Evangelism: Laying the Groundwork

Posted 8/12/2018

Scripture: John 1:35-45

Last week we looked at what evangelism is — the sharing the good news of Jesus with others — and why we evangelize — because we have experienced something wonderful that we want to share with others. Today we begin to look at some of the “hows” of evangelism.” If we don’t want to use the approaches we have experienced — approaches that may seem “canned,” aggressive or offensive — how do we go about sharing the good news in another way? What are some ideas and practices that can guide us in our evangelism efforts?

One of the first things to realize is that evangelism isn’t a “one and done” kind of thing. It isn’t about “hitting someone up” with a “sales pitch.” It is first and foremost about developing relationships. It is about developing our relationship with God and our relationships with others.

Thus, when we decide to begin thinking about sharing the good news the best place to start is with prayer. Ask God to guide you in your relationships — to perhaps even guide you into a new relationship. Ask for openings when you can naturally share your excitement about who Jesus is and what Jesus has done in your life. Ask God to “fire up” your own spiritual life so you have something new and fresh as well as things from your lifelong walk with Jesus.

Then, after turning your attention to your relationship with God, it is time to turn your attention to your relationships with others. In saying this, I am not saying we suddenly start spending all our time trying to figure out how we can turn a conversation with a friend into talking about Jesus. Rather I am saying we turn our attention to developing real relationships — ones in which sharing about our lives and supporting one another comes naturally. “Converting someone” — or getting someone to attend our church — shouldn’t be our primary goal. Our primary goal is to develop real, deep friendships.

The reality is we too often don’t develop such relationships, even with our neighbors. We nod hello, but we seldom know the cares and concerns our neighbors bear. We’re more than willing to keep those about us at a distance, to remain relatively uninvolved in their lives. That means it is vitally important to recognize the first step in sharing the good news of Jesus is simply the process of becoming friends — real friends — with those about us. 

The truth is too many of us “church folk” limit our friendships to other “church folk.” We don’t spend time really getting to know and become friends with the folk who don’t go to church. We need to be willing to move our friendship circle outside of our comfort zone — beyond those who are already Christians.

As we develop these friendships, we shouldn’t simply assume that others have no interest in hearing about Jesus. While it is inappropriate to forcibly turn a conversation to God and Jesus, it is equally inappropriate for us to forever avoid talking about Jesus altogether. When we have developed a true, deep friendship there will be natural openings in which we can speak of Jesus. 

For example, it may be that your friend begins to talk about their struggles in their marriage. This is a time when you can share how Jesus has helped you in your marriage. This can be something as simple as you have found prayer has enabled you to become more patient and understanding. The fact is true friends share their struggles — and at such times you can share how your faith has helped you in the midst of the struggles we humans all share.

When we begin to speak of our faith, however, we need to do it in an honest way. We need to be ready to acknowledge any objections our friend may have. We need to be ready to take these objections seriously. This means there is a degree to which we need to study our faith if we are to be truly prepared to share it. We need to know what we believe and the kinds of objections that those about us often have to the faith, for example that “old chestnut” that the church is filled with hypocrites. We need to be ready to acknowledge the truth that may lie in their objections as well as have ways in which we can help them move beyond those objections to a new openness to considering faith.

Being prepared to acknowledge another person’s objections to faith also means being prepared to ask questions. Asking questions is a natural part of a friendship — it reflects our desire to really understand our friend. Thus, when someone objects that “I can know God without going to church” one might ask questions such as: In what ways have you come to know God? What have you learned of God from those experiences? Or when someone says, “I don’t believe in God!” you might ask them to tell you about the God they don’t believe in. In asking questions we just might discover that our friend really doesn’t know much about the gospel. They simply have picked up some vague, general things about Jesus — sometimes some very mistaken things. These questions become another opportunity for us to share what we know of Jesus and how we have come to know this.

Finally, it helps if we are able to acknowledge our own fears and doubts. I suspect many of us have at least at once in our lives wondered if the gospel is true. Or we have had a time when we were afraid that we didn’t have enough faith. Or we doubted that God really loves us. It is pretty much impossible to go through life without having fears and doubts, including ones about our faith. There is nothing wrong with sharing those with others; they are most likely fears and doubts they too have or have had. Sharing our fears and doubts is a normal and natural part of friendship — and of our ultimately being able to share the good news. We have come to believe not because we have never had any fears or doubts but because we have found an answer to those fears and doubts in our experience of Jesus.

Developing real relationships — a deep relationship with God and deep friendships where we share our lives. Praying for God’s guidance and then being willing to reach out to become friends with others beyond our Christian circle. Being willing to acknowledge our friend’s objections, and to acknowledge the ways in which those objections may be true. Not assuming others don’t have an interest in spiritual things and so are unwilling to talk about God and Jesus. Being willing to honestly share from our own life — the things that have helped us and the doubts and fears we have or have had. All of these are things that can help us to develop our own “style” of evangelism — one that is true to who we are and what we believe. One that lets us authentically share the good news of Jesus Christ.