- Rev. Michael Best
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Thoughts on Evangelism - Establishing a Dialogue
“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’” Mark 16:15
I sit beside a stranger on a train from Chicago to Michigan, a young woman I’ve never seen nor may ever see again. A melancholy look about her, a bit reserved, her phone in hand the entire ride should she need to escape at any moment from sitting for five hours with nothing but her thoughts. Five hours next to this stranger, another human being, another soul full of memory, regret, hopes, dreams, fears, and as far as I know, under the same identity crisis I faced before the hand of God reached through the void and touched my heart. I have five hours, five whole hours the Lord of the universe has blessed me with to set myself aside and bring the Good News to her, but in the moment of that realization a battle breaks out in the depths of my soul, a hesitation, a quiver, a lack of confidence. I pull out my Bible and begin reading hoping that it catches her eye. In the deepest parts of me hoping that she’ll be the one to start the conversation.
I have no doubt that you can offer up many instances of your own in which you had a chance to share the Gospel with someone and met that with a hesitant heart. Often times in these moments, no matter if it’s a stranger or a best friend, a coworker or a parent, we have told ourselves, consciously or subconsciously, that if we simply do Christian things and display the Gospel in our actions in front of others, we do not have to preach it to them.
Misconception: If I preach the Gospel with my actions, I don’t have to preach it with my mouth.
To be blunt, most of the time this is a cop out. It’s what we tell ourselves when we’re too afraid or too insecure to speak. I understand that this has a lot of nuances to it, such as if someone has a genuine misunderstanding about how to dialogue with others about Scripture or someone is new to the faith. In any case, this is a thought we must take captive and change.
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Romans 10:14
While we are called to live out the Gospel by sharing it in our actions, demeanor, interactions, engagements, and choices, there is a strong emphasis and command in the scriptures on verbal communication. We live in a very different age and society than that of the ancient world but people are still the same, and so is the power of words. We hide behind technology, personality, circumstance and unsuccessful past attempts, but we’re told in any situation to stand strong upon the solid rock, to not grow weary, to not be afraid. As mentioned in the first blog, if we’re so good at sharing things (with words) that we enjoy, how much more ought we to delight in sharing the Gospel?
Now any good speaker will tell you the tip to effective speaking is to know your audience. Recognize to whom you’re preaching. Different people and different environments call for different means of evangelizing. There’s no “one size fits all,” cookie-cutter format to this, which means we have to take the time to know or understand the person. If circumstance does not allow for this, having some Scripture as well as quick simple responses to common questions in mind will help. More than that, I remind you that you are free in Christ, which means you are free to love people, to build relationships, to dialogue. Don’t think of this as a chore - God doesn’t - think of this as a privilege. Ask a lot of questions about them: what they believe, their dreams, their goals. See people as people.
Now I imagine that stories that accompany blogs like this typically tend to illustrate the point in a positive way. You might expect that I prayed and worked up the courage and ended up sharing the Gospel in some wonderful way that exalted Christ and changed her life. But, in the case of the woman on the train, I managed to initiate some small talk but it didn’t go far. I cannot deny that while in my heart I wanted to establish a dialogue, I allowed myself to stand in my own way. Sure, I’ve met plenty of other occasions in the past where conversation with a stranger, a best friend, a coworker, or a parent went rather well, but it’s difficult. There’s no way around that; it’s hard to talk to people, to be vulnerable, to touch on hard topics, to use words. And while we may try to dialogue with someone about it who prove to be uninterested, resistant, or antagonistic (and there will be times like this - the prophets faced it, Christ himself faced it, so will you), we have to always make ourselves ready and available and crucify the fears when they come.
Jordan Eskovitz is a member of the Crossroads Leadership Team, a senior at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, and an evangelist at heart.