What’s the one piece of advice you’d give for sharing faith with others?
Evangelism is about communicating the good news of Jesus. The gospel is such a profound message that we should want it to connect with people in the deep places of their being. My hope for the Christian community today is that we will do better at that kind of communicating.
We have often put such a big emphasis on “getting the message out” that our efforts have come across as highly impersonal: handing out tracts and pamphlets, briefly engaging individuals in “beach evangelism,” holding up a “John 3:16” sign behind the goal posts at a stadium. To be sure, the Lord has used those approaches to bring people into a saving knowledge of Christ. But often that has been accomplished by God in spite of our failures at really communicating.
I love what the Christmas carol says about the Savior born in Bethlehem: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Evangelism is about taking seriously the deep hopes and fears of those whom we want to reach with the gospel. That requires entering into their lives, taking the time to find out about their struggles and joys. That requires building relationships. And the wonderful thing about this approach is that it can be a genuine learning experience. To learn about the complex needs of real people is to learn more about “the hopes and fears” of the world that Jesus came to save.
—Richard J. Mouw, President Emeritus and Professor of Faith and Public Life at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of Restless Faith: Holding Evangelical Beliefs in a World of Contested Labels
I used to think my witness depended on hiding my fears and failures. If Jesus is so great, I should be fixed and filled and happy all the time! But Paul presented himself as the worst of sinners, and when he prayed three times for God to take away the thorn in his flesh, God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). If we stop pretending we have it all together, it’s actually easier to share the gospel, because people are primed to think we’re saying that we’re better than them—that they’re sinners, and we’re not. But if I’m open about my weakness, it helps open others up. And if I’m honest about my sin, it helps me to keep sin in the story. It’s so tempting to present Jesus as a life-coach for the basically good. That way, we’re not telling our friends they are sinners deserving God’s judgment—which is highly offensive! Jesus isn’t a life-coach, however; He’s a Savior. He didn’t come for the basically good, but for those who are hopelessly in need. And the best evidence I have for my friends’ sin is the evidence of my own heart. If they’re anything like me, they don’t need a guru—they need a Redeemer.
—Rebecca McLaughlin, Co-founder of Vocable Communications, speaker, and author of Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion
Consider the harmony between “faithfulness” and “fruitfulness.” In the Parable of the Sower, the worker toiled because he expected a harvest. Like him, we always work with some hope of enjoying the fruits of our labor. Fruitfulness is a good thing. The problem arises when we expect to always see fruit. And I purposefully use the word see because we are prone to measure fruitfulness by what we see or experience. But seeing the fruit may not always be a useful criterion when we assess how “successful” a ministry is.
Around a well in Samaria, Jesus told His disciples, “I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor” (John 4:38). Imagine now for a moment those others Jesus mentioned—the people who could have given up in their labor because they never saw fruit. But the fruit came. So “faithfulness” and “fruitfulness” are directly linked, but not always in one experience or even one lifetime.
Sow faithfully with the hope of fruit, even if that fruit is the joy of another. And when you reap, do so with joy, for in your reaping, you have been divinely joined with the faithful labor of another. For “the one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor” (1 Corinthians 3:8 NIV).
—Chris Thomas, Teaching Pastor at Raymond Terrace Community Church, Australia
Evangelism is most powerful when it is responsive to the stories of others. So rather than guess where people are coming from spiritually, get to know them personally, and avoid “proclaiming” a one-time, preset rehearsed speech. We certainly don’t see Jesus doing that with Nicodemus or the Samaritan woman. He’s creative and responsive constantly in the Gospels.
When we ask, “What’s your spiritual background?” and “How does that impact you today?” we learn about where people have been and what baggage they might have because of church or other religious experiences. We also discover what is important to them. I’ve learned so much about people just by asking these questions and listening to the answers.
As you get to know people’s stories, steadily share about your life in a transparent way, and avoid using “Christianese” phrases that likely won’t be understood. Build trust by showing care and hospitality, especially with people from religious, ethnic, or racial groups that don’t usually hang out with individuals from your background. Offer to pray for places of pain as well as dreams in their life. If believers have caused harm, apologize on behalf of Christians and explain that is not what Jesus intended. Spending quality time building trust and relationship with non-Christians makes it all the more powerful when we are able share the reason for the hope that we have.
—Sarah Shin, Associate National Director of Evangelism for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and author of Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey
Illustration by Dangerdust