Every now and then, I get a phone call with a strange area code. I know it’s probably a scamming telemarketer, but I often pick up anyway.
They go through their speech, in a monotone voice, before I inevitably say, “Bye.”
They usually offer free cruises or $2 million in another country’s currency. But imagine that they actually had something real and good to offer. Imagine that they actually have something worth buying, but because they don’t actually talk to me because they have to get through their speech, I never hear it.
The question for us is whether or not our approach to evangelism too closely resembles that of a telemarketer. Certainly we want to share the gospel, and we want to see people come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord. But how do we do that in an effective, meaningful, God-honoring way?
I have taken several classes over the last few years emphasizing evangelism and disciple-making. These are well and good, and we’ve discussed different approaches to evangelism. One of the ways we’ve discussed is the use of tracts. Tracts, for those of you who don’t know, are small booklets that often contain the gospel message and the right response to that message.
Tracts are extraordinarily helpful. They clarify and simplify the message of the gospel. They offer the Christian a guide to walk through in evangelism, and lays out, for the non-believer, a way to be saved.
Here’s where those tracts, and tools like them, can go wrong, though: When we are so focused on “getting to the gospel,” that is, getting the person we’re talking to to “make a decision,” that we fail to be genuine and to listen to our audience…we will lose our audience. Every single time, we will lose our audience.
Imagine if someone came up to you and offered a way to be free from all diseases and debt (don’t worry, I’m not preaching the prosperity gospel). You would have some questions, right? I know I would have not only questions, but concerns about what it will cost me. I’d want to know why their plan is better than my plan for lifelong health and financial stability.
Now imagine if that person never stopped talking, and rushed you into signing a piece of paper to receive this “plan.” What are the odds you would sign that piece of paper? Next to none, right? Even if it’s a fantastic plan, because you were treated like a project, not a person, you have no interest, right?
We can do the same with the gospel. We can be so focused on “obeying Jesus,” that we rush to get people to respond to the gospel that they still don’t understand. They have questions, but we are so focused on our answer that we blow right by them.
The way we treat people when we share the gospel is just as important as the act of actually sharing the gospel. Because if we don’t take time to listen, to care, and to respond to people’s questions and concerns, even if we do get to share the gospel with them, it will be ineffective at best, and an act of hardening to the gospel at worst.
Greg Koukl, a Christian apologist, once said that we don’t have to get to the gospel every time. While that is certainly the goal, we want, at the very least, to “put a rock in their shoe.” Say something that will make the other person think about God, about salvation, about eternity, etc. There will be times where we have a chance to just open up about sin and forgiveness, and we must be ready for those opportunities (1 Pet. 3:15), but often, we may find ourselves having a spiritual conversation with someone, who just simply wants to be heard and maybe have some questions answered.
During my time at my previous job, I was blessed with multiple opportunities to talk about my faith. On several occasions, I got to the gospel, and invited my friend to respond to Jesus. I would often say something to the effect of, “Being a Christian means this…,” or “I encourage you to consider Jesus.” I never asked them to pray a prayer, and never felt the push to ask them to become a Christian on the spot, because no one was ready. I made sure they understood what it meant to be a Christian and how they could become one, but I left it at that. What I was able to do was to answer questions, to be humble and to listen to other viewpoints. Sometimes, the conversation lasted five minutes, and other times, it last two hours.
Bottom line: I engaged in conversation and found that people were more willing to have a second, third or even fourth conversation if I didn’t push for a response they weren’t ready to give.
There is a time to push for a response, absolutely. If the person you’re talking to is stalling, and you know they are fully aware of the gospel truth, push for a response. But we cannot push for a response while someone is asking questions, or asking us to listen to their point of view.
When we get so focused on getting people to “make decisions” that we forget that we’re talking to real people with real concerns, our evangelism becomes ineffective.
Another reason we cannot blow past the person’s questions and concerns is because the gospel and our response to it is so important, we cannot afford to rush into it.
The gospel calls a person to commit his or her life to Jesus, to trust completely in Him, and to live a new life based on who He is. Because it is the most important message, we cannot rush people to respond to it until we are sure they understand what it is, what it means, and what it costs.
The gospel is the “power of God for salvation” to people made in His image. People who are worthy of our time and respect. We have good intentions in rushing to the gospel, but if people don’t understand what they’re doing when they “become a Christian,” it’s possible that we aren’t making disciples of Christ at all.
I once saw a family member take 24 hours to decide what kind of refrigerator he was going to buy. A refrigerator. The thing that keeps cold stuff cold was worthy of a 24 hour response window. If something that, in the light of eternity, seems so trivial, is worth such heavy thought before a response is made, surely we must not rush people to make a response to the gospel without considering the impact of that response.
Jesus demands our full attention, and so we cannot present the gospel as a speech we have to get through, as a petition we desperately want signed; no, we must lovingly listen to the people whose eternal destiny will be decided by the gospel, and we must answer their questions, respond to their concerns, and call them to consider Jesus, and all that a response to Him entails.
We must be urgent, not sloppy, in our evangelism. We must be intentional, not insincere, in our relationships with others. The gospel calls us to nothing less.
Lord, may we remember that we share the gospel with people made in your image. May we not forget to speak the truth in love and answer questions. May we take the gospel seriously, and encourage others to do the same. May we not take for granted the great task you’ve given us to make disciples.