I’m no saleswoman. I don’t have the thick skin, the showmanship, or the gift of the gab. But apparently, that’s not what I need to help people get to know Jesus. The best salespeople, I’m told, show genuine concern and sympathy, and believe in what they’re talking about.1 That sounds a bit more like me. I can love; I can believe; I can pray. But I also have to open my mouth and speak.
That, I’m not so good at. Clever ideas for gospel conversations run off me like water off a waxed car. I’ll never be one of those gifted individuals who can turn a chat about graffiti into a conversation about Jesus. Instead, my tongue ties itself in knots, and only later do I have that lights-on moment when I realize, yes, that’s what I could have said. I’m queen of the sweaty palms, the awkward silence, and the fumbling answer.
I’m beginning to realize that it doesn’t have to be so hard. Speaking about the gospel isn’t some obscure skill I have to master. I don’t have to become like someone else to do it. In fact, it’s not even something I “do”, an added extra to my faith. It’s just me being who I am, chatting about the things that really matter to me. So what I want to do here isn’t to talk about gospel outlines or apologetics, useful as they are.2 Instead, I want to share ten things that have made gospel speech more natural and joyous for me.
- Close the gap
When I’m with Christians, I’m relaxed and open: I share what God has been teaching me and talk about my struggles. When I’m with others, I’m cautious and reserved: I weigh what I say and look for rejection in their eyes. It’s exhausting. I’m tired of being two people! It’s time to close the gap. It’s time to talk the same way whoever I’m with. There’s something deeply attractive about people who talk about their faith with enthusiasm and warmth. What have I got to lose?
- Don’t assume people will respond in a certain way
For so long, I’ve assumed that people will respond badly if I talk about Jesus. They’ll be bored. They’ll be offended. They’ll be embarrassed. Inevitably, this makes me nervous, and invites the very reaction I’m trying to avoid: I’m embarrassed, so they are too. To my surprise, I’ve found that people are often interested in what I believe. One woman even wanted to read the Bible with me! It took years to work up the courage to ask her; now I’m kicking myself for not asking sooner.
- Speak the way you speak
I’m not sure where my mental image of “evangelism” comes from. I know one thing, though: it doesn’t look like me. It’s masculine and argumentative, maybe because much that’s written about evangelism is by men. It’s extroverted and eloquent, like my gifted female friends. Lionel Windsor says, “Different people will speak the gospel in different ways.” Phew! I’m introverted, relational and reflective, so these things will characterize my gospel speech, and that’s just fine.
- Talk about your life with God (and do it from the start)“I’ve been praying for you”; “We went to church on the weekend”; “I’ve been thinking about…”: there are lots of little ways to talk about God without explaining the whole gospel. Some people show further interest; some don’t. I’m learning to put it out there and see where it goes. It’s important to do this right from the start: this avoids that embarrassing “Oh, gosh, I never let them know I was a Christian” moment.
- Listen more than you talk
“Do twice as much listening as talking”: so says my friend Ben Pfahlert. I’ve got a long way to go on this! Too often, I shut off a conversation by talking about what I think instead of asking others what they think. Next time someone tells me they’ve got a Catholic-Charismatic background (something that happened to me recently) I hope I’ve got the good sense to ask them to tell me more about what that was like, what stopped them being part of it, and where they’re at now.
- Get ready to answer the questions you know are coming
We all know what the questions are likely to be: “How are you?”; “What do you do?”; “What are your plans?”. Why not get ready to include God in the topics you know are coming? It’s a little corny, but sometimes I rehearse – out loud – what I want to say. “My father-in-law died, but I know he’s gone to be with Jesus” rolls more easily off the tongue when I’ve practised, or at least thought about, what to say.
- Live differently – and be ready to explain why
Here’s a fine moment from the life of me. I was chatting to a friend when she said, “I can’t believe how some parents over-protect their daughters, not letting them go out with guys and stuff.” Through my mind ran the words, “Well, actually, that’s pretty close to how we plan to raise ours”, but I laughed sheepishly and didn’t say anything. Later, I realised that living in a way that’s shockingly different can be a good thing, because it gives me a chance to explain why we live the way we do.
One of my friend’s friends told her that when she talks about her faith she sounds anxious and unnatural. That’s a little close for comfort! Telling yourself to relax can be a bit like trying not to think of a purple hippo (try it now), but it helps me all the same. I remind myself that this isn’t the Roman arena: it’s just a chance to chat about something I care about. I take a deep breath, smile, and make eye-contact. It can also help to admit, “I’m a little nervous telling you this. Would you mind if I talked about it?”.
- Get lots of practice - and make lots of mistakes
I think the main reason I find gospel speech hard is that I don’t get much practice. It took time to learn to lead a Bible study: why do I expect this to be any different? The more I talk about my faith, the easier it gets. I make heaps of mistakes; but instead of berating myself, I try to learn, apologise (if needed), and do better next time. In the meantime, I remind myself that God is sovereign: he’s the one who chose me to be part of these people’s lives.
- Bring it all back to Jesus
In the end, it’s Jesus I want people to meet. It’s the gospel – the good news of his life, death and resurrection – that will bring people to him. So that’s where I want my conversations to end up. If I can bring every question back to Jesus; if I can talk about the hope I have in him; if I can read a gospel with a friend: well, that’s half the battle. The rest happens as God’s Spirit works in people’s hearts.
1. See Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine, pages 169-170. ↩
2. I’m not sure I would have any confidence in explaining and defending my faith without the evangelism training course Two Ways To Live and books like Paul Barnett’s Is the New Testament History?. ↩
This post first appeared at The Briefing.
image is by activefree at flickr