Thursday, February 16, 2012

gospel speech at our school

Late last year I wrote about praying for our school and loving people at our school. Today I conclude my mini-series with the bit I find the hardest: gospel speech.

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.

  • Relax
    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.
This probably all sounds very upbeat. The truth is, I find talking about my faith difficult. I battle fear, laziness and inertia. It’s easier not to bother. But to my never-ending surprise, when I start chatting about Jesus, I discover an openness in people’s hearts (because God is at work in them), and a joy in my own heart (because God is at work in and through me), beyond anything I expected. And if I can learn to talk about my faith, anyone can!

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


Meredith said...

What a great post. Thanks Jean. Lots of salient points that will have lots of heads nodding quietly in agreement I would think. A bit like holding a mirror up to all of us.

I thought it was a big and brave call on the point about "our" (my point of emphasis there, not your words) model of evangelism being masculine and argumentative. But I think you are right.

And I think, dare I say it, that getting a bit older makes it easier too. I feel less worried about about talking about Jesus these days for a number of reasons - some circumstance and situational granted - because I have now enjoyed a long relationship with Him and He is more and more a part of me.

I pray that your post will encourage others to get to this good point sooner than I did - age wise and length of being a Christian-wise - and in a way that is suited to each one's personality and set of circumstances.

Hooray for you - great writing. It is a big post. Mx

Jean said...

Meredith, you made me cry. Oh, boy, I'm such a girl (there's something wrong about that sentence but I can't quite put my finger on it...). Which perhaps kind of proves the point about me not being very masculine...

I agree with you, it's got a lot to do with getting older. I see it in my Mum; I see it in what you said on your blog; I see it in what Cathy said on her blog. Funny we're all realising the same thing at the same time! Guess we just don't care what people think of us any more! (Hah! If only!)

But hopefully you don't have to be ancient (sorry, Meredith and Cathy) to learn this lesson. I know I could have done with some role-models along these lines in my life as a child and young adult. And that I could have learned from them.

Jenny said...

I'm like you Jean so I appreciate your thoughts. I've got better as I've got older, because I kind of care a little less about what people think of me. But also the more time I spend with my not Christian friends the more I feel they just need Jesus. They just do - it is only through knowing Jesus and living his way that life makes sense and gives answers to their troubles. I have also prayed more - often with much sadness over their apparent lack of interest in Jesus. But God can and does perform miracles. Keep going! You just never know how he will use us despite our feeling of inadequacy.

mattnbec said...

I love this post - thanks!

I too, think the point about masculine, argumentative evangelism is an excellent point. Something for me to think through further, I think. I reckon there might even be a post in it too - what does a woman's model of evangelism look like in practice? - if you're up for it! And how do we do better at training younger women to think like this rather than the masculine model.

And I hadn't thought of the 'make mistakes' point. I think that's great! It is, in one sense, so obvious that if we believe in a sovereign God that our (my) fumbling, mistake-riddled efforts can still be used by God. But that and the idea that we do need to do it in order to get better at it hadn't really crossed my mind!

Personally, I find that the 'talk about church and make it clear you're Christian' bit is comparatively easy. The bit I've been thinking about and trying to pray I'd get better at is closing the gap and feeling natural talking about what I learn in Bible study or what not.

love Bec

Jean said...

Sounds like a great idea for a post, Bec. Maybe you could contribute some ideas. Come to think of it, could make an interesting question on the blog - collect ideas and then write something. Thanks!

It's funny you should say that about the bit you find easier. I was going to add the sentece "This is the easy bit" to that section!! :) I agree, taking it to the next level is harder. But without the first, the second won't happen, so at least it's a good start - and it gets you comfortable talking about it.

I find statements that are slightly more challenging - like "We don't have Santa; we think Christmas is about Jesus" - can be a good way to go a little deeper.

There'd be another post in there - "Closing the deal" - but that actually needs to happen for me before I write this one! Not there yet with my friends.

Any other ideas are welcome!

Love Jean.

Sarah said...

Yay I loved that post! And it's so helpful and encouraging to hear that others feel the same way. Often evangelism feels like a scary word to me and I found your first two dot points particularly helpful.

I'm the opposite to Bec - I find getting started harder (being really obviously Christian), but once I've confessed to being a follower of Christ, I find things get easier and I actually welcome intense questions - even if the questions aren't always asked that nicely.

In regards to why we often expect opposition and rejection, I think I expect it because I look back to 10-13 years ago when I used to be that snide, scoffing non-Christian, and I expect people to act like the way I did. It was also the way my mum reacted when I became a Christian. But, what I need to remember (and what others may find encouraging) is that although I put on a front to my Christian friends, inside I was really thinking....for months...years even. Sometimes we don't really know how much of an impact we've had. We might just have planted a seed which will be watered by someone else (or even us) down the track...

Jean said...

Sarah, that's a very helpful personal story - thanks. Reminded me to see beyond surface appearances. Pity it's too late to include that in my post - it would make a great 11th point! :)

mattnbec said...

Yeah, I know what you mean, Sarah. I wonder if, perhaps, never having had to 'come out' as a Christian to kinda hostile family and friends has made that easier for me than for you.

I do think that the most argumentative people are sometimes the ones who God is most at work in, challenging and rebuking them. And the arguments are an outworking of that, as they are convicted and are thrashing things through. Of course, sometimes it's just that someone enjoys a good argument, is hardened to the gospel and just want to 'prove you wrong' and score points. And it can be hard to know the difference. Not sure if I ever said something like this to you back in CU days, but I do remember saying quite a bit, 'sometimes the most vigorous opponent is in the process of become an ardent follower'.

Rachach said...

I really enjoyed this post too Jean. I've been thinking about the talking less and listening more comment as I've been meeting students this week. It really does help! although I still have a long way to go on that.

I also like what you said about rehearsing answers to questions. I do that too! We would do well to brainstorm and rehearse on each other too!