Many thanks to my friend (and fellow Friend of Jesus) Johan Maurer for publishing this piece on his blog, Can You Believe?, and for encouraging me to distribute it widely.
Have you ever been amazed by God? Has he ever surprised you with joy, healing, challenge or transformation? When you experienced God’s grace and power, maybe you looked for people to talk to about it with, only to be met with indifference or worse. Or maybe you were afraid to even try to tell some people your story for fear of offending. Or maybe you started off boldly in your first wave of enthusiasm, only to lose your confidence as the experience lost its freshness.
It is hard to talk about God, Jesus and the spiritual life in this moment in American history. Many of our non-Christian neighbors find the little they know about Jesus to be attractive or intriguing, but they know enough about the failings of the church to have very negative opinions about actual Christians. If we do have non-Christian friends, it may be despite our Christian faith rather than because of it – we may be seen as the exception that proves the rule.
So many of us want to follow Jesus’ directive to go and make disciples but don’t know how to engage people who are skeptical of, indifferent to or uncomfortable with the Gospel in a way that:
- Is authentic to our own communication style;
- Is honest about Jesus’ bold claims;
- Honors the uniqueness, spirituality and God-given worth of the individual before us; and
- Is unscripted and responsive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit.
I hope this will help you get started!
Evangelism is simply sharing the good news of the Gospel of Christ, nothing more and nothing less. Please purge your mind of any thought of “converting” anyone: that’s the Holy Spirit’s job, not yours! What you can do is share your own experience of God’s grace and power and invite others to reflect on and respond to God’s love for them.
Understood this way, evangelism isn’t about “winning souls”: it’s about opening doors to deeper relationship with God through Christ. It should also be clear that sharing the Gospel isn’t something we only do to the “unconverted”; the Gospel is also something that we should share with our brothers and sisters in Christ who need encouragement in faith. When sharing the Gospel becomes part of our ordinary life, rather than something we reserve for special initiatives or occasions, we create space for God to use us to touch lives in ways we can’t imagine and open paths we may never see. The Word of God is a seed scattered freely among all people, but we can, with God’s grace, help provide a bit of water, or sunlight, or fertilizer to help that seed take root and grow.
What is the Gospel?
Part of the reason that sharing the Good News can be so hard is that it is such good news! The Gospel is so big that it can be hard to sum up in a few words, and I won’t even try. However, I will describe different aspects of the amazing saving work accomplished by and in Christ.
I encourage you to explore parts of the Gospel that are uncomfortable to you. Several years ago, I read Death by Love, a book that explores different aspects of the atonement – the way Jesus reconciles God and humanity. My least favorite parts focused on penal substitution, the idea that Jesus accepted God’s punishment for our sins on our behalf. The whole concept seemed barbaric! But I was recently able to share exactly that truth with a dear friend struggling with painful guilt over the harm unwise personal decisions had caused her family. The reminder that Christ had already taken on and discharged the weight of her sins at Calvary brought her such joy, peace and healing that we both wound up in tears!
I am so grateful that I stretched myself to read and absorb that book, even the parts that I found disturbing, because it prepared me to be an agent of God’s grace to a friend in her time of need. Learning about the different aspects of the Gospel will give you a language to minister to the real people and real problems of the people you meet. Isn’t that worth a little discomfort?
With all that said, the Gospel is the good news that:
- God passionately loves each and every person in the world;
- God created everything in the world to work together in harmony;
- God will set right every injustice on the Day of Judgment;
- Jesus has paid the price on the cross for every bad thing you have ever done or will ever do;
- Jesus has broken the stranglehold evil, dysfunction and addiction has on your life, on your family and on this world;
- Followers of Christ have the authority to collaborate with God in his holy purposes of life, reconciliation, healing and sacrificial love;
- The Body of Christ is a family that is holy and eternal;
- The Spirit of Christ is here, now, to guide you into a new way of living and to empower you to shed old habits and dysfunctions;
- Jesus provides a model for what it means to be fully human, as God intended for each of us to be;
- The blood of Jesus has cleansed you of all defilement;
- While you cannot earn a place of honor with God, you don’t have to – in Christ you have all the holiness and righteousness you need;
- By fellowship in the Body of Christ, you can participate in a holy community outside of the power dynamics of the world’s hierarchies and enter into messy, glorious, life-sustaining fellowship;
- Each and every true follower of Christ – regardless of race, class, disability or any outward characteristic – is a precious and gifted channel of God’s glory and grace; and
- Jesus can bring you healing from all manner of woundedness.
Now, isn’t that good news?
Preparing Your Mind to Share the Good News
Read and reread your New Testament and books, including devotionals, that lift up and celebrate the Gospel. (I enjoy the Solo Devotional, which is based on the fresh and relevant Message translation and invites life-giving, interesting contemplation and reflection.) Put the Good News into your own words. Connect it to your own life. How have you experienced Christ’s power? How have you experienced God’s grace? Listen to quality hymns and praise songs, which illustrate different elements of the Good News. For example, compare “Victory in Jesus” with “He Leadeth Me” with “Canticle of the Turning.” Each is an excellent exposition of the Gospel, but the first focuses on Jesus’ victory over sin and death, the next on the ever-present guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the last on God’s care for the weak and his revolutionary justice.
There’s no single right script when you share the Gospel, and there’s no wrong testimony. The important thing is to get comfortable telling the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven. The practice of putting it into words for yourself will help you internalize this precious gift in all its glory. This will make it much easier to live each day to the glory of God and, of course, to share the Gospel with others.
Preparing Your Heart to Share the Good News
If you are reading this, it is because you are eager to start sharing the Good News – or at least curious about the idea. Maybe you realized you aren’t acting out the Great Commission and you would like to. Maybe you see how people around you could benefit from the hope Jesus shared. Or maybe you’re so excited about Jesus you can’t help sharing.
Wherever you are in your evangelism journey, you should ask God for two things: love and discernment.
Love is essential for the work of evangelism, because people can tell when they are a “project” and they don’t generally appreciate it. Love in this context is not so much a feeling as it is an attitude or way of being. The kind of love you need for evangelism – and for the Christian walk in general – says:
- You and your inner world are precious to God – and to me;
- It is a privilege to hear your thoughts, problems and concerns; and
- Your need is more valuable than my time and preferences.
There will be times when God will open a door to a relationship or conversation that you’d rather stayed closed, because you’re busy or distracted or you don’t have natural affection or affinity for the person you are called to speak with. Love is what lets you say, “Not my will, but your will be done, Lord.”
Pray for love. Pray for patience. Pray for a tender, listening heart. Cultivate awareness of others. If you seek earnestly to grow in love, I promise you will.
Discernment is tapping into a deeper reality, accessing the mind of God and being sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Discernment is being attentive to “nudges” of the Spirit, who will lead you in all elements of evangelism – who to start a conversation with, who to build a loving spiritual friendship with, what part of the Gospel will be most meaningful and how to share it, and so forth. Discernment takes you beyond your intelligence and wisdom and gives you access to God’s intelligence and wisdom. That’s a big advantage!
Practicing different forms of prayer and worship is a great way to grow in discernment. Praying the psalms, contemplative prayer, and intercession without an agenda – waiting for God to tell you who or what to pray for – are good ways to grow in discernment, and anyone can do them. I also highly recommend meditating on scripture, particularly the prophets and the words of Jesus, so you can get familiar with what God sounds like. This is really valuable so that you can tell the difference between your own thoughts and intuitions and the wisdom that comes from God. In addition, singing and other forms of praise will help overcome any inner resistance to really trusting God to carry you through conversations with strangers, sharing messages you don’t understand, being open and vulnerable and all the other risks that come with letting God use you to draw others closer to him.
Pray to grow in wisdom and faith so that God can use you extravagantly for his glory. Pray for a bold and generous spirit. Pray to know and obey the voice of Christ inside you. God will hear you, I promise.
Just Do It!
As you go about your day, ask God, “Who can I encourage today? Who needs to experience your love today? Who can I bless today?” Be ready to obey God’s call. You may have to do some “self-talk” to follow through but you never know where obedience can take you and what conversations it may start.
For example, God may prompt you to add a few minutes to your commute by buying breakfast for a homeless person, which may lead to conversation about why you are doing it. You can then reply by sharing how God has put people in your life to help when you needed it and you feel called to be that person for someone else. Or you may cross paths with a colleague who is upset and whom you can comfort. It’s not always appropriate or productive to share the Gospel in every situation – discernment is required. But if you try to live the Gospel all the time and you ask God for opportunities to share it, you’ll find that they come up more often than you might expect.
Don’t wait until you have “mastered” the right information or techniques. Just open your heart and ask the Lord to lead you, praying the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Here I am; send me.”
Spirit-Led Evangelism in Action
I actually started writing this on a flight from Minneapolis to Sacramento. About an hour into the 3.5 hour flight, I noticed that the young man seated next to me had put away his phone, flipped through the seat-back magazine and was looking desperately bored. Part of me wanted to seize the opportunity of traveling alone to set out my thoughts on Reimagining Evangelism, a book I had just finished and that was still on my tray table. However, I was aware of the uncomfortable irony in writing about evangelism while ignoring the actual person sitting next to me. Eventually, I couldn’t continue writing.
So instead I made a banal comment about how they used to give you food on long flights, and soon my Catholic row-mate Bobby and I were off to the races, discussing our respective career goals, thoughts about evil and strategies for negotiating challenging work environments. I was able to encourage him in his calling (he was a paramedic) and testify to him about the value of connecting with God. He didn’t even flinch when I started talking about how followers of Christ are called to respond to evil (I did avoid the term “spiritual warfare”!), and he seemed pleasantly surprised when – after over two hours of conversation – I asked if I could pray for him during our descent.
It was one of the most anointed conversations I have had in a long time, and it confirmed my hope that when we set aside our plans and open ourselves up to God’s unexpected motions, when we leave space for the Holy Spirit to act, when we are willing to testify to God’s grace and power, we can be blessed – and bless others – in unforeseen and beautiful ways.
What a freeing thought: evangelism is not about converting anyone (that’s the work of the Spirit) but about sharing the Good News as I experience it.
This piece set me thinking how evangelism might occur without words. I.e., how is my life a pattern and example, what do people “hear” in my actions and the way I live my life?
While God certainly can “sound like” the Bible, that’s not typical of God’s style as I know Him. God is just as likely to ‘sound like’ a fall off a moving bicycle [when I happen to need an educative setback.]
We do need to come to terms with the Bible. Given that nothing in this world is accidental — What did God have in mind, in generating _that_ part of it? It’s obvious to me that it is not, and was never intended to be “authoritative” in any sense other than the way NT Wright put it here: http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/07/12/how-can-the-bible-be-authoritative/ There might have been a Gospel According to Jesus, but there was not; and I think there was good reason for this.
It does look to be one way that God has communicated with us; but it itself shows that people who lived before it was written found other ways, and so can we; and so are we meant to, when we finally become less estranged from God.