Even if some are swayed by this series on the why, who, and how of evangelism, most American churchgoers remain unprepared to share their faith in the current cultural context. That gap – knowing what to say – formed as churches increasingly replaced discipleship and apologetics training with less demanding evangelistic alternatives.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed that few Christians were ready to be the hands and feet of Jesus when churches’ doors were closed. Despite the Church’s history of self-sacrifice, churchgoers accustomed to inviting friends to next weekend’s service chose self-preservation instead – missing the incredible opportunity to be “pastors” of their neighborhoods. There’s no better time to offer hope than when disasters and diseases reveal the hopelessness of a godless existence.
If we seriously – I mean, seriously – believe there’s a hell and certain escape through Jesus for those we love, we wouldn’t be silent. If we truly understood our Father’s amazing grace and unconditional love, we wouldn’t sit idle as spiritual orphans remain fatherless. We are not responsible for the outcome of our efforts (because God produces the results) but we are accountable for trying to lead people toward Christ. The most common excuses for saying nothing are:
- “My faith is a private matter” – typically those with a lot (e.g. of assets) to lose, who talk about everything else they love (e.g. sports, kids) except for Jesus
- “I don’t want to offend anyone” – a euphemism concealing fear of rejection
- “I’m not qualified to speak about faith when I live in a glass house” – either self-deprecating, feigned humility or genuine disobedience
- “I don’t know how to explain the Gospel effectively” – anyone betting their (eternal) life on Jesus is qualified to give the reasons for their decision
- “I’m not sure how to answer their objections and tough questions” – a cop-out remedied by preparing even a fraction as hard as we study for work or school
Today we’re addressing the last two excuses – how to convey and defend the truth of the Gospel in our Post-Christian society. Recent studies indicate non-believers are more open to faith discussions with Christians than Christians are with them. We would find those conversations less intimidating, and people would listen more intently, if we knew how to speak clearly, audibly, and intelligently about our faith.
When Christians muster the courage to talk about God, they often do so in what sounds like a foreign language – Christianese. Without adequate training on how to share the Gospel, churchgoers repeat what they’ve heard from the pulpit or in small groups, which was intended for Christian audiences. Contemporary Christian music is also guilty of using vernacular unintelligible to unchurched ears, as if it has no evangelistic intent. Churches and Christian media should be vehicles for equipping believers for GC3 (the Great Commission, Great Commandment, and Great Calling), not just appealing to consumers of Christian content.
We become socially awkward, hard to understand in secular circles, when we don’t practice speaking about Jesus outside the comfortable confines of a church. The message may always be the same, but our vocabulary shouldn’t be “churchy” in non-Christian social settings. However, being relatable and relevant doesn’t entail conformance or compromise. What it requires is recognition that our culture, unlike prior generations, no longer has a firm grasp on the fundamentals of Christianity. It’s no coincidence that non-believers’ understanding of the Gospel has diminished as Christians became less adept at sharing it. Less well versed now in Scripture, many churchgoers contradict Jesus, electing legalism and judgment over love and grace. Consequently, society returns the favor and evaluates Christianity’s merits based on what Christians do, not what Jesus did.
How can we communicate what Jesus did in ways and words that will resonate with non-believers? How can we adjust the delivery to fit the nuances of our culture? How would knowing what to say give us confidence to stand out while also being understood?
When religion becomes politicized, it polarizes. Jesus spoke of the Kingdom through allegories because people politicized and misconstrued divine concepts without earthly reference points. Similarly, several relatable analogies help illustrate the importance and relevance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for people today:
- A merciful judge who presides in a courtroom must do his job, but after sentencing he steps down from the bench and accepts the penalty on our behalf
- A wealthy man with a vast collection of paintings passes away and auctions them off, not disclosing that the person who bids on a painting of his son by an amateur gets all the paintings by the masters
- A boy carrying a cage with small birds tells a passerby that he plans to abuse them and feed them to his cat, so the person buys the birds and sets them free. Jesus bought us at the price of His life to set us free from evil and death in this world.
- A teacher brought donuts to class and asked Steve, the only student with perfect grades and attendance, to do 10 pushups for each person who was offered a donut. After hundreds of pushups some classmates declined, feeling sorry for Steve, but he had to do pushups even if they rejected the gift.
As Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68). Convince non-believers to conduct an honest examination of the alternatives available to the hope found in Christ and they’ll find all are devoid of what humans crave most (hope).
- When universities mock and pressure students into abandoning the hope and faith of their parents, they can only offer hopelessness in exchange
- All world religions except for Christianity go down the same path, telling mankind how to fix what we broke. Christianity alone contends that our “good” works or “enlightenment” can never do what only God can (bring reconciliation through Jesus).
- When “my truth” and “my authentic self” play themselves out, the inevitable conclusion of any identity apart from a child of our Father is the rampant depression, addiction and suicides we are witnessing today
Shock and Awe
Avoid Christianese but sound and act different, with more depth and compassion than anyone else they know, driven by a perspective extending beyond the here and now.
- Demonstrate absolute trust and security in God’s goodness, not our own
- Resist natural inclinations toward “shiny lures” vying for people’s attention, warning that they’re attractive but hide a hook few get off once they take the bait
- Blow minds by quoting eye-opening truths like, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) and “You’ve never met a mere mortal.” (CS Lewis)
- Shift paradigms by speaking of life not as the end unto itself, but as preparation to head home or to pack and save up for a long, highly-anticipated vacation
- To ensure we don’t come across as too ethereal or “so heavenly minded that we’re of no earthly good” back up those eternal perspectives by being the first to step up to help, the last to leave their side, and the most persistent in following up
Truth with Humility
- Confess our faults so others will be more aware of theirs, and possibly see their need for Jesus (in ours)
- Don’t cover up or minimize the flaws in our churches and leaders, but ensure God isn’t blamed for man’s mistakes
- With all due respect, when sharing about Christ remember that there is no such thing as an Atheist. Deep down everyone understands something didn’t come from nothing, knows the evil in their hearts, and has an innate desire to reconnect with their Creator. Unbelief always emerges from disappointed belief and requires hard work to maintain with so much evidence to the contrary – evidence we should know and be able to present when atheists play their “trump card” (demanding “proof”).
- Refuse to respond to the anger directed toward Christians with anger, which itself is a sin and usually a result of not having rational, level-headed answers at our disposal to their objections when we should have studied and prepared better
There are, of course, countless more words and ways to convey the Gospel effectively. Prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit do far more than any advice or articles, even one like this grounded in Scripture. However, blog posts about evangelism are only necessary because few churches prioritize equipping and sending disciples (who then make more disciples) into local mission fields.
It’s Your Turn
If most churchgoers are out of practice, uncomfortable speaking about Jesus around non-Christians, how could discipleship and on-the-job training overcome those reservations?