First of all, my apologies. Didn’t mean to take a two week break in writing these. But you know, life and summer. Anyway, this is the third installment of a series of posts I am writing about developing an evangelistic culture as a church after preaching on the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. People in our community need Jesus, and are in danger of an eternity separated from God apart from Him. And God has saved followers of Jesus and placed them in the faith community of the church as His missionary force to take the good news of Jesus to our neighbors and communities. The first two posts looked at ideas for purposeful prayer for those and developing intentional relationships with people who do not know Jesus. This post is about working to move those relationships in the direction of Gospel conversations.
“Always preach the Gospel, and when necessary use words.” This quote has long been attributed to Francis of Assisi, a 13th Century Christian aesthetic. There are two problems with this quote. First, there isn’t really any evidence that Francis actually said or wrote it, and second, we are not actually preaching the Gospel if we do not use words. Let me be clear, I do believe that we can demonstrate the beauty of the Gospel through our character, love, service, acts of mercy and justice. Yet, the Gospel is news, a pronouncement that something has happened in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the Gospel comes with an invitation to repent and believe the Gospel as the hope for salvation. The Gospel is a verbal announcement and therefore we cannot preach the Gospel without words. As mentioned, the previous post explored ways to build relationships. This post will throw out some ideas for turning those relationships toward Jesus and conversations about Him. The next post then will discuss ways you can actually share the Gospel. Think of these ideas as discussion starters, simple ways to throw out a little bait and see if you can get a nibble.
Talk about your church, faith, and sense of mission
Believe it or not, as a pastor I don’t usually lead out with my profession as a conversation starter. Introducing myself as, “Hi, I am Mike and I am a pastor,” is usually a quick way to end a conversation. I can’t think of a single time when someone who was not a believer in Jesus said, “Really, tell me why you became a pastor and how Jesus can change my life.” On the other hand, I have had multiple conversations with people that included sharing about our trips to Charleston, the ways we have served in our city, the importance of my Community Group, the ways prayer has helped me, how my faith impacts the way I value other people, etc. Seriously, try it. For example, lets say you were in Charleston with us. In a conversation with a friend, jump in and say, “Let me tell you about this crazy trip I took this Summer,” and then share how you slept on the floor with all these people so you could be part of a team from your church serving and loving people in poverty and helping kids. And see if that conversation does not lead to this question, “Why in the world would you do that?” And there you go, an opening to tell them why. Or insert in a conversation about your kids school, “You know, last week while I was praying for the school, the teachers, and the principal…” Or you might share in a conversation something from the sermon that spoke to you and you are seeking to apply to life. These sort of lead ins can crack open the door to see if a person wants to engage further, and when they do, it can create a clear pathway to the Gospel.
Ask people how you can pray for them
Prayer is one of the simplest ways we can integrate faith into any relationship without being “pushy”. So, one of the easiest ways to shift conversations in the direction of the Gospel is to ask a simple question, “How can I pray for you?” I have asked this question in conversations with waiter and waitresses, people in airplanes, and sometimes random people who start to express some kind of struggle in a conversation. I have definitely asked it of friends, relatives, and even fellow umpires after working a ballgame. Its also a simple way to engage those with whom we have deeper relationships as an act of love and concern. I have never had anyone who was angry when I asked this. Yes, some have given shorter and deflecting answers, “Prosperity and health for all.” Others have shared simple concerns and needs that we could lift up, which you should do. On the other hand, I have had multiple conversations that began with the offer of prayer that have ended up in deeper Gospel conversations. In one instance, after asking a waitress at a restaurant how we could pray, she broke down in tears, pulled up a chair, and shared the ways her life was falling apart. We shared Jesus with her, and she received Christ right there. We got her connected to a local church and pastor in that area who would be ready to disciple her. To be honest, the way people respond to this question can determine if you push further or just move on. But in all cases, do not tell people you will pray and then fail to pray. My suggestion is that you and any believers you are with at the time stop immediately after the conversation is complete and lift the person up to the Father, praying for any needs expressed and for the salvation of the individual.
Invest and Invite
As you invest in relationships seek ways to invite them to church or church events. Its a simple next step in a relationship as we seek to move those relationships toward Gospel encounters and conversations. Just give a simple, “Hey, I love my church. Would you be interested in going with me sometime.” Any time is a good time for this, but the seasons of Easter and Christmas are often times people are actually considering a visit somewhere. Using social media, text, email, or even invite cards can also be simple ways to extend those invitations. Or you might use some of our family events (like the Church Picnic, Bonfire, youth activities, Genesis Kids & family events) as introductions to the church and our people.
Use Spiritually Leading Questions in Conversations
The book Share Jesus without Fear by William Fey has always been one of my favorite reads on evangelism. His premise is simple, the best way to engage people in spiritual conversations is to begin with questions and authentic listening. Rather than beginning conversations with, “Can I tell you what I believe,” we can start them by asking good questions and listening to the thoughts, beliefs, and concerns of our friends. Here are some good questions that could turn toward further Gospel conversations. But there is an important point that must be made here before throwing out these questions. Do not go into these conversations looking for an argument with the goal of refuting thing you disagree. Ask, then be humble and prayerful as you seek to respond. But most importantly, show love by authentically listening and caring as you seek to find ways to share Jesus.
- Do you have any spiritual beliefs?
- What is most important in life and what brings you the most joy?
- How do you make sense of suffering in your life and in the world?
- To you, who is Jesus?
- Where do you find hope when life is hard?
- What do you believe happens after death?
- Do you have any church or spiritual background?
- Why is the world so messed up and how could it be fixed?
- Where did we all come from? How did everything come to be and life on earth begin?
I am sure there are more, so join the conversation and share questions you have used to begin conversations.
Be Present in Crisis and Times of Pain
One of the best ways we can represent Jesus is by being present and available for people in the times when they are hurting and have questions. This is another facet of learning to live our lives with our chins up and ears open. Of course, when someone loses a loved one, the simple act of sending flowers, showing up at the funeral home or memorial service, and praying for the person will show compassion. But there are simple ways to take it a step further. Use these moments to be present and even serve. Mow the lawn, provide a meal, watch their kids. As you do, ask how you can pray and be of help. Consider an invitation to coffee or over to your house a week or so later and let them share their pain and struggle after most other people have moved on. Mark the date of their loss and send them a card or treat a month later, or on the anniversary of the loved ones death a year later.
But death is not the only crisis. So this is where we need to learn the art of having our spiritual antennas up. People have struggles with kids, marriage or divorce, finances, family issues, and lots more. Or they might be dealing with their own health issues, addictions, life choices, habits, and health issues. Life presents us with all kinds of hardships. One way we can engage people with the Gospel is to be present and lend an ear when these hardships are happening. Don’t be pushy, but listen and do more than the obligatory, “There, there.” In some cases, there might be a book to read to do with the person, or some kind of Gospel-rich help group that enters into the space of your friend’s struggle. In other cases, people who are hurting might even be open to meeting up with a pastor. This is honestly a great way to offer encouragement, believe it or not. A quick, “I know you are hurting and struggling. My pastor is a great person to talk to about these things and pray with you. Would you be interested in meeting up with him?” Our willingness to authentically care and enter in to other people’s pain and struggle can be a incredibly effective demonstration of the love of Jesus and open opportunities to share the Gospel.
Next steps conversations and activities
Consider hosting and inviting people to some specific, conversation and sharing types of opportunities. These can be a single evening or over the course of a few weeks, at your home, in a coffee shop, or in a park. Here are some ideas.
- Bible study – host a short Bible study over a specific section of Scripture, maybe like the Beatitudes or Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and invite people in your neighborhood to join you. There are also great materials from multiple Christian publishers designed for the hosting of evangelistic Bible studies. Speak to or email me if you would like more information on these.
- Tough topic conversation – There are all kinds of crazy issues and topics that get people talking. Abortion, race, politics, etc. Invite a few people to coffee to have a discussion about the issue. Do some prep beforehand to understand how the Gospel and a Christian worldview relates to the topic. And yes, handle the issue gently, but it is interesting that people are willing to share their opinions and engage hard questions if they feel like they are in a safe place to do it. But you should come prepared to share the heart of Jesus and demonstrate love of neighbor as the key component.
- Host a kids Bible study or small group – Invite children and their parents to your home for a Kids Club, or a weekly study and play nights.
- Read a book with a friend or a group of people – Consider asking friends and neighbors to read a book with you. You could do this individually or start a group. You might meet once a book to discuss the book like a book club. You might consider a book on marriage or family, books on apologetic issues (like Rebecca McClauglin’s book Confronting Christianity or the Secular Creed) and life questions, cultural topics (good books on racism, human sexuality, sexual abuse and trafficking, etc.,) or classic works of fiction with faith themes (such as the Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings trilogy).
- Show a movie and hold a discussion – Show a movie that has themes related to the beauty of humanity, faith issues, or even the Gospel itself and then invite people to hold a conversation.
Again, I am sure there are other great ideas, so I hope you will join the conversation and throw out more. The next post will look at ways we can actually turn the conversations to Jesus, share the Gospel, and invite people to faith. Thanks for reading.