Upon the request of some Grace members, I taught last night on having everyday evangelistic conversations. That is not to say that I am sharing the gospel everyday; rather, I am orbiting my life around the gospel with the desire to have its gravitational pull bring those far from God to the center of life and history (Jesus). In other words, gospel intentionality means glory trajectory. If I say I want God to be glorified in my life, then I want that to be fleshed out most principally in day-to-day dealings with people, situations, and conversations for they are intended to be.
5 Foundational Principles
Foundational to living evangelistically, I believe we need to be reminded of a few biblical principles:
(1) God is sovereign over all the affairs of men (things, people, events, etc.); consequently, I should (a) take comfort in his care and control and (b) take courage to venture out in the world that belongs to Him.
(2) God is active in seeking and saving the lost. Salvation belongs to the Lord. He brings the increase. He is Lord of the Harvest. God is more willing to save sinners than I could ever be.
(3) God is a sending God, sending me. Our God is a missionary God. He sent His Son. He sent His Spirit. He is sending His people. He is sending me. Inherent to be a disciple of Jesus is going. My life should evidence gospel advance and seeking first the kingdom of God.
(4) God saves sinners through ordained means of proclaiming the gospel. The gospel logic is clear. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10:13). But they will not be saved unless they call. They will not call unless they believe. They will not believe unless they hear. They will not hear unless someone preaches the gospel to them. And they will not preach unless they are sent. ALL of this is ordained means unto the salvation of sinners. Usefulness in the kingdom of God means that we should expect to be “ministers of reconciliation” who become “servants through whom you believed“.
(5) God’s purpose in saving sinners is to transform us into white-hot worshippers of King Jesus. Evangelism is not about making decisions. Evangelism is about making idol worshippers true worshippers of Jesus. Stopping short of that fails to do evangelism justice.
7 Sequential Steps in Everyday Conversations
With that in mind, here are seven steps that I try to employ as a way of life in seeking to make Christ known.
1. Dwell Incarnationally
I know the term “incarnational” is debated in missiological circles. If you prefer another term, that’s fine. It’s the concept that’s important. By that, I mean it begins by us going to where they are. Drive-by evangelism sowing seed into the wind, not the ground. By dwelling with unbelievers, we are penetrating darkness and going where Christ is not named. When I was in college, that meant I held block parties on Wednesday nights on campus. When I was in seminary, it meant working at UPS and getting there early to hang in the “smoke shack” (while holding my breath for long periods of time). As a pastor in Southwest Florida, it means working 2-3 days a week in the community (I’m typing this at Dunkin Donuts). The point is making yourself accessible to unbelievers so that skin and flesh can be put to what is a “Christian.”
2. Engage Intentionally
If dwelling incarnationally is going where they are, engaging intentionally is starting where they are. That means they determine the topic of conversation. You enter on their terms. If they want to talk politics, sports, pop culture, or whatever (assuming it is not sinful, vulgar, etc.), then enter in. People will generally talk about what is most important to them, and intentional engagement means understanding what they focus on the most.
On the one hand, there is their context. These are matters outside of them, usually events, people, situations, or issues they relate to in one way or another. On the other hand, there is their subtext. These are matters within them, usually feelings, struggles, challenges, problems, or hurts. People will share both of them, sometimes at the same time. If they go with the subtext, you know they are inviting you into the story of their lives. Each conversation is a page in the narrative of their life story. Eventually, you want to connect their story with the story of the gospel, for only then will it have a happy ending.
3. Listen Attentively
Dovetailing off engaging intentionally is listening attentively. Most people talk about context or subtext matters but no one really cares enough to listen. The next person is waiting to one-up that with a better story or counterpoint in the conversation. Listening well means understanding not just what they are saying but why they are bringing it up. It also means taking notes (not at the moment but writing them down later), remembering names and previous conversations. When people know you care enough to listen well, their appreciation will lead to future permission.
4. Ask Provocatively
By asking questions, you are not only validating your listening and understanding, you are inviting more participation. You are encouraging them to engage their own thoughts, convictions, feelings, and presuppositions with questions which are not necessarily confrontational but sometimes subversively so. Asking questions may lead to them inviting you to provide an answer to your own questions, assuming they will not have thought it through or simply don’t have an answer. The “What if” or “Have you ever considered” questions come to mind a lot.
5. Bridge Persuasively
You have gone where they are. You have started with their agenda. You have listened and understood the context and/or subtext of their lives. You have invited participation and provoked interest by asking thoughtful and relevant questions. What now? Build a bridge to the gospel. That bridge is making the connection between where they are and why they need to hear the gospel and know Jesus Christ. It is a bridge that explains the contexts issues with a biblical worldview, one that challenges presuppositions through a gospel hermeneutic, one that draws out the plot line of their story in light of the grand metanarrative of redemptive history (creation, fall, redemption, restoration). People will likely not give the gospel a fair hearing unless they have been persuaded as to why they need to hear it and embrace Jesus. Build the bridge helps make that connection.
6. Share Compassionately
Peter tells us that we should give an answer for the hope that is within us with gentleness and respect (or meekness and fear). We share the gospel with humility and gentleness because we know our own frame and what we were outside of Christ. We know the offense comes from the gospel, not from our attitudes. A compassionate sharing of the gospel does not water it down or truncate it in the least bit. It is not compassionate to remove the sinfulness of sin, the wrath of God, the exclusivity of Christ, and the judgment for sinners and the self-righteous. Indeed, by making all gospel truths known, the diagnosis of their eternal state can be seen for what it is and they can seek the salvation freely offered to all who would find refuge in the cross of Jesus Christ.
7. Follow Up Prayerfully
Lastly, it is important to follow up prayerfully. Pray that the seed of the gospel would fall upon fertile soil in their hearts. Pray that God would open hearts like he did Lydia’s. Pray that they would have spiritual eyes to see the face of Jesus Christ. Pray they would be granted repentance and faith to genuinely turn from sin and trust Christ. The sequence is not linear but circular, in that it is repeated over and over again. And through it all, we are praying that God would open doors of opportunity, open our mouths to share Jesus, and open hearts that sinners might be saved.
As I have worked to develop this approach to cultivating relationships with unbelievers and having evangelistic conversations, the temptation is to develop measurables according to how many times you share the gospel or how often you see someone converted. I think that is unfair and encourages guilt, disappointment, and a sense of defeat in trying to represent Jesus to unbelievers. Rather, my encouragement would be to start from the beginning.
The key to living evangelistically is honestly evaluating the justifications we give ourselves for not pursuing gospel intentionality. At the end of the day, it has more to do with our comfort zones and established kingdoms of self than we want to realize.
At least that is true for me.
I am far more prone to talk about my personal inadequacies than the Spirit’s sufficiency to empower me.
I am far more guilty of making myself a victim (I am afraid of what people think of me, my life has become too complicated, etc.) than accepting personal responsibility for stewarding the gospel with words and deeds putting Christ on display.
I am far more forgetful about God’s sovereignty, saving purposes, and sending mission than I am about my daily to-do list.
I am far more averse to taking risks and owning distractions than owning the Great Commission call and lose my life for Jesus’ sake.
I am far more of a hoarder of the best news the world has ever heard than I am willing to admit.
And because this is true, I pray for grace to get over myself and strong repentance so that I will not wait for sunny days and sinners to come to me, asking “What must I do to be saved?” It will likely never happen. Instead, we are called to enter the stormy days and pursue broken hearts because we know there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem. There has never been a question about the harvest. And yet the laborers are few. Through prayer, may God mobilize us to leverage everyday life with ordinary people to make an eternal impact through the gospel of Jesus Christ!