By Darrick Young
When Jesus called His first followers to leave behind everything they valued and everyone they loved to follow Him, he did it with a simple but life-altering invitation: “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” (Matthew 4:19, NLT). It was an analogy that would appeal to these professional fishermen, and it was full of possibility. It was a chance to change the world.
Jesus still calls His followers to “fish for people,” but in our current cultural climate it can feel as if we are fishing in the desert, like we’re casting our hooks and bobbers into the side of a sand dune. Declining church involvement, biblical illiteracy, and a whole bunch of political and cultural challenges have made many of our historic, “tried-and-true” methods of evangelism irrelevant. The current moment calls for new methods even as we hold rock firm to the call of Jesus to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). What new mindsets and methods can we embrace as we look for ways to introduce people to the God who loves them?
THINK CONVERSATION, NOT PRESENTATION
For decades, maybe even centuries, the Church has trained its members to present the gospel to people. If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you may have been taught to share the Four Spiritual Laws, or maybe you took the Evangelism Explosion course, which taught you cold-call evangelism – knocking on someone’s door hoping they would invite you in so you could present them with the speech you had memorized. That may have been effective in the days of door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen, but not so much today.
If we are going to effectively share Christ with our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and classmates today, we must focus on conversations rather than presentations. Presentations are designed to lead to a decision within minutes. Conversations are meant to lead to more conversation and are centered around relationships. Ever had someone invite you over for dinner only to find out that dessert was a presentation about their latest multi-level marketing opportunity? Felt great, didn’t it? Now, compare that disappointing experience to the time you had a meaningful and honest conversation about something that really mattered to you. You really listened to the other person, and they really listened to you. You may not have resolved an issue in that hour or two, but you made progress, and you looked forward to continuing the conversation.
So many people today are open to dialogue about spiritual matters. Those same people have little interest in listening to a presentation and being pressured to make a commitment fifteen minutes later. Talk to, not at, people about Jesus.
GREAT QUESTIONS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN GOOD ANSWERS
If you are like me, one of the things that has held you back from sharing your faith is the fear of not having all the answers. During my junior year of high school, I decided to follow Christ, and I was more than willing to share that decision with others. At my after-school job, at a store that featured a giant red K, I had a supervisor who constantly peppered me with doubts and questions about my faith. I had a lot of passion for Christ, but I didn’t have many answers to his questions. So, I stopped talking about Christ because I didn’t want to look dumb. Those feelings also compelled me to read up on anything and everything I could to find bulletproof answers to all those questions.
I still believe it is important to have answers to questions people ask about following Jesus. But I have also learned the power and importance of good questions. When I am in the middle of a spiritual conversation, I have found questions to be more effective than quick, iron-clad answers. Asking simple questions like “Why do you believe that to be true?” or “Has there ever been a time in your life when you considered spiritual things?” has opened the doors to meaningful and fruitful conversations about Christ. When people feel you have taken the time to listen to what they believe and why they believe it, they are much more open to hearing about the hope you have in Christ.
REMEMBER, THERE ARE THREE PEOPLE IN THE CONVERSATION
Jesus told his followers that they would face persecution and prosecution because of their faith in Him (Mark 13:9-11). Jesus told them, “When that day comes, don’t worry about what you will say, because the Holy Spirit will tell you what to say. It will be Him speaking through you.”
As Christ-followers, we have the privilege of serving as a vessel for the Holy Spirit, who Scripture tells us resides within us. That means that when we are having a faith conversation with someone, it’s not just a conversation between us and them; the Holy Spirit is present as well. I have often forgotten this and put pressure on myself to speak all the right words, with mixed results. But when I relax and rely on the Holy Spirit to work through me to draw someone to Christ, the weight is lifted off my shoulders. There have been many times when I have asked a question or shared a thought that has helped a person move closer to faith in Jesus and thought, “Where in the world did that idea come from?” The Spirit wants to speak to us and through us. We simply must listen and obey.
EVERY STEP IN THE JOURNEY MATTERS
For most of my life as a follower of Jesus I evaluated my evangelistic efforts as successes or failures. If I shared my faith and someone prayed to receive Christ, I was a “success.” If I tried my best and the person rejected Christ in that moment, I had failed. My evangelism scorecard had more misses than hits, and I decided that evangelism wasn’t one of my spiritual gifts.
That changed for me about twenty years ago when I was reading 1 Corinthians 3:7-8, which states, “It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work.” The Apostle Paul wrote those words to address divisions in the church caused by people who were choosing their favorite leaders in the church and forming fan clubs around those people. His words were life giving to me. The journey to faith is a process, and our responsibility is to help people take the next step in their journey towards Christ. Sometimes we plant the seeds of the Gospel. Other times we water that seed and move people along. There are also times when we have the privilege of helping people cross the line of faith, and it’s like reaping a harvest. But each part of the process is made possible through God, the One who gives the increase. My faithfulness leads to fruitfulness through Christ.
Decades ago, Bob Dylan sang, “The times, they are a changin’.” When it comes to sharing our faith in the twenty-first century, that certainly is true. But the call to share our faith has not changed. There is no expiration date on the Great Commission. But our mentality about sharing our faith and the methods by which we carry out our commission must change. Jesus is still calling us to follow Him and change the world.
About the Author
Darrick Young serves as the lead pastor for Journey Church of the Open Bible in Urbandale, Iowa, which he planted in 2012. He also serves on the Central Region and national boards of Open Bible Churches and the board of Discover Church Planting Network. Darrick and his wife, Ranada, have two amazing children and two awesome kids-in-law.