Maybe you are like me in having attended dozens of evangelism training sessions over the years. I have both learned and taught the Four Spiritual Laws, The Bridge, Steps to Peace With God, Evangelism Explosion and a number of other methods and approaches. Each of these tools may have its merits, especially in focusing the content of the gospel on Jesus and a person’s response of faith in him. At least in the circles I travel in, there has been a substantial amount of talk about what we say to people. My concern lately, however, has been with the equally important issue of how we meet and relate to the people we desire to share this message with.
Along with my pastoral ministry within the church, it has been my privilege to have the opportunity to be involved in many community activities. For many years, I have also taught part-time in a couple of universities and a community college in my area where I have met literally hundreds of students from nearly every walk of life. This experience has resulted in some pretty seasoned views about how to relate to people as a genuine Christian. So, here are some things to keep in mind as you meet people who do not openly profess the Christian faith.
- First don’t assume that, because a person is not actively attending an evangelical church, he or she is automatically an unbeliever. Some Christians have become inactive in their church life or in personal walk due to a variety of circumstances, including: moving to a new city, a change of work schedule, a lapse in personal routine or spiritual discipline, a separation from an important spiritual influence, such as a parent or a much-respected Christian friend, being hurt by other Christians, etc.
Before I go on, let me speak to the issue of church category. Again, simply because a person attends a church which is not similar to yours, it does not necessarily mean that they are involved in a compromised form of Christianity. There are genuine believers in the biblical Jesus in a variety of churches, which may be somewhat different from your own.
- Secondly, when relating to those who do not profess Christian faith, don’t set up an “us and them” situation in your mind. Remember that Jesus spoke with all sorts of people without seeming to categorize them as religious or non-religious. He told some of the most unlikely people that they were very close to the Kingdom of God (Matthew 21:32), while people who were outwardly religious were told they could not even see the Kingdom unless they experienced radical inward change (John 3:3). People are generally offended by being classified and they are usually pretty quick to sense that, from your perspective, they are “outsiders”. The truth from God’s perspective is that some people we might not ever suspect are only a step or two from eternal life.
- Learn to genuinely appreciate and enjoy people for what they are. Notice I didn’t say you must accept everything about them or even befriend every person you meet. Obviously some people will be more likeable to you than others. The point is, that the first step in receiving a fair hearing as you share your faith in Jesus (as well as in expressing other values and commitments which are very dear to you), is to treat a variety of people with a common level of appreciation and respect. If you are willing to like people you meet, that usually comes across clearly to most reasonable folks. People like to be liked.
- Not everyone is reasonable. A certain percentage of people don’t have either the personality, emotional stability, mental clarity or maturity of character to give you a fair hearing. (By the way, this includes committed Christians.) There are people who are generally angry and take it out on those around them. Others may have met someone in their past whom they came to dislike intensely and who seems in their mind to be like you. There are judgmental people; cruel people; argumentative people; mean people; fearful people; manipulative people—I could go on. Just get used to the idea that, willing though you may be to like those you meet, not everyone will return the favor.
- As a professed follower of Jesus, you represent him. No one alive now has ever seen Jesus. We read about him in scripture or are taught in church and get an understanding of who he is in that way. But at the present time, his followers act as his visible body. Like it or not, as the hands and feet of Jesus, people look at you and see him. This truth speaks volumes about how we behave ourselves: how we think and speak and act. In other words, how we live as followers of Jesus is at least as important as the words we say about him or how we say them.
- When someone does show an openness to you and your faith, you may want to extend an invitation to attend a situation in which they can observe believers acting like believers under the influence of God’s word.
o An invitation to a church service is an easy entry-point. In many churches on Sunday morning, visitors are not be singled out or embarrassed, but can sit and simply observe while at the same time being exposed to scripture and the gospel.
o Perhaps a special event will be of particular interest to them. Care groups, programs for their children, women’s and men’s groups and activities, as well as youth events are all options which may meet a certain need in their life.
o Maybe the best option is to offer a chance to spend time together with you. Something as simple as a cup of coffee and some conversation for a few minutes can develop into a friendship, which can lead to a deep sharing of the Christian faith. It goes without saying that it is usually best for men to befriend men and women to befriend other women. Don’t forget that the gospel is all about transformation of life from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13-14). As a friend, your own story will be of great interest to them and perhaps of deep influence on them.
With these reminders clearly before us, sharing Christian faith in the postmodern culture of the Twenty-first Century does not have to be intimidating. In fact, it can be a hugely rewarding experience and a stimulus to growth in areas we may have yet to experience.
An important part of sharing the Good News of Jesus with people is your own account of how Jesus has changed your life. This is often referred to as your personal testimony. As we touch people’s lives with the gospel, they often want to know more than the basic Bible verses and gospel information. They are curious about what made you decide to follow Jesus and the difference it has made since then.
Composing Your Testimony
- Think through the circumstances that brought you to faith in Jesus. Were you raised in a Christian home, or did you find Christ from another type of environment? How has following Jesus made you different from what you might have been otherwise?
- Write out your story, aiming for no more than a page or two. If you have a brief passage of scripture to share, which will highlight some aspect of your testimony, that can be included. It is helpful to organize your story according to the following segments:
What life was like before I found Jesus. Relate your thinking, attitudes and lifestyle before Jesus had any meaningful place in your life. Were you sad, selfish, bored or just plain oblivious to the issues of life? If you came from a Christian home, was that helpful in finding Jesus?
How I found Jesus. What were the long-term, and short-term circumstances which brought you to personal faith in Jesus? Was it a friend’s attractive life? A Christian meeting of some sort? Your parents’ prayers? Etc.
My life since faith in Christ. Honestly describe the difference knowing Jesus has made. Have your thinking, attitudes or actions changed in any meaningful way? Has there been any power to change habits or resist sin? Have people noticed these changes?
- Refine your testimony. Make sure that the words you use to describe your experience communicate clearly to people who don’t understand Christian terminology. Make sure you are absolutely truthful in telling your story. Pray for clarity of mind and words as well as openness in people’s hearts.
- Watch out for these mistakes: A preachy or superior attitude; Negative remarks about specific types of churches or individuals; Christian slang words; Apologizing for what you believe are your poor speaking skills; Taking too much time and becoming a bore.
Remember, you are pointing people to Jesus, not to yourself. People need to see how great and merciful he is, not how amazing your story is.
Presenting Your Testimony
You will probably have many opportunities to share your faith-story over the course of your life. You may be asked to share in a service or meeting of some kind, or maybe the subject will be appropriate as you are talking with friends. It is best to have at least the basic outline of your testimony memorized so that you can make the most of these opportunities.
When asked to speak before a sizeable group you will want to carefully plan and rehearse what you have to say. Review your written work, perhaps even reading it out loud several times and then saying it without the aid of your manuscript. Aim for several minutes. Be respectful of whatever time limits your hosts may give you. Speak clearly and don’t rush through your presentation. Smile and show enthusiasm (if Jesus has changed your life for the better, it ought to show in a positive way). Pray that God will use you to bring blessing into the life of each person present.
Remember that this is your own unique story. There is no need for you to be like anyone else. Never be ashamed of how the Lord has led you through your life so far. His ways are always best. You can be an encouragement to others who relate to your story so that they may also find God’s plan and presence in their lives!
Please read no further if you don’t want a refreshing change in your life. Stop reading now if you want to escape the rearrangement that joy may bring to your world. If you prefer the status quo; if you would rather muddle through as you are; if you would like things to stay the same as always— this is not an article you will want to waste your time on. Please skip over this and continue with other pursuits, because a decision to trust wholly in Christ will inevitably bring a new and beneficial direction to your life.
So, if you want to avoid joy, a good way to do that is to avoid any commitment to Christ.
If you would rather not experience the peace that results from forgiveness of your sins and wrongdoings, don’t consider this any further.
If you would rather not rub shoulders with some of the most surprising and wonderful people anywhere, by all means don’t attend church.
If you take comfort in labeling all Christians as hypocrites and narrow-minded fools on the thin argument that because some do exist, therefore, all who follow Jesus must be the same, please keep your mind tightly closed to the facts.
If you want to miss the most fascinating and profound reading you will ever encounter, please—under no circumstances read the Bible.
If you desire no straight answers to questions about Christianity’s claims to truth don’t pick up a book or browse the internet seeking such things.
Let me say it again, don’t read this!
If you want no understanding ears to listen to your hurts or insightful suggestion to a practical problem, don’t contact a pastor or Christian friend.
And- especially- don’t ponder the point of this obvious reverse psychology if you would just as soon not be bothered with anything like fulfillment, purpose for living or challenge to become something higher and better.
But if, by chance, there are stirrings of some of these deep yearnings somewhere within you, remember:
I warned you not to read this!