Many of us feel uncomfortable about the idea of "prepared" evangelism. We may remember times where someone fed us an obviously-memorized soliloquy, so busy staring off into space to remember their words they didn't notice how obviously uncomfortable we were. Or maybe we've been through some kind of "equipping session" filled with nonsense like, "Turn Atheism on its Head in Three Questions!" - as if sharing our faith was some kind of intellectual judo match.
Or maybe we feel that sharing our faith should be a natural overflow of our current thoughts about God. We think a message will mean more to our friends, family, or coworkers if it sounds like it came from us rather than from some textbook.
That's a good instinct, and it's actually commendable: it really is better if we can express our hope in God in language natural to us.
But to set that against "preparedness," as if we can have one or the other but not both, is a false dichotomy.
The Food Network show "Chopped" illustrates what I mean:
"Chopped" pits four chefs against one another in three timed rounds of food preparation. Right at the beginning of each round, they're given a set of ingredients that they have to incorporate into their course, without just "hiding" it in something else. Take special ingredients, plan a dish on the fly, and cook it to please a panel of judges.
In a real sense, the chefs go into each round with no "preparation:" they haven't planned the meal beforehand; they have no idea what they're working with; they may never even have used the ingredients before! Whatever they make in 30ish minutes is a spontaneous, "natural" creation.
At the same time, though, these chefs have been "preparing" for these rounds for years. At one point, they learned the basic practices of cooking well. They learned how to balance flavors, textures, and aromas. They practiced cooking meats, vegetables, dairy, and all kinds of other things. Those years of preparation meant they could come into a spontaneous, even difficult and high-pressure situation, and still make something that I'd pay money to eat.
(You could draw the same example from fundamentals in sports or practice in music, but I'm writing this while hungry)
At Midtown this week - Downtown, stay tuned! - Brandon preached 1 Peter 3:15 - "... always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that you have." This text is an admonition to "everyday" Christians - not trained apologists or debaters - to apply this principle of preparation to their lives. Peter calls us to put time into being ready to share about our hope in Jesus - who he is, what he brings to the world, and why we trust in him. This kind of "preparedness" doesn't have to mean a canned speech: but it does mean that, if we take time beforehand to think through these things, we can talk about them on the fly in a way that is both natural and compelling.
This fall, we’ll actually hold evangelism training at Soma, where we learn some different ways to talk about God and share our faith; we’d love for you to participate in that. But in the meantime, here's kind of a "starter kit" for preparing to have spiritual conversations and share about Christ.
Taking the conversation deeper
Many of us simply feel awkward about trying to bring up spiritual things. I get hung up here more often than I’d like to admit; but I’ve found over time that most people don’t actually mind being asked about their experience or beliefs. Most people – Millenials in particular – at least have a history related to religion/philosophy/the big questions, and the solid majority I’ve met will talk about them.
Here are some kinds of questions that can lead to finding out a person’s history with these things:
Personal history: childhood, relationship with parents, history with the church (especially if they’re from the Midwest or South)
- Tell me about your family – were you close, what did they value, etc.
- Most Midwesterners grew up around some kind of church – did you? What was yours like? What idea did that give you of what Christianity is about?
- What kinds of things are important to you right now?
- What are your hopes and dreams for your life?
- What do you think life is really about?
- What do you think it means to be truly human?
- What have been some of the most meaningful experiences in your life?
Again, people are usually happy to talk about at least their personal history with these kinds of things.
Sharing Your Story
Getting someone talking about their story might lead to them asking your story; or it might at least give you the chance to say, “Would you mind if I told you how I (came to believe what I do/found purpose/left the church and came back/etc.)?
If you’ve been around the church at all, you’ve probably had some opportunity to “share your story” – to tell about your background and how you came to be where you are with God. You’ve probably told a five-, ten-, or maybe 30-minute version; and that’s fine, but in a quick conversation with a co-worker you’ll probably have more like 45 seconds. In cases like these, it can actually be helpful to think through the elevator version of your story beforehand, so you can share it in a moment.
If you became a Christian as an adult, you could think through (or even write out) short answers to …
- What used to define me/what I used to live for
- How I met God in a way that redefined that
- What God’s been teaching me about himself/myself/life lately
If you became a Christian as a child, it may be more like …
- I remember realizing that God was like this …
- As I grew up, I had to wrestle/deal/struggle with this …
- And this is how I’ve seen God/what I’ve seen God do lately …
Of course you can’t tell your whole story in 45 seconds; but if you think of a couple of sentences for each of these, you can have a pretty good outline of your story to share!
Sharing the Gospel
Depending on your conversation, it may be that sharing the nature of Christianity itself is the best next thing to do. Personally, I fall flat here a lot, because I want to start rambling about the Trinity, or the nature of the Bible, or all kinds of other things within the big tent of Christianity.
Our faith is a big tent – it has a rich history, a fascinating intellectual tradition, fun aesthetic figures and philosophical debates – but all that sprawling reality is accessed through a door the size of one human being:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son; that whoever believes in him should not perish, but should have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
So if you’re worried about questions about the Bible, or gender, or creation and evolution, or all of those things – those are questions that should be discussed, but the key to all of them is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is where all questions will ultimately lead, and this is where we as evangelists want to begin.
Again, if you grew up in church, you’ve probably heard a number of ways to lay out the gospel: the Roman Road, the Bridge, Two Ways to Live, and so on. Those aren’t bad, but here’s a simple one that’s both highly visual and story-centered:
Whether you like this one or prefer another, pick one tool that you can get to know well enough that you can share it in your own words.
Laying out the gospel clearly is especially important in the Midwest, where most people come from some sort of religious/churchy background. Most people have some idea of who Jesus is; but they may have never heard that only his death and resurrection can bring us to God.
Asking them to take a next step
I’ve had more conversations than I care to remember that ended like this:
[I stumble through presenting the gospel]
Me: So, uh, what do you think?
Them: [Vague answer]
Me: Oh, okay.
[Awkward silence, followed by me changing the subject]
When I do this well, though, I ask the person to take a step toward thinking about this more. It totally depends on where you think they are spiritually, but if you manage to have a deep conversation with someone, ask them to take action on it. That may mean …
- Asking what questions they have, and then asking if you could talk through those sometime later (try to schedule it then!)
- Asking them to visit a Sunday gathering or MC
- Asking them to read through something with you – a book of the Bible, an article, etc.
- Asking if they’re interested in learning more about what you discussed
Again, they may say “no.” But you may find someone interested in talking through follow-up questions or even hungry to know the God they just found out about!