How do you react when you hear the word, “evangelism”? Me too. I want more than anything to see people come to faith in Christ and have their lives turned right side up by him. I’ve positioned myself to share the gospel many times and yet I often get blank stares. I’m not good at it. Sadly, the advice I have received from well-meaning leaders in the church has come out of one of two camps that I find equally inapplicable. First, there’s the relational evangelism camp. They say that any canned presentation of the gospel is inauthentic, manipulative, and demeaning to the lost person. The relational camp counsels believers to form significant relationships with unbelievers in order to “earn the right” to share the gospel. When the brilliance of my lifestyle overwhelms my unbelieving friend, he or she will fall down and ask, “What must I do to be saved?” Unfortunately, I have enough friends so any attempt to make friends of unbelievers would actually be inauthentic at the very outset.
Speaking of inauthentic, proponents of the scripted approach place the power for saving people squarely on the message itself. They focus their efforts on teaching believers to share the message by rehearsing conversational scripts aimed at helping the lost first come to an understanding of their lost state. This approach seems to work as evidenced by lots of YouTube videos of conversions happening on the spot. These videos usually depict street evangelism most likely because this is a one-off approach. Most people do not embrace a lasting walk with Christ after a 90 second conversation and believers are rightfully reluctant to burn relational bridges to the unbelievers in their sphere of influence.
While reading Everyday Church, I encountered an approach which seems to be both authentic and accessible. In their chapter on “Everyday Evangelism,” Chester and Timmis make the point that every person has their own gospel story. By that, they mean that everyone interprets his or her own life through the creation, fall, redemption, and consummation matrix. In other words, everyone has an opinion about why they are here, the nature of the struggles they face, the right approach to address those struggles, and their hope for a future time when those struggles might no longer plague them. These points of intersection allow us to transition a conversation from ordinary small talk to a discussion of the gospel. For instance, a believer might be visiting with a co-worker at the water cooler when the co-worker says, “Today’s gonna be a tough day, I stayed out way too late last night.” From this statement, the believer could ascertain several things about the co-worker’s gospel story. His purpose might be to have as much fun as he can get away with. The obstacle in his life might be the fact that he has to work in order to have money. For him, redemption might consist of ducking corporate scrutiny. And finally, consummation could be retirement or at least two-weeks’ vacation.
In this scenario, the believer might respond, “Yeah, its tough having to be here when you don’t feel like it, I know. Let me ask you a question, What do you think you’d spend most of your time doing if you were independently wealthy and didn’t have to work?” Now, the believer has begun to uncover her co-worker’s ideal, that is, his hope. Depending on his answer, she could say something like, “Wow, I bet a lot of people would do that too. How long do you think you’d enjoy doing that?” Now the door could be open for her co-worker to begin to examine the passing satisfaction his dream life would bring. From there she could share her eternal hope.
So, here is the mission if you choose to accept it: Write down the names of several non-Christians you meet in a given week. Through the week, find out their gospel stories. In the course of those conversations share as much of the gospel as you feel you have permission to share. Then, share your stories back here in the comments section. Okay? Go!