got some good answers; some solid answers. If you want people to believe, you’ve got to give them something to believe. The power is in the Word of God. But, we are living in a day in which a steady diet of solid, doctrinal preaching is being replaced with myths, philosophies, opinions, and feelings.

Howard Hendricks, “In the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering.”

I’ve been preaching this Book long enough to know the power of the gospel. It convicts, it corrects, it cleanses, it converts, it conquers! The gospel, and the gospel alone, has power to transform, to rescue the perishing, to care for the dying, to snatch them in pity from sin and the grave.

VI. The Soul-Winner’s Prize  (vs. 24b)

“...that I might finish my course with joy...”

1 Thessalonians 2: 19-20, “For what is our hope, or joy, or  crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy.”

That is, nothing will bring me greater joy than one day seeing you with Jesus when He comes again! Nothing is more wonderful, and brings no greater joy, than introducing someone to Jesus Christ.

Professor Smeaton of Edinburgh used to say to his students, “Gentlemen, reckon your ministry a failure unless souls are won to Christ.”

Psalm 126: 5-6, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”

Now, if you are not careful, you can look at this world and see the large volume of people, and you can get overwhelmed with the lostness of this world. The secret is getting a burden for just one. You don’t bring multitudes to Jesus; you bring them one by one to Jesus.

But, as best I understand the Bible, all of the soul-winning you’re ever going to do, you will do in this world and in this lifetime. May we dare, today, to adopt the philosophy of the apostle Paul as found in 1 Corinthians 9: 22-23, “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.”

It should be our motto to take the message of Christ to any person, in any place, at any time.


In a province in western Canada there was a father, a mother and a young son. They were walking through the wheat fields. It was late in the year. The grain was ripe but winter was about to come. The father and mother evidently had forgotten to keep an eye on the child because when they turned around they recognized that the little fellow was missing.

Now the grain was almost over boy’s head so they couldn’t see him just by looking at the field of grain. The couple ran frantically in this direction and that direction, failing to mark the spot where they first noticed the boy missing. They called and searched, but they couldn’t find him. There were thousands and thousands of acres of wheat to be searched.

Finally it was decided for one to remain in the field while the other went back to the little town there to bring others to come and search. Virtually the whole town turned out. They began to thrash the wheat fields calling the little boy, looking for him, because they knew that the night would get bitterly cold and the boy was not dressed for that kind of weather. They were afraid exposure would take his life. He was just a little fellow.

The night progressed and fear set in for his life. Finally one man, who had a logical mind, lifted his voice and called the search party to him. And they all came together. He said, “Listen to me, we are too disorganized. We are not working together. We’ve got to get a plan. I suggest that we all join hands—that we make a human chain. That we just join hands and with lamps in each of our hands, we’ll have a lot of light as we start to sweep these wheat fields. And when we go up this side we’ll turn, and then we’ll go back down the other side. And we’ll not leave any place unturned. If he is in here, we’ll find him.”

And so the people of that community joined their hands together and started to sweep through those wheat fields. After a while there was a shout. Somebody said, “Come here, I’ve found him!” But they were too late. The elements and the exposure had done their work. They gathered the lifeless corpse of the little boy. Strong men wept, and somebody said, “Oh God, why didn’t we come together sooner before it was too late?”

Alan Stewart, Senior Pastor

Rechoboth Baptist Church

Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee