If we ever hope to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others in all of its truth, goodness, and beauty, there are at least five things that need to happen from the first conversation to the very last. If we are going to persuade others that Christianity makes the best sense of the world and has the best answers for all the evil that we see around us and within us, it’s going to take a lot more than fancy arguments, memorizing cliché phrases, ramming Bible verses down the “opponents” throat, or having the right formula for evangelism.
If we have all of the knowledge in the world—enough to move mountains—and yet we do not have love, then the best apologist for the Christian faith suddenly becomes one of the worst adversaries of the gospel.
Sharing “the hope that is within us” goes beyond knowing the bare facts, having great training, using techniques, or employing a variety of tools or tactics. It’s not less than any of that, but there’s a lot more than that to share our faith with others.
Here are five things that must happen every time we are speaking with non-Christians about Jesus.
1. Love your neighbor.
This goes way beyond simply loving a person enough to share words of eternal life with them. It’s not enough to tell someone about Jesus and then move on to the next person after you “wipe the dust off your shoulders” if they reject him. You need to be with people for the long haul. You actually have to love them enough to still be around them even when they disagree (and possibly hate you).
2. Listen to your neighbor.
Everyone has a life story. That life experience is going to shape and mold whatever “worldview” it is that a person thinks he has. Because of this, there is no one-sized-fits-all approach to speaking to a person from any religious background. You’re going to have to do the hard work of listening to them. You’ll have to spend hours with them to find out what makes them tick, and if they are even serious about religion or spirituality, or if they’ve never really thought about such things before. Patience will go a long way.
3. Pray for your neighbor.
I find it helpful to write down the names of people that the Lord brings in my life, either in my phone, in a notebook, or somewhere else. As I go through a week, I’ll begin to pray for others in specific ways, and if there’s anyone in my life who is in need of hearing about the grace and forgiveness of Christ, I’ll pray for them by name. Pray for the person you’re having conversations with, and pray about the forthcoming conversations you may have together that they would be edifying and helpful.[G1]
4. Ask your neighbor questions.
Simple questions go a long way in growing in your love and understanding of another person. How they field any given question can tell you a lot about them. You’ll begin to find sensitive areas, and you’ll learn what places are “pressure points” of contact that you may want to address at a later time. Sometimes, people are mad at God because they have deep wounds in the past. Sometimes they lost someone, sometimes they were hurt by someone, rejected, neglected, or even abused. These things always take time, and trust must develop between the two of you. But you’ll never know if you don’t ask.
5. Ask for God to open the mind and heart of your neighbor.
Nobody is “open-minded.” Even the most open-minded person you know is still going to be closed off to something or someone. The Bible teaches that everyone is naturally open-minded to the wrong things and closed-minded to the things of God. That’s why, as Jesus taught Nicodemus, we need for God to give us a new birth entirely (Jn. 3). We need new eyes to see and new ears to hear.
Why Those 5 Things?
Did you notice that out of these five things, having the right answers and everything all figured out wasn’t on the list? It’s not that sound answers don’t matter and that it doesn’t help when we have our theology straight—that is helpful and it sure does help to know what we believe and why we believe it. But the goal isn’t simply to win an argument. The goal is not to be right.
The goal is always and only to glorify God and to make known to everyone we meet in this life “the power of God unto salvation for all who believe” (Rom. 1:17) and the “mystery hidden for ages”—that is, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That message must be carried along in ordinary ways and in broken jars of clay. It’s the cracked, but used, pottery that shines brightest and most clearly proclaims Jesus Christ as the light of the world. What use are clay pots that hide away in storage? God often draws straight lines using crooked sticks.