Thinking Like an Evangelist
I recently experienced the wonder that is the Panera Cinnamon Crunch Bagel. It may be the very best thing I’ve eaten for breakfast; nay, any meal. I’ve had my fair share of cinnamon sugar bagels from various bagel shops, but they pale in comparison to the Cinnamon Crunch. I’m not exaggerating. It truly is the tastiest thing I have ever put in my mouth. I now have one for breakfast each week at an early morning meeting I attend. And it is always with great anticipation that I spread my plain cream cheese and indulge in the deliciousness. Because I love it so much, I’ve told several people about it including my family, co-workers, friends, and even a few people I don’t really know. “Hey, here’s a hot tip for your life, if you want something awesome, stop by Panera and get the Cinnamon Crunch Bagel!”
I’m that way with a lot of things in my life. If I find something great, I tell people about it because I want others to experience the same good things that have impacted me. Most people are that way, I think. Our default is to pass on to others what we love. I was convicted recently when I reflected on how many people I had talked to about my indulgent breakfast treat compared with how many I had talked to about my Savior. Ugh. When I considered the disparity, I felt like throwing up every one of those bagels. He is the most meaningful difference maker I’ve experienced, the game-changer of all game-changers, and I hadn’t mentioned Him! I am so thankful that Christ forgives, loves, and walks with me through my failures, even when I choose to talk about my taste bud satisfaction instead of His saving grace.
This realization got me thinking about how to live more evangelically, how to share Christ more consistently, and how to point people’s affections to Jesus with even greater ease and passion than I point people’s taste buds to a bagel. As I looked to the Word for direction, I found a few concepts that helped and encouraged me. I hope they will prove helpful and encouraging to you as well.
I. Preach to Yourself
I’m not talking about sitting at the mirror and practicing your gospel presentation. I’m talking about meditating on God’s Word, memorizing Bible verses, and allowing the Spirit to work through His Word to fill our souls and change our behaviors. If we want to live more evangelically, we can meditate on verses that speak directly to our calling to share the gospel.
It is a soul satisfying and God-pleasing exercise to preach His Word to ourselves, to remind ourselves of His promises. Doing so strengthens our faith and emboldens us to share it! Here are a few passages and thoughts that energize me to be a witness for the Almighty and to walk out that calling with joy and excitement.
1) You are called to share the gospel
There are two verses in particular that have changed my life in thinking like an evangelist. The more I remind myself of my calling, the more I am inclined to want to tell others about my faith. Christ emphasized to his disciples the importance of sharing the gospel. It was so important, in fact, that Jesus’s last recorded words to his disciples in both Matthew and Acts highlight this concept:
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 18-20)
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Christ reserved His last words to instruct his disciples, and all of us, that we are to tell others about the redemptive power of Jesus. Within these verses, we are also reminded of His promise: He is with us. Notice this promise is contained in both verses. “I am with you always” and “when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” If ever there is an encouraging thought I want to consistently bring to mind, this is it. The living God is with me so that I can share Him with others!
Another verse that powerfully calls and encourages us in evangelism is 1 Peter 2: 9-10. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
There was a time that I thought that Jesus’s last words to his disciples in Matthew and Acts might apply only to the disciples. I’ve come to the conclusion that those passages are for all of us to embrace. This verse in 1 Peter confirms it. We’re His so that we may declare to others how great He is and how much He’s done for us!
2) God is responsible for the results
Another verse I like to preach to myself is 1 Corinthians 3:6. In it, I am reminded that I am not responsible, nor capable, of creating results. If I were, then my sin would corrupt things into glorifying myself and not God. It is a huge relief that we are not responsible for people’s salvation. We are only responsible to introduce them to the saving grace of Christ and to rely on God to grow that seed into a saving faith. 1 Corinthians 3:6 says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
3) It’s okay to be nervous
We all get nervous when we share the gospel with others. After all, it really isn’t the same as sharing that audio books have been tremendously helpful to me or that Panera’s Cinnamon Crunch Bagel is the best food around. Not only do we fear that our relationship with them can be jeopardized, but more importantly, a person’s response to the Gospel has eternal consequences. There is someone’s soul at stake and so we care deeply about their receptiveness to the news we share. The impact of these eternal consequences creates anxiety. It is a huge encouragement to me that the greatest evangelist the world has ever known got nervous as well.
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Cor. 2: 1-5)
Note that we don’t need great eloquence, we don’t need superior wisdom, and we don’t need to feel 100% equipped or sufficient. Paul didn’t. He was clearly nervous, quivering and fumbling his words. Yet God was glorified in Paul’s weakness, and people came to know the Lord Jesus because of Paul’s testimony. Despite his trembling hands and shaky voice, God moved the hearts of men and women, and watered those seeds. It’s okay to be nervous, all you need to know is Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and to share that faith.
4) Your ordinary self can be used by our capable God
I am nothing special. I was raised in the house I now live in, for crying out loud. Interesting, maybe, but pretty dang ordinary and unexciting. God delights to use all people. Jesus’s disciples were average, but they were made extraordinary because of Christ’s power in them.
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common, men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
It wasn’t Peter’s and John’s greatness or personalities that made people take notice of their message, it was literally Christ in them, making them bold. God works the same way through us and our insecurities. In the hands of our maker, strengthened by Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we can be used for His purposes and to share His good news.
II. Be Mindful of Opportunities to Share
Some credit Saint Francis of Assisi with saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” While he likely didn’t say this, many of us are quick to jump on the idea that we don’t actually have to talk to unbelievers about the good news of Jesus. We can be content to live a good life and wait for them to ask us about the hope they see in us. I’ve often fallen into this line of thinking, hanging this belief loosely on a few Bible verses. In deeper study of Jesus’ commands, I’ve realized that this is more of an excuse I’ve made to not be bold in my faith. Fundamentally, I believed the lie that I was inadequate to accurately verbalize the truth of the Gospel. Simply living well was an easy way to avoid doing so.
I am in no way downplaying the importance of living in a manner worthy of our calling. It is vital to live in a way that honors God and to follow His ways to the best of our abilities, empowered by the Spirit for His glory. However, we cannot wait to be asked about our faith by those that are outside the truth. The fact is, most people won’t ask. The liberating truth is that if people sense you genuinely love them, there is greater opportunity to breach the subject without being asked. Since questions about the existence of God and how we fit into the world are questions we all wrestle with, I’ve found that people enjoy talking about it when provided with a safe and loving environment to do so.
As followers of Christ, we should desire to share our faith as God has called us. Great opportunities exist to do so if we remain attentive to see them. God can move in you to spread His Gospel in whatever way He desires, we need only to remain in communication with our Lord, attentive to His Spirit, and obedient to His calling. Here are just a few of the ways I have seen him open doors for sharing the gospel.
1) In relationships
The idea of strategically using relationships to share the gospel can come across as manipulative: the crafty Christian, after twisting his mustache diabolically, builds a relationship with an unsuspecting, unbelieving acquaintance for the sole purpose of finding the right time to lob a gospel presentation at them. That can feel pretty slimy.
While God can still use that type of approach, it is far more effective (and fun), to genuinely love people, care about them, and in faith trust that an opportunity to share will present itself. If we don’t love, after all, we’re just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Cor. 13:1). Once there is trust and love established, you’ve earned the right to be heard. Asking what people believe is a pretty safe move and one that can open doors for reciprocal sharing of what you believe with them. Listen to what they believe and ask the Spirit for guidance. Be wise and patient, and above all, be loving. If they vent against religion, let them. If they unload with both barrels, absorb it. I’ve found that after one safe conversation with a friend about our world view, they are later comfortable with further discussion. I have yet to ruin a relationship by sharing that I believe Jesus has saved me and offers this saving grace to us all.
2) In being countercultural
If you want people to notice and ask about why you’re living your life differently, be countercultural. They won’t notice if you're just living nicely and morally; many people do that. It is when people cannot explain your actions through the lens of a non-Christian world view that they are more likely to ask why you chose to act that way. This is especially true if you’re acting in one-way love, where you expect nothing in return.
Although I have missed many opportunities the Lord has given to be countercultural, my wife Katie and I recently saw an opportunity. We felt the nudge of the Spirit to rent our home to an engaged homosexual couple with a terrible rent history and awful credit. Red flags abounded, and we were confident the renting situation would carry a cost in terms of time and money. And yet, it felt clear that this was a risk the Lord wanted us to take in order to build a relationship with and show love to two people that had almost certainly felt unloved and rejected by many Christians. While things ended as expected with missed rent payments and ignored phone calls, the situation provided opportunities to share the gospel with the tenants as well with others outside the situation who couldn’t understand why we would knowingly rent under those conditions.
Jesus perfectly modeled this counterculturalism. He consistently entered into the lives of people in such a way that made everyone around him do a double take. He ate with the tax collectors, he touched the lepers, he broke cultural norms and engaged with those that were chronically outcast. He preached that we should love our enemies, which was the epitome of being countercultural back then and still is today. If you lovingly zig when the world around you zags, and you are prepared to give a reason for the hope you have in Christ, opportunities to share the Gospel will abound.
3) In being hospitable
There is power in welcoming others into your home and into your life. The vulnerability that accompanies asking someone to come and see behind the front door of your house disarms defenses, creates community, and builds trust. We have invited neighbors over to share a meal and have learned a great deal about their lives. Just as Jesus first sought us, we must first seek others out and love them, expecting nothing in return.
About a year ago, our family was invited to a friend’s house for dinner. We excitedly accepted the invitation and then, just like my mom taught me, asked what we could bring. Our host informed us that there was nothing we needed to contribute. We were simply to come. During a hectic time in our life with four little ones at home, this act of hospitality went against the cultural norm. It spoke to us in such a way that we have since adopted this model of hospitality ourselves. I encourage you to practice hospitality by inviting a neighbor over. It is a great avenue to build a relationship and share the gospel with someone. Be prepared to ask questions about them and to intently listen to their answers.
Showing hospitality is not limited to just opening the door to your home, however. The best kind of hospitality is opening up the door to your life. Hospitality is built upon being generous with your time, resources, and yourself to serve others. This act of humbly being vulnerable to share everything is amazingly attractive and can provide an effective means to share Christ with others.
4) In praying for opportunities
We can strategize, hope, and plan to share the Gospel, but covering it all with prayer must be the foundation. Praying for opportunities to share your faith with others is a great starting point and should be our ongoing endeavor. To learn how to pray, we can look at how Paul asked others to pray for him.
“Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison, that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” (Colossians 4:3-4)
“…and (pray) also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6: 19-20)
“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you…” (2 Thessalonians 3:1)
Paul asks others to pray for opportunities, for clarity in his presentation, for boldness, and that the word of the Lord would speed ahead of them. If we pray this together as the body of Christ, committed to boldly, clearly, and lovingly sharing the good news of Jesus with others, our communities, cities, nation, and world will surely be affected, and God will be honored.
As a follower of Christ, you and I are commanded to spread the Good News of eternal life through Jesus. This call, however, is infinitely better than a mere obligation, because obedience to it produces the fullest life attainable. And not only a full life for you but a full life for those who respond to your message as well. It is an inconceivable privilege that the Father allows us to partner with the Holy Spirit to bring people to Himself. Though our omnipotent God can surely accomplish His will without us, He chooses to use us to achieve His purposes. What a tremendous blessing!
Let us pray for hearts that love all peoples, ears that hear their stories, eyes that see opportunities, faith that leads to boldness, words full of God’s wisdom, and a great harvest for the Kingdom. Let us actively look for and create opportunities to share the good news.