Evangelism. Yes, I said it, the big “E” word. But before you put this article down, I hope you keep reading. The mere uttering of this word strikes fear in people’s hearts for any number of reasons. The fear factor arises because it means being vulnerable, it means being willing to admit that we do not know all the answers, it means stepping out of our comfort zones to engage people without knowing the response. Evangelism takes faith, a faith grounded upon God’s active and living grace in our life, empowering us through His Spirit in this faith-stretching task. Scripture is clear, our primary God-given calling is to make disciples, to seek and save that which is lost (Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 19:10). To be Christian then is to be missional, sharing and living the Gospel message through our words and actions.
Just as Scripture is clear about our mission, it is just as clear in its message that faith leads to an act of confession. Picture it another way, connecting people to Jesus should become so natural to us that over time, confessing our faith is as natural as breathing. The last I checked, we typically do not tell ourselves to breathe, it is a natural part to our existence. God willing, the same could be said about our witness.
Who taught you how to breathe? If we stop breathing, we die. At every moment we are a breathing witness to the faith which we cling. Outreach does not happen on its own, it takes training and practice. Thus, I have crafted some suggestions to consider as you learn and (re)learn how to breathe the Gospel in and through your life to those God places in your path:
Prayer. This may be obvious, but when was the last time you prayed for someone not connected to Jesus? Have you prayed for opportunities to connect people to Jesus? Have you intentionally sought people out to develop an ongoing relationship for possible witnessing? It is important to remember that this is entirely a Spirit-led, Christ-centered, Father-creating act. Relying more on methods than God can lead to hurt. I have heard story after story of individuals hurt deeply by the Church. I am sure you have too. Bathing evangelism in prayer is vital.
Serving, with no strings attached. Serving others is a great (and easy) place to start. An act of kindness done for someone with no strings attached is a wonderful ways to open a door for conversation. It shows humility to the person you seek to engage in relationship. The apostle Paul sees the power in showing kindness when he says, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” (Romans 2:4) Some examples of kindness are: paying for someone’s coffee, buy or make some cookies and give them to your neighbors or coworkers, write words of kindness on Post-It notes and place them in random places in the community, weed someone’s flower bed, babysit for free, or do a household chore for someone (i.e., cleaning their toilet, oven, mow lawn). The list of ideas for serving is endless. If you would like more ideas as well as detail on Servant Evangelism, Conspiracy of Kindness by Steve Sjogren is a great book that speaks at length about this type of outreach. It must be made clear, serving is not the goal, but the means through which a possible opportunity might arise for you to engage in conversation of a more spiritual nature that leads ultimately toward Gospel proclamation and conversion. They are like doorways for the Gospel that lead people to put their defenses down. Who doesn’t like being served and encouraged?
Get to know the culture of the person. If you were a missionary entering a foreign country one of the first things you would do is get to know the culture of the people: their language, how they think, how they live, what they believe, their life-stories and rhythm of life. A great tool to help you get to know a person’s culture is through the art of asking good questions. Practice asking open-ended questions to family and friends about matters of faith. Here are some great questions to consider: I’ve made it my lifelong goal to learn from others; what’s the greatest lesson you feel you’ve learned so far in your life’s journey? Have you ever had someone approach you and try to talk to you about God? What kinds of feelings were you left with after the encounter? What kind of exposure did you have to religion when you were growing up? Why do you think there are so many different religions? Do you think it’s possible for all religions to be equally right? Why or why not? How do/will you teach your kids right from wrong? What experiences have shaped your worldview the most? Has there been one book or movie that has left its mark on you in a significant way? How so? (These questions have been adapted from Doug Pollock’s book, God Space).
The above questions are designed as pre-evangelism dialogue, to be used for learning the culture of the person, and is not the time to make correction. Diving in too soon, too hard could (and probably will) shut down conversation. A word of caution. If, as you are getting to know a person, you discover that they are knowingly or unknowingly choosing to walk down a self-destructive path or are engaged in something contrary to God’s Word, this is not the time to argue or convince people to Jesus. Let God do His mighty work in His time, in His way. We are on His timetable, not ours. Instead, as you are getting to know a person, think of yourself as a missionary entering a new mission field. Before making judgments, take the time to invest in them where they are at.
Speak less, listen more. People’s lives are messy. They seek a listening ear of encouragement and others to say “you are good”, “you matter”, and “you will get through this”. I do not want to burst your bubble, but the harsh reality is, it is not about you. Thus, as we engage others in spiritual conversation our focus should be on speaking less and listening more. If our focus is more on winning an argument or having all the right answers we will never truly engage others in meaningful dialogue and the conversation will be over before it began. “I’m right, you’re wrong” conversation leaves a wake of hurt, anger, and bitterness in its path. The price tag attached is high. Our speaking should be less about winning a conversation or conversion and more about an ongoing dialogue that leads to deeper relationship and deeper relationship leads to greater trust. As trust is built, a person may be more willing to dialogue about deeper matters of life, God, and faith. Engage the person, not an argument.
The above list is by no means exhaustive. Much of it could be considered pre-evangelism. This article is the beginning of a larger conversation I hope to continue on our mission critical call to “breathe” the Gospel in and through our lives to those whom the Lord places in our path. We make evangelism more difficult than it needs to be. It is simply connecting people to Jesus, allowing God to speak in and through you His living Gospel, words of transformation, forgiveness, and grace (Matthew 5:16; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15; Romans 12:1-2). Be yourself and be courageous, my friend. We are not a Billy Graham or James Kennedy junior, God has uniquely shaped us in order that we might use these gifts in our work of connecting people to Jesus. We do not have to know all the answers. In fact, I have found people not wanting a talking head but someone to come alongside them in a mutual journey of faith, with both mentoring and breathing into each other: life on life, knee to knee, heart to heart. There is so much more that could be said about the practice of evangelism in today’s diverse and challenged culture. I look forward to writing future articles devoted to how we “go” in our faith. I pray that you stay engaged because people matter to God!
Learning to breathe is a life-giving, Spirit dependent process. John writes, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63; see also Romans 8:1-11) Take in a breath, make it a deep one. As you pull in this life-sustaining breath, remember God’s calling to connect people to Jesus. He is the air we breathe, the life we live, and the hope we share.
Re-learning to breathe,