The gospel is a message meant to be shared. We know this; Christians have always known this. Long before the first tracts were published, before there was the first class that met about how to share your faith, before the first diagram was ever drawn a napkin, Christians knew the gospel was meant to be shared and shared liberally.
I remember in particular a moment when Peter and John, the two big dogs of the early church movement, were arrested and questioned because of their involvement in a miraculous healing that had taken place. Peter left no doubt about the source of the power they seemed to have at their disposal: “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing here before you healthy” (Acts 4:10).
And though the authorities couldn’t punish them because of their popularity with the people, they threatened them. Alot. In response to the orders of the religious elite to cease proclaiming the good news of Jesus, Peter and John responded with boldness: “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
The gospel is a message meant to be shared, and it had taken hold of Peter and John. So should it be with us. We should both desire to and discipline ourselves to share the gospel, and do so liberally. Perhaps you’ve been through some training mechanism for doing so. Maybe you resonate with a particular methodology in evangelism, whether it involves drawing a picture, distributing literature, or using an acrostic. These methods are valuable in their helpfulness; they take something which can be intimidating and break it down into manageable form. What I’d like to offer in this post is not an alternative methodology, but instead a few principles that I’m trying to embrace about evangelism. These principles are less about the specific “how” you share the gospel and more about the posture we assume when seeking to share. Maybe they’ll be helpful to you as well:
1. Listen before speaking.
We meet someone who is not a Christian. We begin to pray for the opportunity to speak to that person about Jesus. And when the opportunity finally comes, our tendency many times is start talking, and keep talking, until we get the whole thing out. Of course, there are times when that’s all you can do – you might only have 5 minutes with a person and the most important thing is to share what you can while you can. But if this person is someone you will encounter regularly, someone that you might actually build a friendship with, then I’d encourage you to embrace the principle of listening before speaking. Ask questions. Learn about the person’s background. Try and understand not only what their perspective is about God and Jesus, but try and understand what from their past has formed that experience. This won’t only help us know the right way to share with them – it will actually help us be genuine friends. Real people. With a real message of hope.
2. Relationship before formula.
Once again, there is tremendous value in evangelistic tools and formulas. They can be very, very helpful. And yet they can also be a hindrance to the message when we put our faith in the formula rather than God. If we move too quickly into a formulaic presentation of the gospel, then we are subtly communicating to another person that they are just the next project for us. We come off as people trying to sell them something rather than as a person who genuinely cares about them and their future. It’s okay to take some time. It’s okay to form a relationship. It’s okay to be an actual friend of sinners. There was, after all, Someone who was criticized using that very title.
3. Demonstration before argumentation.
Sometimes conversations about religious matters get contentious. And they can get there fast. We find ourselves defending our position to the extent that we won’t even let someone else get a full sentence out of their mouths. If we’re not careful, a chance to share the gospel can morph into an opportunity to prove someone else wrong. Our pride can creep in quickly and suddenly the gospel conversation is about winning an argument rather than sharing a message of grace. We should be careful here, and one way to do that is to prioritize gospel demonstration before argumentation. Kindness, civility, and service – these, too, are actions that can and should be centered on the gospel and serve to validate the message we eventually have the chance to share.
We should be people who share the gospel, for the gospel is a message meant to be shared. As we share, though, let’s remember the people we are sharing with are not just “targets” or “hot prospects.” These are human beings, made in God’s image, who have not formed their beliefs in a vacuum. The more we can do to understand the people in our lives the more we will have the chance to share with them about this gospel that has changed us.