The Gentle Correction that Changed Me
A few years ago, a friend of mine at WestHill started getting on my case about being more intentional to meet, talk with, and share the gospel with people I didn't know. When I go out of the house, my preference is to keep to myself. But my friend kept making me aware of people I could meet who don't know Jesus if I would only take the first step. She was right. I was being lazy. And I knew my laziness didn't bring honor to God.
Since then, I have worked hard to become more evangelistic. I know I'm not the only one who feels uncomfortable with the idea of personally sharing the gospel. Many people in our church have shared with me that they feel the same discomfort. I want to share with you 5 things I have learned that have helped me.
1. Set an expectation for yourself.
Jesus created the expectation for all his disciples to teach the world about Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20. In that passage, he gave a simple command, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations". That command means we must intentionally do something. Too many Christians fall into the trap that I was in a few years ago when I unintentionally took a "Live and let live" approach to my relationships with strangers. In reality, Jesus has put a requirement on us that we must seek out opportunities to turn strangers into disciples.
At this point, my personal goal is to share the message about Jesus with one person per week. I do this out of a desire to obey Christ and love my neighbor. Some weeks, it doesn't happen. Other weeks, I find several people and share my faith.
2. Depend on God daily to help you to do it.
"God, please give me a chance to talk with this person about the gospel." "Father, please help me today to see people I can tell about Jesus." "Please help me see how I can direct this conversation toward You, God." "Please give me the Scriptures to redirect this person to understand Jesus as the Bible teaches."
These are the kinds of prayers I pray in my head throughout the day, especially in social situations. If I ever get the chance to share Jesus, the last attitude I need is self-sufficiency. That is a recipe for failure. When I am humbly pleading with God for an opportunity and the willingness to take the initiative, He blesses me in incredible ways. I see people I hadn't noticed before. I remember Scriptures I didn't intend to memorize. And I articulate truths even though I hadn't prepared them ahead-of-time.
3. Have a flexible plan for what to say.
People in my Sunday school class know I appreciate and respect Ray Comfort's method. You can learn about it at www.livingwaters.com.
But lately, I've adapted some things I've learned from him to fit what I believe the Bible teaches in my own way. Here's what I have done when I had the chance to share the gospel:
1) Ask them what they think about Jesus.
2) Ask them if I can tell them what I think about Jesus. Tell about Jesus (with the Father in eternity past (John 1:1), came to earth (John 3:16), died to pay the wages of sin (Romans 6:23), and returning to earth to judge (Acts 17:31).
3) Ask them if they think they would be innocent or guilty when Jesus judges us by God's law (as shown in the 10 commandments and/or the Sermon on the Mount, take your pick).
4) Share with them the need to repent (Acts 17:30) and believe in Jesus
5) Ask them if they have a Bible, need prayer, need a church, depending on
their response to the earlier discussion.
I don't rigidly follow this plan. Every person I talk to is different. But this is a general guideline to help me make sure the person really knows everything they need to know to become a faithful follower of Jesus. After that, I depend on the Holy Spirit to awaken their hearts to the truth. Only by the Spirit, not my words, does a person experience birth from above (John 3:5-8).
4. Put yourself in situations that are conducive to evangelism.
This one has been very important for me to learn. Many situations that would seem easy to share your faith (family get-togethers, friendly athletic games, parties, holidays) are more difficult than they seem because there is already a reason to get together. Sometimes talking about spiritual things is seen as breaking a social contract of keeping things light.
However, there are other situations where you can engage in the gospel without feeling like you are breaking that kind of social contract. Peter and Paul did this often in the book of Acts. But what are these situations for us today?
a. Parking lots. See whether a person is asking for money or work in a parking lot you drive into. Many of these people are lonely and happy to talk with someone who cares about them. I've never had such a person resent my asking to talk with them about spiritual things. Many times, I've seen a deep sense of appreciation. And many times, I've been glad to learn that this person knew Christ and had faith in Him. You can also meet a physical need (food, water) while you talk with them.
b. Parks. Public parks are excellent places to casually say "Hi" to people, pray that God opens their hearts to say "Hi" back, and, if they do, start a very natural conversation. Once you know their name and a few other things, you need to take a deep breath, be gutsy, pray for God's help, and say something like "Do you believe in an afterlife?" or "What do you think of Jesus?" or even, "Do you have any spiritual beliefs?" It's up to you how you do it. But turning the conversation toward spiritual things is key if you want to share the gospel.
c. Coffee shops. As social distancing guidelines become more relaxed, I encourage you to consider this option. I've had some amazing conversations with strangers who sat near me at a coffee shop. Caffeine stimulates our energy and our willingness to socialize. In evangelism, sometimes you need to use any advantage you can get to break the ice. Legally, of course.
Here's the really important part: any time you do this, realize it's like taking a leap of courage. You have no idea how people will react once you take the initiative to a) start a conversation or b) move the conversation to spiritual things. You need to depend on God deeply in these moments of fear or awkwardness. Care more about His command that you make disciples than your agenda. He will help you. He will open hearts. He will protect you in His sovereign power.
5. Make evangelism an accountability issue.
Many of us are in small groups, discipleship relationships, or other kinds of accountability. If you aren't practicing some kind of accountability with other Christians, you need to be (Proverbs 12:15; Galatians 6:2; Titus 2).
In my small group, we made evangelism a priority a few months ago. We all are much more focused on that responsibility than we were. We have all talked about our hang-ups. Many of us have different ways we try to share our faith. That's ok! What matters is that we aren't ignoring Jesus' Great Commission set expectations for ourselves. Yes, it's important to talk about sin issues, whether we are praying and reading our Bibles, and how we are connecting to God and others. But if that's all we are doing, we could be missing the most important reason God has put us on earth. Let's make sure our priorities are based on God's priorities.