Evangelization – Can’t I Just Live my Faith?

Nov 8, 2019

It’s Sunday morning, the church service is just about over. In his closing comments, the pastor instructs each member of the flock to go out and evangelize; introduce people to Jesus or shepherd back those who have fallen away. Your stomach turns. You think: “Can’t I just live my faith as an example to others?” Surely, that will resonate more powerfully than cornering people and pushing my beliefs on them. You are not alone. In the U.S., evangelization has a less than positive reputation. Too often, the term evangelize evokes uncomfortable feelings of being bombarded at your own front door, with a pamphlet titled “Repent! Jesus Saves!” being thrust upon you by doorstep disciples. You feel put upon, trapped, and suddenly unworthy.

To Evangelize Is to Listen

Over the past few decades, Americans have been conditioned to carefully monitor every word we utter to avoid offending others. This has reduced most conversations to safe subjects like the weather and empty inquiries of: “How are you?” This fear of offending has caused many to lose sight of our purpose as Christians – to go and spread the good news.

There are no specific instructions in the Bible to bring people to Christ, just that you do it. In truth, evangelization is not force-feeding your beliefs to some unsuspecting person, but an open, non-judgmental invitation to meet Jesus.

For most, it is a troubling request. You think: “How can I begin a conversation about Jesus that doesn’t sound like a lecture or sermon?” There is no right or wrong way. It depends on your conversational approach and the person to whom you are speaking.  

In a collaborative study between Alpha USA and Barna Group, researchers found that “cultural perceptions have shifted, evangelism as we know it has begun eroding and there is no longer a one-method-fits-all approach.” [Dave Kinnaman, President – Barna Group] This means that as Christians, we must expand our evangelizing methods, and break out of the comfort zone of subjects that society deems “safe.”

It is true that any time you introduce God/Jesus/Religion in a conversation, it may be rejected. But there is also a chance, a very good chance, that the person you are talking with will show interest – even if that interest spawns a question like: “How can you believe in someone you can’t see?”

We are all teachers; we are all students. Take an opportunity like this to be both. Instead of correcting the retaliatory question with absolute authority, acknowledge their view before sharing your own. Your response could be something like: “Faith is believing without seeing, but I understand how at face value, it would seem improbable. What exactly about faith do you struggle with?” Really listen to their response and consider their viewpoint. This could lead to you sharing your own spiritual journey.

Personally, my faith has grown because I’ve experienced God’s grace in a tangible way many times. One such experience involves a  family friend, who, diagnosed with terminal leukemia, relied on her faith. Her prognosis was grim. The doctors estimated she would live six weeks without treatment. Any treatment she did have was not guaranteed and came with its own painful side effects. After prayerfully considering her options, she knew she wasn’t afraid to die, but she was not ready to die, either. Her first great-grandchild was due in a few months and she was determined not to miss it. She boldly asked anyone who would listen to pray that she be cured. She underwent a round of chemo and the results were miraculous. That was over a dozen years ago. She did meet her great granddaughter and is in full remission. She attributes this to the power of prayer and God’s unrelenting grace.

This conversational approach does not dilute your message; it just presents it in a more open, conversational manner. You’ve passed no judgement on the other person; you’ve even validated their position. You’ve just started an open exchange of thoughts and beliefs – the best place to launch your mission.

Church leaders who embrace people’s questions will be far more effective in the future than leaders who don’t.

– Carey Nieuwhof, 5 Important Ways Evangelism is Shifting in our Post-Christian world.

Be in it for the Long Haul

Because today’s culture is one of self-education through unknown internet sources and general cynicism of established norms, evangelization efforts will usually be more like long-distance marathons than 100-meter sprints.  Most conversations about evangelization will not have a quick and tidy outcome, so you will need patience and forbearance. By being open and honest about God’s message and your experience with it, you open the door for the Holy Spirit to ignite another person’s faith. Starting the conversation without an agenda is the best way to engage people and allow them to let down their guard. All of us need to feel we are being heard to fully participate – whether in a single conversation or an interpersonal relationship.

Through practice, you will find what approach works best for you as you speak with others. Here are some sample questions to break the ice and begin an open conversation:

  • Listening is more important than talking – you will both teach and learn from each other
  • There is no single way to evangelize – establishing an atmosphere of non-judgement is key
  • You are the conduit to the Holy Spirit who can change hearts – pray for guidance
  • Evangelization can be a long process – patience will pay off as you both grow from the experience