A couple of years ago I was asked to explain how I share the gospel with non-Christians that I meet on and off campus by Troy Cooper. We were preparing for an evangelism training he runs through No Place Left. Both he and the organization are a blessing to the North American church. I told him that I usually like to share a combination of the 3 Circles while expanding more on Creation, Fall , Redemption, and Restoration. Many of my conversations are with atheists and so creation is never a given. I usually share about a moral “oughtness” that echoes back to the Garden and only makes sense if there was a morality giving Creator.
“How long do those conversations take?” Troy asked.
“Sometimes thirty minutes to an hour. I only talk to them if they seem interested and have the time.” I replied.
“Wow, so they have to be interested enough to have a 30 to 60 minute conversation with you in order to hear the gospel. Is that your filter?” he asked. He went on “How can you tell if they are interested or not in the gospel as opposed to being interested or not in you? Seba, are you the filter?”
The question just hung over my head for a few days. Is someone’s interest in me as a person the filter that decides who gets to hear the gospel and who doesn’t? I didn’t want it to be true because I found the idea of it so indefensible before Jesus. “Well, Jesus, they just didn’t seem too into our conversation. We weren’t clicking?” Could I really say that to the one who loved and died for his enemies?
Spotting Your Filters
Like blind spots, filters should be spotted and eliminated when possible. When you examine your own approach to evangelism, what are some of the filters separating people from hearing the gospel? Like my story, do they have to click with you on a personal level before you share with them? Are there geographic, socioeconomic, or ethnic filters at work in your evangelism because there are certain people and places you feel more comfortable sharing with than others?
What about in the ministry you lead or are a part of? We could end up designing a ministry model in which only people who accept an invitation to our events get to hear about Jesus. Does their interest in your event or gathering decide if they hear or not? What if they don’t like pizza, or your tag line, or your location, or your logo?
It sounds like nitpicking and to be sure, there is no way to eliminate every filter. We can’t be everywhere at once and can’t do everything that everyone will respond to. We trust that the Holy Spirit is at work too and can push people past our unintentional filters. He can make people go to an event they normally wouldn’t go to or have a conversation they normally wouldn’t have. But the fact that the Holy Spirit is at work cuts both ways. That person doesn’t have to be into you or your conversation to respond to the gospel. That person doesn’t have to be willing to come to your event in order to give their life to Christ. The Holy Spirit needs none of those things to happen in order to move in a person’s heart. All the Holy Spirit needs is a faithful and unfiltered witness.
Three Ways To Work Against Your Filters
Spotting your filters is not enough. We have to get intentionally past them or remove them when we can. Here’s some ways to help you do that.
Be Rhythmic In Your Sharing
Instead waiting for the perfect opportunity to arise in an existing relationship, just pick a time to go out sharing about Jesus. Don’t make it a time to meet people and one day share the gospel but to just share the gospel right away. Break your own “I have to get to know someone in order to share the gospel” rule if you have one. You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to hear you out. Even more importantly, your rule won’t become your filter.
Be Random In Your Sharing
If this sounds weirdly opposite of “be rhythmic” it’s because it is. If you go out every Thursday at 4 PM to the same place, using the same approach, talking to the same kind of people then you back to creating filters. Change up the times, locations, methods, and even who you invite to go with you. Make sure your not subconsciously avoiding types of people either.
I took a young man out sharing with me on campus and I asked him, “Who on campus are you most intimidated to share with?” He told me it was Muslims. So I told him we were going to walk up to the first Muslim person we saw and were going to share with them. We did it and it was great conversation. My friend lost his filter that day because he intentionally defied it. For some people it’s business men and for others its athletes or maybe people older than them. Breaking preference patterns is an important step in losing your filters.
Be Bold In Your Sharing
Here’s some advice from someone who shares regularly but is not a natural evangelist. Find a transition question that leads to you share the gospel and memorize it. Mine is “Have you ever heard what Christians believe from a practicing Christian?” Once I ask that question, 9 out of 10 times a gospel presentation is going to follow and its not nearly as awkward as you think. Most people who aren’t even interested usually thank me for taking the time to explain my faith. Many more people are interested.
Once you’ve got your transition question down, be bold in getting to it. Boldness in evangelism isn’t about starting a conversation, it’s about turning a conversation towards the gospel. If you’re going to make a mistake in your decision of whether to go ahead an ask your transition question or not, make your mistake boldness. You’re far more likely to walk away wishing you had asked than wishing you hadn’t.
If you need some questions to get conversations started with strangers, here’s a few. Asking people how you can pray for them is also a great way to start a conversation with someone and to care for your community.
Next week we’ll write about how to become a better gospel conversationalist with people in our lives who haven’t shown interest in the gospel. Sometimes common sense says to move on but we serve an uncommon God who knows how to reach hard people.