There’s a lot of advice out there about how to share the gospel. And to be clear, there are many faithful ways to share the gospel and there are different kinds of evangelists. No one should assume that their way is the way to do evangelism, or that they have arrived at the perfect methodology. Yet as I have stumbled forward in my journey to faithfully witness for Jesus, I feel that God has taught me some practical ways to be bold, wise, and winsome. The following are some basic things I try to keep in mind when sharing the gospel with Muslims, hipsters, homosexuals, or anyone who is not yet a believer.
1. Listen Well
A missionary to Kazakhstan once told me that if you’re willing to listen, you’ll always get to share the gospel. I’ve found this to be true. Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of listening as a ministry, even as part of how God ministers to us in prayer. By being a good listener, you are ministering to your lost friend and affirming their value in God’s sight. Often, when we have listened well, there is a natural opportunity where our friend will want to hear our take on things. As you have listened well, so then your friend is more likely to give a hearing to what you have to say, rather than just thinking up comebacks in his head while you’re speaking. Listening also gives opportunity to custom-fit your gospel presentation. How many times did Jesus share the gospel the same way? He had perfect insight into the souls of others and he shared the good news of the kingdom differently every time (with the same Jesus-centeredness of course)! To paraphrase Francis Schaeffer, we Christians know the answers, but we often don’t know the questions the lost around us are asking. Listening well enables us to know which aspect of the gospel we should major on, so that, God willing, the truth we share will cut to the heart of our friend. By listening well, we show our friends that we care about them and we lay a foundation for open ears when we talk about Jesus
2. Gossip about Jesus
A lot of Christians put pressure on themselves to get out the whole gospel when they get a chance in conversation. I’ve found it’s more helpful to look for opportunities to share about Jesus, anything about Jesus, even if it’s only one thing, one parable, or one saying. Constantly holding up Jesus as wonderful and powerful lets your friend begin to fall in love with him. We don’t know which things about the gospel will specifically resonate with a specific person. This allows room for the Holy Spirit to give us just the right thing to say. I will often start talking about Jesus in a way that invites my friend to look at Jesus with me, rather than by starting by directly confronting my friend with the gospel. That confrontation will and must come, but often the Holy Spirit starts doing that before I get around to it. When we do confront sin and talk about the gospel’s direct claims on my friend’s life, often the conviction is already there. Have a basic outline of the gospel story memorized (God – Man – Sin – Christ – Response), but don’t be chained to it. Let stories and parables and sayings be fresh on your mind for the Holy Spirit to prompt when he wills. And if you don’t get what you consider the whole gospel in, don’t feel guilty about it. Praise God that you were able to share truth. And think about the richness of the gospel… when have you EVER shared the entire gospel in one conversation?
3. Be a really good friend
Our lives as believers and our love for our friends are two things that makes the gospel seem plausible. The gospel is foolishness to unbelievers, but when heard from a really good friend, and in the context of a loving relationship, it can become beautiful and compelling. Commit to being a really good friend and to pouring into this one person, asking God to save them. With some friends, even if they don’t end up being open, because of your friendship you end up with access to their entire relational network. So your friend might not be open, but if you love her well, she becomes the door to her sister, who is open. Being a good friend is also really important for overcoming all of the false information unbelievers have about Christians and what we believe. Often we are kind of behind from the start. For example, with Muslims we are sometimes presumed to be immoral heretics who believe in three gods – the Father, Mary, and Jesus. Our godly friendship dispels all this false information.
4. Pray radically
Ask God every day to save your friend, to open doors for gospel conversation, and to work miraculously in their lives. God loves to answer these prayers. Don’t forget that Elijah was a man like us. And God can save your friend anytime he wants to. That’s why we ask him to do it! He delights to use our prayers as his means of saving. That means we pray more, not less.
5. Be a gracious host and guest
Hospitality is especially important when reaching out to internationals, but also goes a long way with Americans. Find out what your friends really enjoy and get good at serving it when they come to your house. This could be chai for Middle-Easterners, chemex coffee for the hipsters, or that particular thing you’re friend just can’t get enough of. As God has lavished his gifts on you, lavish your unbelieving friends with food and friendship and a safe place to hang out and talk about real issues. Having gospel conversations over good food and drink lets us be like Jesus, who regularly ate together with sinners and pharisees. When eating out, buy your friend’s coffee or dinner. Tip well and be kind to those serving you. Christians are the last people who should be stingy.
6. Be a Learner
Learn as much as you can about your friend’s life, culture, and background. Learn some of their language if they’re not from your country. Being a learner shows that you value your friend, it affirms them, and it helps you share scriptural truth with insight. One of the the lies the enemy will throw at your friend is that Christians are know-it-alls. Eagerly learning from your friend undermines this lie, demonstrates humility, and often results in an open ear for the gospel. Learn the rules of your friend’s culture or subculture so that if you break them, you are breaking them intentionally and purposefully, and not out of ignorance.
7. Be Authentic There’s no need to keep up appearances. You don’t know it all, you don’t have it all together, sometimes Christian culture is goofy, and yes, you still struggle with sin. Be open about your weaknesses and in the process point to Jesus, the one who not only justifies sinners, but also sanctifies them.