Comfortable evangelism is an oxymoron

Especially when it comes to witnessing to family members. In the video below Randy Newman (from whom I borrowed the title of this post) talks about his latest book, Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to your family members, close friends and others who know you well.

In this talk bearing the same title as the book Newman uses the first 20 minutes to explain some of the paradoxes in evangelism  (which he also blogged about: part 1, part 2). In the last 20 minutes, he goes on to give three essential ingredients for witnessing to family members, handily summarised by the letters TLC.

  • Time: It may take years and decades of prayer before a loved one comes to faith.
  • Love: In families, love is often assumed and not adequately expressed [I’m guilty of this 😦 ]
  • A comprehensive faith: How does your belief in Christ affect the rest of your life?

The final resource I’ll point to is this interview Newman did (length 50:55). Here are some of the questions he answers (I’ve edited them for clarity):

  • Is it the primary responsibility of believers to witness to their family members?
  • How often are words necessary?
  • How direct should our words be?
  • What lessons have you learned that you’d like to pass on?

May we be consistent in my praying for and loving those close to us who are yet to share the joy of knowing our Saviour.

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Ask questions!

1 Peter 3:15 tells believers that they should always be ready to give an answer for the hope they have. What if no one asks you anything? Well, you ask the questions!

Here are some tips on why and how to do that:

Becky Pippert advises us to create curiosity before proclaiming the gospel:

Randy Newman, in his Questioning Evangelism1 talk, gives the following reasons for asking people questions:

  • Some people aren’t even awake. There’s not a lot of deep thought going on in our culture. In asking the questions, not only are you forcing them to think, but you also show that you’re a thinking person.
  • Some people believe things cannot be true, things that are contradictory or don’t stand up to investigation. For example, “All religions are saying the same thing.” Ask them to explain that to you. Gently put them on the defensive in order to lead them to understand that what they’ve been holding on to is indefensible. Be gracious and prayerful to avoid the temptation to want to win.
  • Some questions are insincere. We need to discern what’s going on with the questioner. If the question is insincere, we need to engage with the person on a level different from answering the question.
  • Sometimes a partial victory is best. It may be better to move people part of the way to a decision than moving them the whole way.

Michael Ramsden offers these reasons² for questioning people:

  • It forces people to open up within their general assumptions, e.g. in Luke 18:18-19.
  • It forces people to open up within their cultural assumptions, e.g. in Matthew 22:15-21.
  • It exposes faulty logic
  • It makes people think
  • It exposes motives, e.g. in Luke 20:2-8

Regarding that last point, giving the right answer to the wrong question is always wrong. In the apologetics workshop talk Tough questions: tough answers?, Ramsden gives guidelines on how to determine the question behind the question and how best to respond.

Not convinced? Have you considered how many questions Jesus asked?

For more ideas on how to engage uninterested unbelievers, have a listen to the Christian Persuaders podcast (tagline: “A series of interviews with people from around the world gifted and passionate about communicating and defending the Christian gospel”)  and/or Dan Strange’s talk  Reaching the Irreligious for Christ.

¹ I’ve listened to 4 versions of this talk, given in October 2009, October 2010, April 2011 and May 2011. Pick one. I’d go for the first or last 🙂

² I didn’t note down which talk this came from. Ooops.

In case you’re wondering, I have applied the advice in this post, though I fear I came across as an ignoramus. I can put that down to my lack of practice 🙂

Why should we evangelise?

There are both bad and good reason for evangelising.

Some bad motives

1.       In order to gain glory for yourself. Wanting to be known as a soul-winner among your fellow Christians. Or, you like winning arguments. Or, you wish to cover up your own doubts.

2.       Guilt. Take your guilt to the cross and leave it there. Guilt, in addition to being a poor motivator, doesn’t honour the message we have. Be aware of your motives, but don’t wait for them to be perfect before going out to evangelise.

The good motives

There are two of them, found in Matthew 22:36-40: love for God and love for other people.

Love for other people

a.       The reality of heaven and hell-Hebrews 9:27. Everyone will be judged–Matthew 25:31-36

b.      There’s no other way of salvation–John 11:25-26, 14:6, Romans 10:13-17

Love for God

a.       A desire to obey God–John 14:21, 1 John 5:3, Mark 13:10, Matthew28:19, Romans 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:16-17

b.      A desire to imitate Christ–John 3:17, Mark 10:45, Luke 19:10. He came on a mission to seek and save.

c.       A desire for the glory of God. God’s motivation is His glory (Ezekiel 36:22-23). Those who don’t know Him are robbing Him of His glory.

And finally, some encouragement:

1.       Ask Christians in your church to share their testimony. That way you may hear of the faithfulness of praying parents, friends and strangers.

2.       Reflect on the reality of hell, and that those without Christ are going there.

3.       Meditate on the beauty of the gospel, and it will overflow from you.

4.       Consider the sovereignty of God. We can’t make anyone believe.

5.       Consider the cross, and the love shown there.

From a talk given by Mike McKinley at The Gospel and Personal Evangelism Conference held at UCC Dubai, September 2010.

Why don’t we evangelise?

In no particular order:

1.       A misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty. “If God can and will save sinners, He doesn’t need me.” God’s prescribed means is for people to proclaim the gospel- Romans 10:14

2.       We don’t know any non-Christians. There’s a difference between being surrounded by people and knowing them. Establish a relationship in which you can turn the conversation to Jesus in a natural manner. This may take 5 minutes or 5 years.

3.       We don’t understand our role in the process. We may wrongly think that it is for the gifted, for professionals (e.g. pastors), for those who enjoy it. But in the book of Acts in addition to the apostles, ordinary people were involved in sharing the gospel (Acts 8:4). In Romans 15:18-19, Paul says that he’d proclaimed the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum (modern-day Albania). It is hard to believe that he did it single-handedly; apart from his associates, ordinary Christians in those areas also did their part.

4.       We are unable to articulate the gospel. There are four elements to the redemption story: God, man, Christ, response. We need to be prepared beforehand.

5.       Indifference, busyness, lack of love, wrong priorities, sin in our lives, etc. This includes passing up opportunities because it is too much of a bother.

6.       Fear of man. Sharing the gospel will make people think less of you—1 Corinthians 1:18-29, 2 Corinthians 2:14-16. Reading through Acts, quite often something bad happened to people who shared the gospel.

7.       A lack of confidence in the gospel. Getting discouraged when nothing ever happens. You never know what God’s doing behind the scenes; don’t be discouraged by the lack of immediate fruit. God causes growth and He will use us in His time.

Some suggestions for growing in faithfulness:

1.       Repent. God already knows, and He loves you. Rejoice in the gospel.

2.       Begin to pray. Pray for opportunities, for open doors, for courage, for fruit from past conversations.

3.       Stop making excuses. You may be the only Christian some people have in their life.

4.       Take a risk. Obey even when you’re not sure how it’s going to be received.

5.       Look for opportunities. This goes along with prayer in point #2.

6.       Resolve to love others more than you love yourself. And to be concerned for their eternal destiny.

7.       Be afraid of God. Cultivate a fear of God that causes you to obey Him out of love.

8.       Consider Christ. Hebrews 12:3—consider Him when you’re weary. If you’re full of Christ, that will be the overflow of your mouth.

From a talk given by Mike McKinley at The Gospel and Personal Evangelism Conference held at UCC Dubai, September 2010.

What evangelism isn’t

Imposing your beliefs on others

To begin with, they aren’t your personal beliefs, but biblical facts. Second, evangelism is telling the gospel, not making sure that the other person responds to it correctly. Evangelism isn’t an imposition because no human can coerce another into becoming a true Christian.

Personal testimony

In telling how you came to faith in Christ, you may or may not make clear the claims of Christ on other people. Personal testimony is great and needs to be done; evangelism is about God, Jesus, and man’s response.

Social action and political involvement

These emphasise horizontal problems over the vertical one. The Gospel is about reconciliation to God. That said, there’s nothing wrong with social action.

Apologetics

As with personal testimony, apologetics may or may not include evangelism. While apologetics responds to the agenda that others set, evangelism responds to Christ’s agenda. Again, there’s nothing wrong with apologetics.

The results of evangelism

An approach that equates evangelism and its results may lead to believing that we can change people, resulting in manipulation. Looking at the book of Acts, we see that even the apostle Paul was often unsuccessful. The lack of a positive response isn’t indicative of our lack of faithfulness (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). We fail only when we don’t tell the gospel at all.

What is evangelism, then?

Evangelism is telling the good news of what God did through Christ on the cross and living a life that backs it up.

Excerpted from a talk given by Mark Dever at The Gospel and Personal Evangelism Conference held at UCC Dubai, September 2010. This material can also be found in a book he wrote, of which you can read an excerpt.