As I looked back over 2012, one of the areas I wanted to improve in the new year was engaging in evangelism outside the confines of pastoral ministry as such. While I regularly have opportunities for evangelism in church ministry, I wanted to be more pro-active about looking for opportunities in my normal, day-to-day interactions with people who have no plans of ever visiting a church. The Apostle Paul gave Timothy this very charge when he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:5, “Do the work of an evangelist.” The Scriptures are clear that we all have this privilege and responsibility, but how can we be more faithful to it?
One of the reasons why I sometimes hesitate to begin a Gospel conversation is that the task can seem overwhelming. I don’t mean that I’m not sure how to start or how to explain the Gospel. I mean that many times I’m not sure I’ll have enough time to explain the Gospel adequately, or perhaps the person I’m speaking with seems in a rush or even disinterested. Is there a way to overcome the time crunch, or to break through to a person who initially is disinterested or seems hurried?
The problem that looms in each of these scenarios is the feeling that every time I share the Gospel I have to get through the entire message. This wrongheaded thinking creates two problems. First, it turns me into a lecturer and ends all meaningful conversation. The other person usually ends up listening politely, nodding now and then, and then changing the subject when convenient. This isn’t fruitful or enjoyable for either of us. Second, it prohibits me from understanding what the person with whom I am talking is really thinking. When I am doing all the talking, I’m not listening. The reality is that every unbeliever has a worldview that conflicts with the Gospel and that can be used to turn a lecture into a meaningful and engaging discussion. I will never know what that worldview is, though, if I’m the only one talking.
In his helpful book Tactics, Gregory Koukl suggests a more modest goal than conversion in evangelistic encounters. He wrote, “All I want to do is put a stone in someone’s shoe. I want to give him something worth thinking about, something he can’t ignore because it continues to poke at him in a good way.” Setting your goal on poking a hole in an unbeliever’s worldview makes Gospel conversations much more manageable and fruitful. It eliminates both problems mentioned above. You don’t have to worry about the clock, because your goal isn’t to get through an entire Gospel tract. That may not be what God wants you to do in a certain encounter. You also avoid becoming a lecturer, because your primary objective is to put a stone in your discussion partner’s shoe. That means you need to listen first to understand the contradictions in the other’s thinking. People are usually more interested in a conversation when they’re doing the talking. Once you understand the other person’s point of view, you’re in a position to gently but boldly show how it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and show them the truth of the Gospel. They might even be interested now, since you’ve shown a genuine interest in them and what they believe.
If, like me, you want to be more faithful in evangelism this year, setting your sights on a more modest goal might be helpful. Some people plant, some people water. Don’t feel like you have to do it all. At the end of the day, God causes the growth. Just get in on the process, and let God do His work.