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Posts Tagged ‘Evangelism’

How to Share Your Faith Without Being Weird

March 18, 2015 2 comments

When I, by God’s grace, first became a Christian at age 17 my life had been so radically changed by Jesus that I wanted to tell everyone about him.  I had met the living God and wanted everyone else to meet him to.

The problem was that I didn’t know how to share my faith. I felt unqualified and uninformed.  Did I know enough? Could I explain my conversion clearly? Overwhelmed by the task and lacking someone to show me the ropes, I awkwardly tried to convince all my friends to believe the gospel but failed miserably.

Image via forbes.com

Image via forbes.com

Away With Evangelism Propaganda

When I got to college I joined a campus ministry and was instructed to use a series of gospel illustrations such as “The Bridge,” “Seven Spiritual Laws” and other pre-packaged propaganda.  I was then told that evangelism meant approaching total strangers and asking them if I could talk with them about eternity.

I tried this for about four months.  It was the worst experience I’ve ever had! In a relatively short period of time I became the “weird Christian guy.” This approach only pushed the people I was “witnessing” to further away from the Lord. It was awful and unhelpful.

All-Natural Evangelism

I quickly said good-bye to that ministry and its evangelism techniques after seeing that they made my faith feel plastic and negatively effected non-believers. During that season, I invested hours studying the Word and reading books about effective evangelism.

Everything I read convinced me that the Lord’s primary evangelism method was discipleship. He focused on teaching people to believe in and follow him through intentional relationships over time.  As I put this method to use I quickly realized that people aren’t opposed to the Christian faith, just to Christian propaganda. 

The Power of an Honest Answer

Colossians 4:5-6 is a great example of this. It reads, “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, making the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person.” Paul is essentially saying that the easiest way to introduce people to Jesus is to live differently and to answer honestly.

The contrast between the lifestyle of an authentic Christ-follower and someone who doesn’t know the Lord is generally drastic enough that it catches the attention of the watching world. When people see that authentic Christ-followers are different they naturally want to know why. An honest answer, as Paul says, is like salt.  It causes people to thirst for God. 

Ongoing Dialogue or One-Time Decision?

Instead of searching for the next evangelism fad, stick to a simple Christ-like approach. Live with such gospel intentionality that the unbelievers in your life take notice of your character, speech, conduct, attitude and worldview. When people begin to comment or question your lifestyle, honestly tell them that the difference is Jesus.

Focus on an ongoing dialogue rather than a one-time decision. As this happens with increased frequency you’ll be begin to see the Lord do work in people’s lives.  They’ll see Jesus in your life, hear Jesus in your words and experience Jesus through your friendship. This is what it means to share your faith.

Discipleship for the Rest of Us

November 3, 2014 3 comments

When it comes to discipleship, most people I know seem to picture either a membership class or a new convert discussing basic doctrine with a pastor while sipping hot beverages at a local coffee shop. Discipleship is viewed more as an activity than a way of life. In many cases, we commonly assume that discipleship is something that we can graduate from.  We consider it a season we go through when we should consider it a lifestyle.

The result is that we have a lot of Christians who aren’t going anywhere or doing anything.  Many of our churches are filled with people who have been believers for decades, but who also haven’t grown much spiritually in the same amount of time. Sure, we can show up, pay our tithe and recite some basic creeds, but as a whole we’re neither progressing in our faith nor doing much to help others move along in theirs. The pastor is expected to do the heavy lifting, while the members are just along for the ride.

Discipleship is for Everyone

It’s time that we get rid of the silly notion that discipleship is best left to the experts. The Lord’s first disciples were not religious teachers with Bible degrees and seminary certificates, they were fisherman, tax collectors, misfits and trouble-makers.  They were ordinary people, like you and I.  If God can use these uneducated, ordinary people (Acts 4:13) to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6), then why can’t he do the same with us?  He can!

Discipleship doesn’t have to be complicated.  In fact, it’s more effective when it’s simple.  It doesn’t require fancy programs, a formal seminary education or even a five step process.  All it takes is a willingness to follow Jesus in the community of God’s people.

When it comes down to it, discipleship is simply learning to believe in and follow Jesus through intentional relationships over time. This can happen in several ways: one-to-one conversations, small group discussions, in a casual way through your hobbies, in a formal way through meals together and training programs and even as you’re on the go. In other words, discipleship is simply leveraging every human connection to move people closer to Jesus before, during and after their conversion, one interaction at a time.

Image via borizs.com

Image via borizs.com

I like what Rick Warren (Pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California) says about this.  Pastor Rick’s church has grown to tens of thousands based on one simple discipleship concept.  He tells his people to find what they enjoy doing, then to do it with non-believers.

The idea is that as Christ-followers enjoy time with non-believers their faith and lifestyle will “rub off” on the non-Christians they interact with.  This then provides opportunities to talk with them about Jesus, invite them into our lives and bring them into the community of believers.  Before long, non-believers are hearing about Jesus, experiencing Jesus and participating in small groups and services that teach them to believe in and submit to Jesus. It’s really that simple.

Becoming Like Jesus With Others

Ultimately, discipleship is learning to pattern your life after Jesus. He stepped out of heaven and spent his time making the Father accessible to humanity by doing life with those who were far from God. He then sacrificed himself on a cross so that we could personally know and live for God through him. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) If we want to make a difference it’s as simple as making Jesus accessible to others by doing life with them. This can be done in everything from formal small group Bible discussions to casual conversations while watching Monday Night football.

This is how Jesus made God known to us.  This is how we can make Jesus known to others. We don’t have to leave discipleship to the experts.  We can each have a tremendous impact if we’ll simply learn to repurpose our daily activities for the glory of God.

Discipleship in the Margins

September 29, 2014 3 comments

This past summer I had the privilege of directing an FCA leadership camp called EXCELeration Leadership Training Camp at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, MO.  The camp was geared toward coaches and their invited team leaders, but my focus as director was to get the right staff and volunteers involved.

A great camp is only possible when you have great people making it happen.  It was also evident, however, that my primary responsibility was not to develop the coaches and athletes that were attending the camp. It was to train, develop, equip and empower our staff and volunteers to do that.

With this in mind, I intentionally scheduled two half days of training for our camp staff and volunteers.  I poured every possible leadership principle into them that I could during that small window of opportunity.  I also created a few training checkpoints throughout camp so that I could further develop our camp leaders along the way.  We even ended camp with a one hour follow up so that our leaders would be better prepared for their next camp as well.

A Surprising Discovery

After camp was over, I asked my assistant director what he thought the best part was.  Without hesitation he said, “discipleship in the margins.” When asked to elaborate he explained that the scheduled training sessions were helpful because they gave him tools for his leadership tool box and put him in the right frame of mind for camp, but that it was the one-to-one time that he and I spent together in between scheduled activities that made the biggest difference.

Image via bestforbeginners.com

Image via bestforbeginners.com

His response caught me off guard. I thought for sure he would have said a segment from our pre or post-camp training.  Looking back on it, though, his answer makes sense.  When the assistant director and I were able to connect walking between activities, during a meal or on break we were able to discuss what we were learning as it was happening in real time.

I asked him questions.  He asked me questions.  I gave him leadership pointers and we were able to identify together what the Lord was doing in his life right then and there. It was personalized leadership development that was tailored to what he was experiencing as he was experiencing it. 

Intentional Relationships Not Just Scheduled Meetings

In John 3:22, the Scripture says that Jesus went to the Judean countryside and “remained their with” his disciples.  The Greek word used in the verse is “diatribo.” It literally means “to rub against” or to “rub off.” In other words, Jesus was doing discipleship in the margins.  This time wasn’t scheduled training, it was just Jesus “rubbing off” on the disciples by spending intentional time with them in between scheduled ministry activities.

In the same way, our most impactful discipleship will come not from scheduled meetings, but from intentional relationships.  Scheduled meetings are important (and we should utilize them), but they are only half the equation.  We must always work the truth of Jesus Christ into the lives of the people we’re discipling by being intentional in our relationships outside of those scheduled meetings.

You and I can exponentially increase our disciple-making effectiveness simply by being more intentional in our relationships.  This kind of discipleship is never convenient, but it’s always worth it.  It will happen with your children late at night when they should be in bed, but are instead struggling with theological questions.  It will happen when a co-worker shows spiritual curiosity while you’re trying to finish that email so you can get out of the office and go home.  It will happen after church when that person you’ve been ministering to finally asks to hear more about Jesus, intruding on your football watching.

This kind of discipleship cannot be planned, but it must be prioritized. Always be prepared to coach people up, to ask heart level questions and to point people to Jesus. If you’re willing to be intentional, it’s the time int he margins that will make the biggest difference.

Baseball Evangelism: A Better Way to Witness

August 12, 2014 5 comments

Baseball was one of my favorite sports when I was a kid.  I enjoyed hearing the crack of a bat, the smack of a hard line drive into a fielders glove and the heckling from the dugouts.  The game was a lot of fun. Like most young ball players, I liked batting more than anything.

I often imagined myself hitting grand slams, home runs and triples and I swung for the fences every time.  On the rare occasion that I made good contact with the ball, I could send it a decent distance into the outfield.  The problem was I struck out almost every at bat.

Swing for the Fences

I was so concerned with knocking the cover off the ball that I would take my eye off the pitch and come up empty.  I’m pretty sure I had more strikeouts than base hits.  My coaches would always tell me to get on base instead of trying to knock one out of the park, but I wouldn’t listen and my batting average suffered tremendously for it.

Changing our Approach

This approach doesn’t work in life any more than it does in baseball, but sadly this is how many of us have been taught to evangelize the world around us.  We were told to memorize gospel illustrations, to pack Bible tracks as thick as a deck of cards and to seal the deal with the “sinner’s prayer” at the end of every conversation.

As a result, this generation has grown accustomed to striking out at best or ruining witnessing opportunities altogether at worst.  The world around us has grown deaf to the door-to-door salesman version of evangelism and simply gives the cold shoulder when they smell a “Bible thumper” coming. I’m convinced that there’s a better way.

In baseball, the most successful batters are not those who swing for the fences.  They’re those who know how to get on base and move the runner along.  The ones who can make consistent contact with the ball, sending it to where the fielders are not.  The best batters are the ones who know when to sacrifice a home run swing for a bunt or a fly out to advance the runner.

Move the Runner Along

The same should be true for evangelism.  We don’t need to swing for the fences every time we get into a conversation with a non-believer. God will provide the “come to Jesus” moment when the time is right.  We don’t need to force it.  Instead, we can learn from the best athletes in baseball and learn to wait for our pitch and sacrifice fly instead of trying to drive every point home.

We’ll take the pressure off ourselves and be more effective in our evangelism efforts if we’ll focus on getting on base and moving the runner along.  Should we talk about Jesus? Yes! Is it important to win people to the faith? Absolutely! I’m convinced, however, that we’ll see more success if we focus on an ongoing spiritual dialogue and discipleship process instead of trying to get a decision right now.

Give yourself to the process.  Talk about Jesus as much as its relevant, but don’t get caught up in making someone convert.  Let the Lord work in their lives through relationship and watch what the Spirit does as God uses you to move them along their faith journey one conversation at a time.

Image via brooksbell.com

Starting Spiritual Conversations Part 2

In a previous post, I wrote about the internal preparation that is helpful for starting spiritual conversations, particularly with strangers.  In this post, we’ll tackle the external, practical side.

When I first became a Christian I couldn’t get over how much of Jesus’ life, ministry and teaching emphasized advancing the kingdom, proclaiming the gospel, reaching the lost and making disciples.  Nearly every chapter in the gospels involved Jesus’ and his disciples interacting with those who were far from God.

God began to give me an anguish for the lost and unsaved.  I desperately wanted people to believe in and follow Jesus. The problem was, I couldn’t even figure out how to start spiritual conversations with my closest friends, let alone people I didn’t know.

converse 2

In my experience, many people feel the same way. Through trial and error, reading, observation and some coaching from people who have gone before me, God has used the following big ideas to help me start spiritual conversations with people.

1. Initiating the conversation is half the battle.  This is one of the most difficult parts of witnessing, especially to people you don’t know. It can be super awkward. The truth is, the other person is just as concerned about it as you are.  Don’t worry about whether or not you’ll say something stupid.  If you do, the other person will be thankful it wasn’t them and will appreciate your initiative.

2. Comment on what you’ve already observed or know. One of the biggest obstacles to starting conversation is not knowing what to talk about.  Make it easy on yourself by talking about the things you’ve already seen or heard.  Tell them you like their shirt or purse or ask them about something you saw them do or heard them say.  This gives you opportunity to move the conversation along.

3. Identify shared interests and experiences. People naturally talk about their own interests and passions.  While you’re stating the obvious, they’ll usually respond with something personal.  It will be subtle, but once you crack the hard outer exterior they’ll tell you all kinds of information like where they’re from and what they like to do.   This will give you the opportunity to find common ground so that you can talk about things you’re both naturally interested in.

4. Play “tennis.” In a good tennis match, both players hit the ball back and forth over the net.  The same is true for good conversation.  Don’t monopolize the conversation by talking all the time.  Pay attention to what people are actually saying and ask a few good questions.  Comment briefly on what you’ve just heard, then ask a question about what the person just said to keep them engaged and talking.  This gives them more to talk about and often results in them asking questions in return.

5. Ask questions that if asked back to you would provide the opportunity to honestly mention Jesus. This is, in my opinion, the best natural way to get into a spiritual conversation.  People tend to ask the same questions of you that you have asked of them. Choose the questions that would provide you the opportunity to talk about spiritual things.

For example, when I meet people later in the week I like to ask them what their plans are for the weekend.  When they ask me, I tell them what I’m doing and am sure to mention that I’ll be attending church with my family.  That then allows me the opportunity to ask them if they go to church, which leads straight into a spiritual conversation. You can even make it easier on yourself by memorizing a brief starter response so that you don’t have to think about it.

6. Press the issue. Pay attention to what other people say and do.  If they get squeamish tell them that they appear to be put off and ask them if they’ve had a bad experience.  If they seem extraordinarily interested, tell them that you can see their excitement and ask them if they’ve ever heard the gospel or attended church.  When they say no, ask them if they’d like to hear it or attend with you and watch what the Holy Spirit does.

7. Put on your Nike’s. I love Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan. It’s so practical. I’ve had hundreds of conversations with people that I don’t know and I still get nervous every time.  More often than not, the thing that gets me going is this simple phrase. Just do it, what do you have to lose?

8. Strive for ongoing dialogue. One of the reasons we often whiff on spiritual conversations is because we set the bar too high.  We unrealistically expect that the person we’re talking to is going to be venerated as a saint by the end of our conversation. When we have unrealistic expectations we walk away unbelievably disappointed.

Instead, think of your conversation more like a game of baseball.  Don’t go for the grand slam “bring them to Jesus moment” during your first conversation.  Start by getting on base and moving the runner along.  This means you’ll have to live to see another conversation, so plan to return to the same establishment, social club or group of friends frequently and try to start the conversation where you left off.  Remember, Jesus told us to make disciples, not to seek decisions.

Image courtesy of brainlinemilitary.org.

Starting Spiritual Conversations Part 1

A few weeks back a group of leaders from our church and I were attending a conference with other churches in our worldwide

Image via dominant worldwide.com.

Image via dominant worldwide.com.

family, Newfrontiers.  In between sessions I made it a point to talk with people that I didn’t know.  I wanted to expand my horizons, meet new people, learn from guys wiser than myself and, Lord willing, maybe even inspire greater faith in others.

This is a recent trend for me.  In the past, I would have relegated myself to the group of people I came with and only spoken with the people that I know.  Now, I can’t help but talk with the people around me.  On the way back from the conference, one of the guys riding with us asked how I learned to strike up in-depth spiritual conversations with people I don’t know, even non-Christians.

After thinking about it for a few brief moments, God reminded me that there are two sides to the equation: a spiritual side and a practical side.  The practical side is important (and we’ll get to it), but it’s the spiritual side that we must get first because we will never do the practical if we’re not prepared in the spiritual.  Here are a few things God has used to spiritually prepare me for gospel conversations with people I don’t know.

1. Know the love of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:14 the church leader Paul says that it is the love of Christ that compels us.  A compulsion is an irresistible urge to act on a thought, feeling or idea.  To say that the love of Christ compels us is to say that the Holy Spirit has given us an irresistible urge to live for Jesus and share his good news.   In other words, when we truly understand the love God has for us in Christ it produces an overwhelming desire to invite others to know his love to.

2. Know who you are in Christ. Insecurity is one of the biggest obstacles to initiating conversations with people we don’t know.  When we believe the lie that our significance and worth are dependent on our ability to impress people, we stray away from talking with them because we feel as though we need their approval and acceptance. It’s only after we’ve been convinced that Jesus has secured everything we need from God that we can be free to engage others without fear of how they will respond.

3. Understand the authority you have from Christ. Jesus Christ rules and reigns over all things with complete authority and power.  He has given this authority to his disciples for the purpose of making disciples and advancing the Kingdom.  We can overcome the subtle accusation that we have no right to talk with others about Jesus through the simple truth that we do have the right to talk with others about our Lord because he gave us that right. (Matthew 28:18-20)

4. Anticipate the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our power to witness about Jesus.  When we expect him to show up, he multiplies our faith and does big things. Instead of thinking “I might screw it up,” try thinking “the Holy Spirit might show up.”  This will change your entire approach (demeanor, attitude, tone, etc) and you’ll be amazed at how exciting conversations with strangers can be.

If we’re honest, it’s the spiritual side of things that gives us more trouble than the practical.  Put these big ideas into practice and watch the Lord prepare your heart for more significant conversations to come.

5 Discipleship Principles from the Great Commission

Moments before the Lord ascended into the heavens, he left his disciples with a simple mandate called, “The Great Commission.” At this point in Scripture, Jesus had completed his earthly ministry, atoned for the sins of the world and risen from the dead, victorious over Satan, sin and death. He then gathers his remaining followers for one final instruction, like a coach gathering his team for a momentum shifting half-time speech.

Matthew records the Lord’s words in the final lines of his gospel, which says, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and an earth has been given unto me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'”

Image via lindenwoodcc.com

Image via lindenwoodcc.com

When you view Christ’s commission in the context of his ministry, it’s clear that his instruction is about discipleship.  His instructions emphasize five important principles for this task.  These components can be experienced in any order, but I have listed them in the order that most people experience them, rather than the order they appear in the text.

1. Relationship. The Lord’s instruction is simple, “go and make disciples.” In that day, discipleship was a mentor relationship in which someone learning a trade, such as religion, would find a person, such as a rabbi, to personally teach it to them by example, instruction and experience.  If we want to be effective disciple-makers we must understand, like the first disciples, that discipleship is not a program or a curriculum, it’s a personal relationship with others as we journey in Christ together.

2. Learning. In Matthew 28, Jesus explicitly says that we are to teach our disciples about God.  This means that a disciple is always learning to live for God as he is also teaching others to live for God. It’s important to understand, however, that a person often learns about the Lord long before he ever comes to faith.  Learning happens before, during and after conversion. We are to disciple both those who are Christians and those who have yet to become Christians.

3. Faith. Baptism is the outward expression of inward faith in Jesus.  It is the way a person publicly professes that they have believed in Jesus for forgiveness and new life in God.  Discipleship, therefore, must progress to and be built on genuine, personal faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

4. Obedience. The text clearly states that disciples are to observe or obey all that the Lord has commanded.  This means that the goal of discipleship is not simply faith, but a faith and obedience. Faith comes first, but if it’s genuine obedience will follow. We must urge those we are teaching to live for God, not just to believe in him.

5. Reproduction.  Christ commands his disciples to go and make more disciples.  This implies our disciples will make disciples who make disciples.  We should strive to know the Lord as personally and deeply as we can, but we must be diligent to help others grow in Christ as well.

Discipleship, therefore, is about learning to live in obedience to God by faith in Jesus Christ through relationship with others over time.  As we grow as disciples, we then make more disciples by repeating the process with others.  This is the heart of the Great Commission.

This post is adapted from a sermon I preached at the Living Hope Church-Maryville Campus called “Discipleship: Our One Objective.” You can watch the sermon by clicking here.

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