'Life hacks' for everyday evangelists

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Sam Chan is a public speaker for City Bible Forum and a passionate advocate for sharing the good news of Jesus. He’s also a father of three boys, a medical doctor and an acclaimed author. His award-winning book Evangelism in a Skeptical World has become an Eternity podcast, a six-episode series of “life hacks” for everyday evangelists.

Eternity’s Ben McEachen asked Sam some skeptical questions about his life, beliefs and the power of a podcast.

Eternity: Are you a skeptic or a believer?

Sam Chan: I think you can be both. I’m a man of the sciences; I’m a medical doctor. We are taught to always have a healthy scepticism. So, if someone says they are having a heart attack, you actually do not believe them. You don’t take them at their word – you have to prove it for yourself. You have to take a blood test, an ECG trace, listen to their chest and take their pulse.

I was born with Christian parents and people think that helps, but that makes you even more determined to prove [Christianity] for yourself. To own this thing. I had to know, for myself, if this is true.

I’m always thinking that I’ve got enough evidence but it was nice if there was a little bit more. Christianity is what I call ‘an explanation of best fit’ – and that’s how we form most of our beliefs.

You are not only a medical doctor but you also have a doctorate in theology. And you are married, and have three boys (12, 10 and 8). How could you fit all that into one life?

SC: Well, I’m way older than I look but, just last week, my wife and I did date night – and we got ID’d. I think we were old enough to be that guy’s parents.

How would a missionary evangelise Australia if they saw it as an unreached people group?

I studied medicine for five years, worked four years as a doctor, did a one-year diploma at Bible college, then did a three year Bachelor degree and then went to the USA to do a two-year Masters. Then, a five year PhD. Came back and taught for nine years at a Bible College – that helped me form my ideas and theology into a tighter, more coherent package – and the last five years with City Bible Forum. On the frontline! Telling people about Jesus. I’ve loved it. It’s the ‘unicorn’ job.

Does that mean you really believe that talking about Jesus is better than practicing medicine?

SC: Again, I think it’s a both/and. You’re allowed to do both. I still work one or two days a week as a medical doctor.

An analogy is when you are raising your children, you do both: you look after their bodily needs – you feed them, clothe them, wash them – but at the same time you look after their spiritual needs. You tell them about Jesus, you pray with them, you help them mature as believers. You never see those things as mutually exclusive. Both can exist at the same time.

Why even bother evangelising in a sceptical world – isn’t that just a set up for failure?

SC: I’m old enough to have gone to the last Billy Graham Crusade in the 1970s at Randwick Racecourse [Sydney]. Now, I look back and realise the non-believers came on a church bus. They were actually part of a church community. Now, I think we are so post-Christian, post-reached, post-church that we as well be ‘unreached’. Then I thought, how would a missionary evangelise Australia if they saw it as an unreached people group?

That got me excited because I think it’s in the DNA of every Christian to want to tell their friends about Jesus. We feel guilt for not doing it but when we do it, it feels awkward and weird and inappropriate. So we are caught in this dilemma.

Australia, like most other Western nations, is part of the storyline that says we used to believe in God, but we also used to believe in witches, fairy godmothers and unicorns as well. The Enlightenment came and taught us to think for ourselves, so we stopped believing in God and rejected all traditional forms of authority – church, family and school. You only live once, so you’ve got to do whatever makes you happy. Be true to yourselves and chase your dreams. It’s going to be hard but as long as you are brave, you can make it.

You become the hero of the story.

I encourage talking about why we believe what we believe.

When we try to tell our friends about Jesus, to them it sounds like we are trying to drag them kicking and screaming back into the Dark Ages.

This is the Australia we are trying to evangelise.

As your book and podcast suggest, can the unbelievable news about Jesus really be made more believable?

SC: We have just got to hear it from our friend’s point of view: it is unbelievable. We’re trying to say, hey, there was this guy called Jesus. Son of God. Born of a virgin. Died on a cross. Rose again three days later. Oh, and he’s going to come back again in a physical form.

You’ve got a better chance of convincing them about UFOs or aliens from Jupiter. So I encourage talking about why we believe what we believe.

We believe what trusted family and friends believe. One of the reasons our non-Christian friends don’t believe is they actually don’t know any Christians.

Australia has that typical Western cultural storyline but we can tell them a better story.

Step one is introducing them to our Christian friends, so now they belong to a community where, hang on, five of my friends believe this. This is more believable, maybe I should check it out.

We should see friendships as a gift from God to enjoy – a good thing, in and of themselves – but at the same time, God is placing us in this situation to be able to tell our friends about Jesus.

Can your suggestions/methods of evangelism really work?

SC: Most of my book is about stuff my wife and I have tried, and [it helped] our friends to meet Christian friends.

We were eating meals with people, learning to listen to them first, and learning to tell them about Jesus in our lives – in a more natural, organic story form.

Australia has that typical Western cultural storyline but we can tell them a better story.

They are way more easy, natural and do-able than we dared imagine.

Where we are now in the 21st Century in Australia is different to the Australia when Billy Graham came. If we are still trying to use the same methods as Billy Graham tried, it seems to be a square peg trying to go through a round hole.

We have to learn to change our methods and even explore the different ways of telling the gospel that are there in the Bible. Now we are so post-modern, we can explore the Eastern themes in the Bible of shame and honour, for example.

If I talk to high school students … [I say] ‘There is a God who loves you and made you, but we are not honouring him. We are not worshipping him and we are replacing him with other things. We fall short of where we should be. We are not the person we want to be. We are not the person God needs us to be but he sent us his son Jesus and, through him, we can give God the honour he needs.’

If I start using ‘shame’ and ‘honour’ language, they are listening a lot more.

Why should we listen to your podcast about all this and expect to be inspired?

SC: The six episodes are ‘life hacks’ on how to tell your friends about Jesus – and they are way more easy, natural and do-able than we dared imagine.

It’s just simple things like learning how to listen properly, or things we already know how to do – like inviting somebody for a coffee.

And [doing that] so we might earn the right to talk; by asking questions, sooner or later they might flip us a question: ‘Well, what do you think about this?’ That can give us the invitation to tell them what we think which is, basically, our Christian worldview.

I think that wherever you are at you can think, ‘hey, you know what? I can do this.’ And that’s what most people have told me. It’s a simple as having a coffee, learning to listen, earning the right to speak and then just telling about how Jesus worked in your life.


Sam Chan’s new podcast Evangelism in a Skeptical World is part of the Eternity Podcast Network subscribe today! His book of the same title is available from Koorong