Why we must be willing
How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.
When I started college in 2017, I was confident that I was a Christian. I had grown up going to church, I had a Bible verse in my Instagram bio, and I had the books of the Bible memorized in order, what else did I need? Slowly, over the course of my freshman and sophomore years, I was challenged by some spiritual leaders in my life who would consistently ask me questions like, “What has God been teaching you lately?”, or “How has your Bible reading been going?”, or probably my least favorite, “Trey, how are you using your relationships to tell people about Jesus?” These questions convicted me. But, over time, as I began to grow spiritually and learned to serve God with my life, I looked back and realized that it was these questions that had enormous impact on how I viewed the Christian life. Why was that? Well, in Romans 10:14-15, we see that there is power in audibly hearing the message of Jesus Christ, and the questions posed to me led to conversations where I heard about Jesus.
If you attend church consistently and hear the Word of God preached, then you are a beneficiary of this power. But what if you’re someone who doesn’t go to church? What if you’re someone who doesn’t listen to sermons while you drive? What many of us, myself included, fail to remember is that a non-Christian will rarely, if ever, have opportunities to audibly hear the Word of God. And, as Paul wrote in Romans 10:14, how can they believe without hearing about him? This is where the responsibility of personal and conversational evangelism comes in. For many of our friends who aren’t Christians, they will not naturally have opportunities to hear the message of the gospel, that Jesus Christ was the promised Savior who died on the cross and rose from the dead to cover our sin, creating a way for us to know God. For them to hear this message audibly, it requires someone being willing to open their mouth and initiate the conversation with them.
Why we dont initiate
As I’ve engaged with college students for the last 5 years, learning how to navigate some of these conversations and encouraging other students to do the same, I’ve learned that there are typically three reasons why Christians don’t initiate these sorts of spiritual conversations with hopes of communicating the gospel.
First, many Christians don’t have any non-Christian friends with whom to even start these conversations. Second, many Christians care deeply about their reputation, and they fear that if they attempt to communicate the gospel, that it could negatively impact their relationship with the person. Each of these two reasons are challenging to overcome, but necessary if we want to obey Jesus’ command in Matthew 28 to go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.
However, the third reason that many Christians, who have already overcome the first two obstacles, fail to successfully engage in spiritual conversations with non-Christians is this: they don’t know what to say. I have lost count over the last few years of how many times someone has told me that they don’t know enough, or don’t know what to ask, or might say the wrong thing, preventing them from communicating the life-saving truth of the gospel with someone who is headed to destruction. In this article, I’m hoping to provide insight on some effective ways to engage in these conversations, hopefully freeing you from one of the most common excuses to withhold the gospel message in conversation.
For a long time, I thought that there must be some secret formula to sharing the gospel. Maybe if I just could memorize more Scripture, then I could really be effective in evangelism. Or maybe if I could become a more talented speaker, then I would be effective in evangelism. But over time, through an increasing number of gospel conversations, I came to realize that the secret to effective evangelism is the same thing that was so effective in reaching me during my early college years: asking good questions. People love to talk, but more than that, they love to be heard. If we, as Christians, are the best question askers and the best listeners, then the conversations that we find ourselves in will blow us away consistently.
My Four questions
Here are four questions to use as you seek to initiate gospel conversations with your classmates, co-workers, friends, family, roommates, or anyone else in your life.
1. Do you believe in God? Would you consider yourself a spiritual person? What does that mean to you?
This series of questions is one of the easiest ways to initiate a spiritual conversation. As you ask this question, you’ll find that most people will answer yes, that either they do believe in God or, at a minimum, they consider themselves a spiritual person. To shift the conversation, following up by asking them to clarify what they mean by “god” or “spiritual” is highly effective. From here, the way that I most often can steer the conversation towards the gospel is by asking, “Do you think there is a way to know God, relationally? How?” Their answer here will influence how the conversation goes. If they say, “No, I don’t think so,” then you have an opportunity to push back by saying that God has made a way. If they say, “Yes, through some moral works,” then you have an opportunity to share the truth that God does not accept our works, but only faith. You can direct the conversation from here towards Jesus!
2. Is truth something that you discover or create?
One of the biggest obstacles to the gospel in our culture is the concept that truth is something that we create inside of ourselves, instead of something that we discover externally. Asking this question will reveal how someone determines their view of the world, other people, and themselves. If they answer “create,” then you have an opportunity to ask how they know that is true, which is difficult to answer given that they think truth is created internally. Ultimately, your hope with this question is that your friend will ask you what you think, to which you get to explain how God has chosen to reveal truth to the world through the Bible, and more specifically, through the person of Jesus Christ who walked on earth with us!
3. What do you think is the main message of the Bible?
The Bible is the most popular book of all time, and nearly everyone has formed some opinion on what is in the book. This question, then, is one of my favorites to use as I try to share the gospel message. Most often, people will respond by saying, “It’s a list of rules” or, “It says to love people.” I’ll then respond by saying, “You know, I think you’re right that the Bible includes a list of rules, and it does say to love people, but I wouldn’t say that’s the main message of the book.” Now, people generally become curious, as they’ve never heard someone give any pushback, and they are genuinely curious to find out what’s in the Bible. Finally, I’ll tell them that the main message of the Bible is to tell a story. Humans love stories, so people will nearly always ask what the story is, to which I’ll tell them the story of Jesus, starting in Genesis through Revelation!
4. What is the biggest injustice you’ve seen?
This question is a unique way to get to the gospel, but effective regardless. You’ll be interested often by people’s response, ranging from racial tension to plastic straws. After they respond, ask them, “How does seeing that injustice make you feel?” Then, ask, “Why do you think seeing injustice makes you respond the way you do?” The truth is that all humans have an innate desire for justice. Just look to the 4-year-old who says it isn’t fair that other kids get the better toys to see that this is the way humans are wired. Most people haven’t thought about why we are that way, but this gives you an opportunity to communicate who God is. You can say that we inherently desire justice because we were made in the image of a just God! One way to steer the conversation towards Jesus from here is to ask, “If there is a just God, and this God will judge the entire earth justly, how do you think you would fare if you were judged?” Now, you can communicate that God is just, and He will judge the earth, and our only hope to satisfy the judgment of a perfectly just God is to be completely innocent, which is what Jesus offers us on the cross!
- I don’t know about you, but I believe there is a heaven and a hell, and if that’s true, then the most important question is, “How do people get into heaven?” How would you answer that question?
- If you were god, and you created human beings with the conscious ability to reason whether you exist, would you make a way for them to know you? How?
- What is the most beautiful thing in the world? Why do you find it beautiful?
Will you be willing?
When it comes down to it, there are probably an infinite number of ways to initiate gospel conversations with non-Christians. Ultimately, to be an effective evangelist, you must be a willing evangelist. Romans 1:16 says that the gospel comes with power—do you believe that? If so, give it a shot, and look for your next opportunity to communicate the message with someone who doesn’t know it!