As noted in the overview, this is the first in a series of experiences I want to share about evangelism. I may come back to some plain old lessons, but sometimes a story can convey a few lessons at a time.
Setting: CareNet Pregnancy Center, where I was doing weekly volunteering for a couple hours counseling guys who would come in with their wives/girlfriends. I remember being completely exhausted. I could barely keep my eyes open and couldn’t wait to get home. To be honest, I was glad that no clients had come in.
A retired lady volunteering at the counter was chatting with some high school kids in the lobby. A guy and a girl had come in with a friend who thought she might be pregnant. The volunteer was a brilliant woman who had no problem starting a conversation about God with them, but she wasn’t experienced at answering the questions that came up. When she started getting stumped she asked me to go out and visit with them.
The young man was all over the place with his religious beliefs and questions. At one point he asked, “Doesn’t the Bible say homosexual behavior is a sin?” He appeared to consider himself gay and given the way he asked the question it was obviously a stumbling block for him. I could have glossed over it and said it was a debatable matter, but that wouldn’t have been true or loving. I also could have spent an hour explaining all the verses and debates around this topic, but that would have been overkill and a diversion.
Instead I just confirmed that yes, despite how some try to twist it, the Bible does clearly say it is a sin. Then I just shifted back to the basic Gospel – namely, that we are all sinners in need of a Savior and Jesus is that Savior (basic “Roman Road” stuff). I emphasized that even if we had no sexual sins we could never get back to God on our own.
It was a balanced, back-and-forth conversation on a lot of topics and I pray that it planted a seed and that the young man kept searching. He asked some good questions and seemed to feel like he was really heard and respected.
1. Always replay conversations to see what you could do differently or better. I almost always realize that I should have:
- said something in a different way
- not said something that I did say
- said something that I didn’t say
This was one of those very rare experiences that went really well. I’ve replayed it dozens of times in my head and can’t think of anything I’d do differently.
2. Whether people accept the message or not is between them and God. Our job is to be obedient, which means preparing ourselves and sharing the truth in love. This guy didn’t fall to his knees and repent, but I think it planted some seeds and pushed a reset button on some of his false views.
1 Peter 3:15-16 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
3. In Philemon 6 Paul writes, I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. This is so true. I was exhausted beforehand, but after sharing the Gospel with this young man I was so full of energy. That isn’t the primary reason to share it, of course, but it is a fact that whenever I share the Gospel I am filled with joy afterwards.
4. We have different roles (see 1 Corinthians 3). I am lousy at starting spiritual conversations (not an excuse, just a fact) and I’m not a great “closer,” but I am very comfortable and truly enjoy them once they start. I don’t know everything, but I’ve studied a lot and know enough to answer quite a few questions. And I’ve learned to never fake it and to always treat people with respect and to take their objections seriously. As I often say, seven of the most important words in evangelism are, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”
But the most important person in this scenario was my friend who got the conversation started. Despite her lack of evangelism training she was bold and caring in getting the conversation started and she was humble to pull someone else in at the right time. (By the way, she continues to learn and grow and has studied evangelism techniques since then. She and her husband are doing great things for the kingdom in their retirement years.)
5. Stay focused. I could have easily zeroed in on the “gay thing” and not only polarized him further but missed the more important points. The main thing was to tell him about Jesus and his need for Jesus.
6. Pray for them. After sharing the Gospel I usually pray that God will send others into their lives to follow up, reinforce, correct any mistakes I made and to fill in the gaps. I prayed for him again as I wrote this.
7. Listen! I made it a point to listen to what he said and made sure he knew that I understood his views clearly. I think this was the key success factor for the conversation going so well.
8. Find common ground. He commented how things in the Bible seem hard to believe, so I conceded that and used it as a bridge to say that yes, the concept that God would step into his creation and sacrifice himself for us was one of the most outrageous things ever spoken of. The question is whether the evidence supports whether that happened. (I think I was paraphrasing C.S. Lewis there.)
9. Don’t forget that others are listening. His friend listened intently the whole time and took it all in. Was she a believer praying for him while we spoke? Had she tried to share the same things and was glad that someone else had stepped in to help? Was she a non-believer as well and considering this for the first time? Regardless of her perspective, I was keenly aware that she was not missing a word of it. Scatter the seeds of the Gospel broadly!
Please feel free to share your comments and experiences.