Every believer has a desire to obey the Great Commission, Christ’s command to go, make disciples, baptizing and teaching to obey (Matt. 28:18-20). But what does that look like? More specifically, many of you share how you are able to start conversations with people but don’t know how to turn the conversation toward spiritual topics. How do we get beyond small talk about the weather?
If you are a master of communication, that is an easy task and you can just skip this article. For the rest of us we need tips and encouragement to go for it.
As we embark on a summer of “Life on Mission” together I’d like to offer a few articles to help shift your perspective on evangelism. My goal is to give you a few ways to help shift your mindset to make spiritual conversations more natural for you.
When it comes to evangelism, there is one verse that always bothered me: 1 Peter 3:15. “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” I had gone almost 10 years of my Christian life without a single person asking me anything remotely sounding like that.
How often do people ask about the hope that lies within you? If they don’t, perhaps it is because you aren’t living in a way that they can see a hope in you that is far different from the rest of the world.
In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of the world and they should live in such a way that the world would notice their light as much as a traveler through the night would notice the lights of a city lit up on a hill.
Jesus says there that the light we shine is good works, but I wonder what kind of good works he has in mind. Lots of people do very nice things for others. Despite her many warts, America is a very generous country, a people who donate a lot to charity. We live in a city where a lot of medical good is done for people. Doing a generally accepted good deed doesn’t stand out as light in the darkness around our city. Giving to charity, holding a door open, carrying groceries for someone, even “going to church” are not really seen as extraordinary in our part of the world.
The light that we are to shine is not the occasional good work, but a life marked by continual, out-of-the-ordinary service and generosity. If we go back to 1 Peter 3 and look at the context of that familiar verse, we will see that Peter there is talking about a specific type of good work that we should be known for. Indeed the occasion for Peter’s entire letter is the suffering of the saints (v. 14). He is trying to motivate faithful living in the saints by reminding them of Jesus who suffered for them. It is by keeping Jesus, their holy Lord, as the treasure in their heart (v. 15a) that they will be enabled to live contrary to the world in a way that triggers them to ask why they continue to live in such a way.
The Roman Christians Peter wrote to were persecuted greatly for their faith. That was part of their call to be witnesses. We may not suffer like they did, but we are still called to live in a way that looks like we are denying ourselves, with our hearts set on Christ, for the good of others.
Our country is known for its pursuit of athletic succes, film and musical entertainment, leisurely enjoyment of the finer things in life, saving for a comfortable retirement, working to climb the corporate ladder. Much of this is supplemented by good church attendance and charitable giving. So if we are going to be lights in the world who spur questions about the hope that lies within we must live in a way that looks different than what even unredeemed people are doing.
If someone were to watch your life every day for a month—follow you around during the day, watch your parenting, document all your social media posts, listen to your conversations—what would they conclude is the treasure of your heart? What would they say is the focus of your eyes? Would they look at you and think you are drastically different?
In Acts 5 the people in Jerusalem are watching this budding new church with astonishment. They witness many powerful works of God and see the church caring for one another in an extraordinary way. But they also hear about people dying when caught in a lie. It is strangely attractive to want to be part of this extraordinary community, but they hold back because of the obvious demands it would have on their lives. Verse 13 says, “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.”
This is the type of life we ought to be living where the world sees the extremely generous and kind things we do at great cost to ourselves. And when they watch us serving in this sacrificial way they are both strangely drawn to it yet hesitant. These are the kinds of things that cause people to ask “about the hope that is in you.”
In my life the most commonly witnessed “good work” people have seen is adoption. We are able to bear biological children, but out of a desire to be a witness in the world, we have chosen to adopt as well. People can very clearly see that we have adopted and so they often ask, “Why did you adopt?” (Or to say it another way, “Tell me about the hope that is in you.”)
This is exactly my opportunity to explain how I was an orphan in the world, made a slave by the Devil, but Jesus bought me by his blood adopting me into his family. Adoption is a beautiful picture of the gospel and because people see this work, I have had hundreds of opportunities to share the gospel because of this clear light shining in the darkness.
If nobody has asked you in a long time about the hope in you, set your eyes on Christ who gave up heaven to become a slave and rescue you. You’ve been called to be a living picture of that sacrifice in your own life. What extraordinary lifestyle is God calling you to live in order that your light would shine and lead to gospel encounters?
It could be as simple as volunteering in a local ministry in which the world often sees you caring for others in need at great risk to yourself. Perhaps you make your work identity the person who always buys someone in your office lunch. You could care for small children for no cost so a single mother can go to work or get an education. You can take care of the lawn of your elderly neighbor every single week. Visit the same grocery store, restaurant, gas station, coffee shop, etc. every day/week so you can get to know the same few people there and show them an strange kindness.
Don’t just do the occasional good work, but let that light shine all week long so it is unmistakable by a watching world.
And when they ask, trust the Spirit to guide your words to tell them about the worthiness of Jesus who died for your sins.