What are your experiences with evangelism? Is it one marked by anxiety, fear, or disappointment? It sounds odd that such an amazing activity (the work of presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ that brings hope and life) can be so negative. John Dickson accounts his experiences in ‘The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission’, explaining how evangelism can sometimes feel like ‘a cross between a theological exam, an acting class, and a knife-edge rescue operation’.
This has certainly been my experience.
Evangelism as a Play
I remember trying to engage in a conversation with strangers in hopes of ‘segwaying’ into telling them that they are sinners who are going to die if they don’t choose Jesus as Lord of their lives. If you’ve experienced that as well, you’ll know that those types of conversations can sometimes feel very artificial, rigid, or just outright like a play where you act out some rehearsed skit you prepared earlier.
Not surprisingly, I found that those conversations have been neither productive nor fruitful. On top of that, I was losing joy in sharing the gospel. You’ll probably agree that this is incredibly problematic because Jesus’ commands to His disciples is to share the gospel until He returns, and that the epitome of love is to ensure that those within and beyond our reach have the opportunity to respond to God’s grace. So what can we do?
Dickson’s book (see above) sees evangelism as a comprehensive venture, and I certainly agree (hence you should get yourself a copy while the Kindle edition is still on special). Evangelism is not limited to ‘gospel conversations’ or evangelistic rallies, but these things are certainly important.
So how can we have good gospel conversations without coming across as annoying or aggressive as a marketer trying to meet their sales quota for the month (sometimes by trying to get your attention by telling you that you have nice shoes)?
Early on in my evangelism adventure, I realised that I treated people not as people, but as projects. They were ‘projects to convert’. Hence, my mission was to make sure that I give as much ‘gospel’ as I can with every minute of attention that they gave.
I soon realised that this was wrong and at times, sinful.
Wrong because of course they are more than projects. Sinful because I had forgotten that they too are people created in the image of God, and my job was not to be the messiah but to point them to the Messiah.
So rather than download a whole bunch of biblical truths and Scriptural verses, Michael Ramsden from the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics suggests asking good questions. He highlights 5 reasons as to why asking questions is central to good evangelistic conversations, but I’d like to share my reasons.
Into the Heart and Mind
On a relational level, I believe that asking questions are incredibly powerful because it shows that you genuinely care for the person. I confess, my motivations for evangelism in the past have not been an overflow of genuine love and care. Rather, it was out of a desire to ‘convert convert convert!’. Of course, asking people to repent and turn to Christ is a loving thing to do. But deep inside, I was out to get a conversation going, give a comprehensive gospel presentation, answer all their questions, and have an altar call right in the middle of the park or train station. I was not genuinely concerned about the state of the person’s heart, life, or experiences.
Questions open up your conversation partner’s world. It is a window through which to see their thoughts, hurts, and dreams, and it enables you to understand how the gospel can best impact their lives. The reality is that people (Christians including) are hurting. This is a consequence of sin, and we need to know how sin is affecting them directly. Empathise with them. Mourn with them. Feel for them. Be reminded that sin is real and its effects are devastating. And maybe once they’ve exposed the true condition of their lives, they may ask about yours and ask how you cope with the brokenness of your life. Enter as a comforter, not a conquerer.
Your conversation may not be as open or emotional as I described, but questions also open you up to your conversation partner’s world view. Everyone has a world view that generates their basic assumptions about life. Find out what that is. Celebrate the good that is found in those world views. Are they concerned about social justice? Excellent! Does their world view push them to seek racial reconciliation? Perfect! Not everything that a non-Christian believes is wrong. It may be incomplete, but certainly not all wrong. During this process, you can begin to reveal the inconsistencies or contradictions in their world views. One of Ramsden’s points is that questions helps expose faulty logic. Expose those illogicalities. Hopefully when they are dissatisfied or curious enough, they may ask you about what you believe and why you believe that to be true. Remember that many things shape a person’s world view, and sometimes even they are unaware of how their views have been shaped. Journey with them, hear them out, and when they find that what they believe is sinking sand, they’ll be more open to Christ the solid rock on which you stand.
What you’ll find is, asking questions is easy. Giving a 5 minute gospel presentation may not be for you (though I believe you should be able to). However, asking questions is part of everyday conversation, and anyone can do it. You don’t have to be particularly charismatic, charming, or cultured to do that. And hopefully as you begin asking questions in your conversations with unbelieving friends, you may feel less stressed and have your joy in evangelism restored.
So go ahead, start asking questions!