By Jackie Moore
How It Started
Situational irony is a form of irony in which something takes place that is different or the opposite of what is expected to happen. Or in other words, a person writing about evangelism who spent years of her life being scared of sharing the gospel. Isn’t God’s sovereignty funny like that?
So, how did we get here?
Well, the very short answer is that I moved beyond my self-centered mindset, and began listening well.
The longer answer starts at a local restaurant in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the week of Easter. A few months prior I had ordered a graphic t-shirt that read, “Spoiler alert: The tomb is empty.” Clever, right? I thought so, too. I was so proud of my boldness, something I had been praying for, to wear a shirt that clearly identified me as a Christian. I was feeling good from the moment we walked into the pizza place to the moment we walked up to the cash register to pay. That’s where things got dicey.
The woman at the counter stared at me with a confused look and then said, “Ok, I give. I don’t get it. What’s your shirt mean?” How’s that for a gospel conversation served on a silver platter?
Well, what I took off that platter was a nice dose of humble pie as I stared at her like a deer in headlights. I think I managed to get out something like, “Oh, ya know. It’s like funny.. Because like Easter… and Jesus. Ya know?” And then I promptly excused myself to the bathroom to melt into a puddle and let my evangelist husband take over.
The Big Reveal
After much prayer and reflection, I realized I had been brought face to face with my fear of sharing the gospel. It was not a lack of knowledge, understanding or ability to articulate the gospel that prevented me from actually explaining Christ’s life, death and resurrection. I almost wish it was. That would have felt much less painful, I think. But that experience proved invaluable because it revealed to me what was going on below the surface.
1. I need to remember that sharing the gospel is about Jesus, not me.
2. I need to remember it’s okay to be asked a question I don’t know the answer to.
3. I need to remember I’m not a failure if the person I share the gospel with doesn’t get saved.
Practical Steps Forward
Even with remembering all of these things, I still found myself struggling to bring up my Savior in a conversation – even when I knew the Lord was telling me to share the gospel with someone. Luckily, I happen to be married to be a minister who is patient, kind and has evangelism as his top spiritual gift. He can turn almost any conversation into a gospel-centered one and does so in a way that encourages people to listen to what he is saying. He rarely comes off as pushy or ‘holier-than-though,’ so I was very surprised when his advice was simple.
Be genuinely interested and listen well.
I wasn’t surprised with this advice, however, because my husband’s favorite scripture is Luke 10:27, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Living out this verse actually turns out to be an effective approach to evangelism.
1. Be genuinely interested.
People can tell when we see them as a means to an end. Being genuinely interested in a person is hard work, but people are attracted to it. Ask questions that help you get to know them. Pay attention to what makes them unique and what they are passionate about. Really see them.
Then, began talking about an aspect of the gospel that could relate to something they said. If they seem passionate about sports, you could talk about how their love for sports reminded you of Paul using a sports analogy, running a race, to explain the Christian life. From there you could transition to what it means to be a Christian. Or, if they love the beauty of art you could talk about how creative God is and how beautiful His creation is. This could also easily transition to a gospel conversation.
People can tell when someone is only thinking about themself. Don’t dip out of the conversation as soon as you present the gospel. Don’t move on and become distracted out of insecurity if they don’t repent and believe in response to your presentation. Your worth and identity are found in Christ, not in the amount of people you lead to Christ.
2. Listen well.
Listen to understand, not simply to prove your point. Don’t listen by searching for them to say something theologically incorrect, ignore everything else and wait for them to stop talking so you can pounce. The fight should not be with the person but for the person. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood”; our fight is in the spiritual realm. And Romans 8:38-39 teaches us nothing can separate us from the love of God, so we have no grounds to be overly focused on being “right.”
Listen by asking non-threatening follow-up questions. If someone says, “Well why would God allow bad things to happen?” try to avoid diving straight into a lengthy theological answer. Instead, initially respond with something like, “I’ll admit don’t understand all of it, but I can tell you what I do know. But, before I do that I wanted to ask if there are certain evil things that weigh more heavily on you?” And then meet them where they are. Listen to their response.
Pay attention to when the Spirit leads you to go into your theologically sound answer. If the thing that’s weighing heavily on them is something you wrestle with sometimes, too, then tell them that. Sit in the sorrow and heartache before jumping to your answer. Then use this connection as an opportunity to explain that Christ is Redeemer and one day He will be King over a new heaven and earth with no sorrow for those who follow Him. This could create a seamless transition into explain who Christ is. People feel loved when they feel heard, as the psalmist indicates in Psalm 116:1. When humans are heard, there is space for healing to happen.
How It’s Going
I honestly still don’t feel qualified to give evangelism advice. Just last week I fumbled my way through explaining why it’s actually not as weird as it sounds that Jesus handed bread to a group of people and told them to eat it by saying, “Take it; this is My body.” Full transparency, the entire conversation was difficult because my first language is English and hers is Arabic.
But, I wasn’t scared or insecure. I didn’t melt in a puddle in the bathroom. I didn’t avoid a conversation about Jesus, I had initiated it. I didn’t walk away frustrated that she hadn’t responded by repenting and believing. Instead, I walked away thinking about how I wish I knew Arabic.
I’m continuously learning how faithful God is. His power is unlimited and he keeps every promise. He calls us to obey him by sharing and will empower us to do so. I more fully know now what I wish I had better understood during the ‘Easter t-shirt’ debacle. We don’t have to be scared to share the gospel because of the last part of the Great Commission; Jesus promised, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20) So, believing that promise, I plan to spend the rest of my years looking for opportunities to share the gospel instead of being scared — and to look for opportunities to listen.