Rethinking Evangelism

Tom Clegg Executive Pastor

Tom Clegg
Executive Pastor

A while back I met a guy named Luis. In typical guy fashion, we talked while watching a ballgame on the plasma screen TV above our table. We talked about everything and nothing—sports, jobs, politics, and girls. Then, bit by bit, he began telling me his story. After awhile I asked, “Tell me, Luis, how do you handle the longing you have in your heart for meaning?”

“What are you saying?” he responded.

I said, “You told me that so many painful and traumatic things have happened to you, that you decided to stop believing in God. I get that, I hear your pain. So, now my question is, how do you now make sense out of life? Where do you go for meaning?”

As we talked about all kinds of attempts to find meaning, Luis said he ended up feeling all the more meaningless. The conversation was turning into a downer, so we got up from our seats and went over to shoot some pool. After humiliating me at the pool table, he asked, “How do you know these things about me?”

This was the beginning of a conversation—not a come on, set-up, or a sales pitch that resulted in Luis coming to know the God who created him.  If we’re sensitive to the needs that others have, we can become more life-giving witnesses. By cooperating with the Father, who draws people like Luis to Jesus, we can be used by the Holy Spirit  by simply being patient, compassionate and sympathetic.

As Christians we are not experts or the ones with all the answers. We need to be the one who is curious, the one who asks the questions that nudge the conversation deeper, the one who listens to the answers. Rather than directing the conversation to get it where we want it to go, we simply listen and discern the ways in which the Holy Spirit is already at work within the person we’re talking with.  And the resulting conversations are natural and engaging rather than pressured and artificial. This includes not only how we engage with people, but where we engage with people.

Remember where I was when I met with Luis? Jesus met people where they were.  He didn’t expect them to meet him at the temple.  He socialized with sinners, tax collectors, radicals, and prostitutes on their own turf; he engaged them in conversation where they were comfortable.  He even seemed to like it.

“As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.  While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” —Mark 2:14-16 

When we become a part of other people’s world instead of expecting them to become a part of ours, we sometimes see a whole network of people experience the transforming power of the gospel.  There is often one person who is initially receptive to the gospel—a Levi—who is then connected to a broader network of people.  It’s not so much an individual process, but a relational one that gains in impact by allowing people the freedom to process the gospel in their own environments with their own natural communities.

When we know the contexts—because we are a part of them—we learn what are the most appropriate kinds of questions to ask.  We understand where people are on their journey and what matters to them.  We ask people about themselves, their hobbies and interests, their experiences, their dreams, hopes and fears, their disappointments and achievements.  And we also ask how those things relate to the reality of the Kingdom of God, not in a pushy way, but in a curious, inviting way.

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Questions are not to be asked all at once, of course… and not to people we have no relationship with.  But when we know people, they often appreciate our curiosity and engagement with them, and that shows them that we care.  Most people want to go beneath the surface—they just don’t know how. So be ready…sometimes to answer your own questions and sometimes to respond to others’ questions of you.

Wait patiently to share your story.  Inevitably, after spending time together, this question, in one form or another will be asked of you. “What’s your story?” This is your opportunity to share, in the context of a trusting, mutual friendship, the hope that lies within you.  Share, in an appropriate way, how the reality of the Kingdom of God has impacted you.

By listening to the Spirit of God, asking engaging questions, and listening well to others, we can establish a refreshingly different approach to evangelism.  As a lover and follower of Jesus, what kind of difference do you think this approach would make in your neighborhood, school, workplace, and city? Imagine what kind of impact this approach to evangelism could have on the world!