Making evangelism realistic, diplomatic, personal, hopeful and even … enjoyable

Proven the existence of God lately? Or perhaps solved the enigma of evil and suffering? How’s your grasp of the original languages? Confident when someone asks you about higher criticism? And do you have a beautifully gift-wrapped answer when the question of sexuality comes up?

Chances are you ain’t got time for dat, and the vast majority of us never will. There’s only so much time and brainpower available to us each day, and becoming the armchair apologist isn’t high on our priority list.

I suspect that many Christians think of evangelism as needing to be that kind of person in our speech and rhetoric. Someone who can knock down arguments left, right and centre. Someone who has a grasp on nearly every discipline. Someone who has hilarious anecdotes and metaphors that will just stick to the hippocampus. Someone that can make babies laugh, birds chirp and flowers grow just by pronouncing God’s love with charm, charisma and confidence.

Great if you can be that person, BUT it’s not what everyday evangelism looks like in practice. We don’t have to set the bar so high to partake in God’s mission. We don’t need to pretend to be someone else. In fact, God loves using us in the situation we’re in right now.

We don’t have to set the bar so high to partake in God’s mission.

Dive Deeper

Over the month of September, City Bible Forum is encouraging Christians around Australia to try and have five spiritual conversations over this month. The hope is that we can achieve 3000 nationally, and who knows what God might do with that afterwards! You can take a quiz, get personalised resources, watch videos of conversations other people have had, and then log your own and watch it light up our interactive map.

We want to set the bar low, and just get people talking. You’ll be surprised how open most people are to these kinds of conversations. So to help you get started –while also keeping with the theme of five conversations – here are five quick tips for diving deeper with your friends, family and colleagues.

1. Be ready and hopeful

1 Peter 3:15 says “in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” Before going on to talk about being prepared to give an answer …

Knowing the gospel is the best way to prepare for any conversation. Letting it be the very blood that pumps through your veins and gives you life. So soak it in. Ruminate on it. Understand the length, breadth and depth of God’s promises fulfilled in Christ. See and feel how it shapes life now, and how it brings hope to any and every situation. The more we invest in understanding and living out the gospel, the keener our eyes will be to the gospel glimmers hiding in every conversation topic, waiting to be uncovered and shared.

We can also share what Jesus means to us. Share what you find beautiful, comforting, life-giving, life-changing, captivating, meaningful about the person and work of Jesus. Work out ways to share parts of your story – i.e. How did you become a Christian? How has being a Christian helped you in times of adversity? What’s it like being part of Christian community? Why are you still a Christian?

People may like to argue the merits of Christianity, but they won’t really be able to argue with your subjective experience of it. In fact, there’s a good chance they’ll actually be quite inspired by it, making the gospel more real to them. It won’t just be an abstract, theoretical proposition, but a living faith that makes sense of the everyday and the existential.

The latter part of verse 15 says “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have.” So respond to the person with what they’re asking, not what you think they need to hear. Share Christ in you and your life. At the moment, that’s the life they care about – but hopefully, it will be the experience in their life one day too.

2. Be gracious and respectful

Tone is everything. The last part of v15 says to give these answers “with gentleness and respect”. You can undo years of fruitful conversation and friendship with a harsh word or an ill-advised comment. Being right will never be as important as being Christlike. We are wanting to win the person, not the argument – and to be honest, if it’s become an argument, I think at that point you may have already lost. So we need to be wise in the way we engage with others, and possibly have some methods to cool the temperature if some robust argument is starting to sour the conversation.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s important to hear objections and allow for disagreements – this is part of what it means to be gracious. We need to let people share their own story, their own experiences and the arguments they find persuasive. Or vice versa – the Christian arguments that in their mind, are weak. That should be a normal part of conversation, something we even seek out perhaps. Because if we don’t know where they’re at personally, how can we expect them to care about what we’re offering?

Listening can be an act of care and trust-building. Being quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). To let them speak without necessarily having the comeback. We can just sit with it a while and then come back to it on another occasion.

And just because you disagree on some things doesn’t mean it has to define the relationship. As people, we disagree with friends, family, colleagues all the time. If we’re being honest, there is no one we should 100 per cent agree with all the time (apart from Christ). So don’t let disagreements become arguments that become relational chasms

3. Be curious and interested

Ask meaningful questions. Ask them about their life: What their hopes and dreams are; What their fears are; Why they do the things they find special, etc.

Now don’t pummel them with questions when they’re clearly not in the mood. It’s not a police interrogation. But be someone who is interested in their life – from the mundane to the metaphysical.

One of the noticeable things about Jesus’ ministry is that he always asked people questions. It’s one of the key ways that reveals people’s hearts, hopes and hardships.

So ask meaningful questions. But ask even better follow-up questions the next time. How was your kid’s birthday party? How is your elderly mother going? How was that wedding you went to? What did you think of that book or TV show you’ve been working your way through?

The follow-up question shows that you’ve been paying attention and listening. And I don’t know about you, but those simple things make a big difference when people do that for me. That ought to be our default, on top of offering to pray for them.

4. Be real and vulnerable

Just as people might make themselves vulnerable to us, we have an obligation to do the same. So be who you are and share what you’re going through. Lean into doubt. Don’t be afraid to talk about hardships, things you’re currently working through, whether it’s circumstances or intellectual concerns.

Os Guinness in his book Doubt writes:

“Christianity places a premium on the absolute truthfulness and trustworthiness of God, so understanding doubt is extremely important to a Christian …The person who knows why he believes is also in a position to discover why he doubts … The world of Christian faith is not a fairy-tale, make-believe world, question-free and problem-proof, but a world where doubt is never far from faith’s shoulder.” (p. 16-17)
In a funny way, doubt can help you clarify what you actually believe. If you get the chance to have that conversation, you’ll be inviting a non-Christian into your world where beautiful truths rub against the complexities of life.

Maybe they are asking the same questions from a slightly different vantage point? Maybe they’ll be interested when you read a book or listen to a podcast that helps you clarify some of those tensions?

It’s important for them to see that we’re real people with real questions, and that Christianity isn’t simply brainwashing cult behaviour or the thing we grew up with, oblivious to people’s concerns and scepticism.

It’s also important to see that it can be intellectually and experientially satisfying; that it can resolve things, and leave us in a better place to tackle the next difficult problem.

Don’t overpromise, but at the same time don’t underpromise either. Christianity is loaded with the very things we yearn for in our souls. It might not be answered or reconciled immediately, but the promise of eternity is a grand promise, guaranteed by a wooden stake in the ground of history.

5. Be bold and courageous

Sometimes it’s easy to forget in our polarised and outraged culture that we still live in a country that is incredibly free and open to religious conversation.

Sure there’s a secular hostility, but the cost is nowhere near the same as in places like China, India, North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, etc.

And that’s just in today’s context. Think about evangelism historically – before human rights were an established and globally recognised thing.

Think about the book of Acts. Not many of us leave our workplace “overjoyed to be counted worthy of suffering humiliation for the sake of his name”, like in 5:41.

Much of the New Testament is written in the context of Christians who are suffering for being Christians. In 1 Peter 4:16 he says, “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”

We can have supreme confidence in God, knowing that while others seed and water, he makes them grow.

We bear that name, and yet none of us will be stoned to death or crucified for our beliefs in this country. Now don’t hear me saying that evangelism isn’t hard or isn’t potentially costly. Of course, it is, and we still need to be wise, shrewd and thoughtful. But evangelism has historically always been costly. And it’s only really over the last few centuries (in particular in Western countries) that this hasn’t been the case. So it’s still hard, but worth keeping in mind how we compare with other times and places.

I think this should give us confidence and freedom. Freedom to make mistakes with relative impunity. Freedom to give it a go and stretch ourselves. Freedom to fail and then get back on the horse. Freedom to be bold, adventurous and to take those risks, knowing that whatever we might lose will be gained a hundred-fold in eternity.

We can have supreme confidence in God, knowing that while others seed and water, he makes them grow (1 Cor 3:6). So let’s dive deeper and see what God brings back to the surface.

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Aaron joined City Bible Forum in 2018 and has coordinated local events in Hobart. Recently he has spent more time writing and creating digital content for Third Space.