Posts Tagged ‘personal evangelism’


Just today, I heard from a friend about a fine young person just returned from teaching in China. This young man was eager to return for a second year, but was very frustrated because he felt like he did not know how to move from being friends with the Chinese to talking about faith in God and Jesus.


I also received comments from the “We Need New Words” blog from experienced missionaries and others who also wanted to know how to bridge the expanse between friendly conversations and conversations about God or faith.


In other words, we love God and we love our neighbors.  We know how to show compassion to those in need, but we are speechless and frustrated when it comes to initiating conversations with those same people about faith.


First, let’s talk about why this might be a problem for us.


  • We are afraid of being rejected or looking foolish.  Nothing new here.
  • We have been convinced (by watching TV/movies) that conversations about faith are culturally inappropriate and out of the cultural mainstream.  However, CNN has a religion blog; TV series like “Friday Night Lights” include Christian characters—yes, some representations portray the “Christians” as pretty weird, but the President invokes God and lots of people read Max Lucado. Even American Idol has included professing believers. Christians are not as absent from popular culture as you might think.
  • We have very little experience initiating serious conversations. Most conversations we have are very superficial.  
  • Some Christians no longer believe that trust in God/Jesus is necessary/essential. This comes from either a kind of universalism (universal salvation) or just pure ignorance of the Word.
  • We don’t know how. Nobody has ever taught us how.


This last reason is absolutely legitimate. If you have never seen your parents have a serious talk with someone; if you have never had a mentor show you how they initiate a conversation; how can you possibly know how to do this without someone to emulate?


OK, here are some examples of ways people get into conversations without being offensive.


I have a good friend who intentionally found a reply to a mundane question that often leads to very comfortable conversations about faith.  When someone says, “Bill, how are you?”   he always replies, “Blessed!”   That’s it.  He has done this for years and it is just out of the ordinary enough that people take notice.  Often people seek him out for more information about faith, about his life, about why he said that . . . and there you have created an environment where people ask you about your faith.


I think your little phrase could also be an “email signature” that was a good, somewhat neutral Bible verse, like, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” and people will come to you and ask where that came from—which opens the door for a conversation.


It might be a lapel pin or a Facebook picture or just about anything that is just slightly out of the ordinary so that people ask about it.  I recently heard about a woman who had JESUS tattooed on the arm that she served tables with in a bar, so that people would ask her about her tattoo.


I’ve also found that you can ask people if they go to church somewhere—especially new people—or do they have a church home—in the same sentences as you ask where they work or where the kids go to school.  Just throw it in without blinking and you’ll see that they usually just give you an honest reply that tells you whether to extend the conversation or not.


The key is to be intentional. Do something intentionally, and then be ready when someone responds to your initiative.


The main thing is to do something! I spoke with a young man from Syria who is a Christian today because an older man from Texarkana, Texas, decided to go on his own and pass out Christian tracts in front of a mosque on Fridays in Damascus!  This young man’s father came out of the mosque, saw this crazy Texas Christian and was actually afraid for him, so he went up to him and invited him to come to his home.  The Texas guy went with him, they became good friends, and eventually the whole family became Christians.


I’m not recommending this method of evangelism, but I think it is a great example of God using the foolishness of our feeble efforts to accomplish marvelous things in the lives of the people who are searching for Him.


Don’t be afraid.  Don’t believe that no one wants to know about Jesus. Don’t wait for a Ph.D in sharing your faith.  Just think of some small thing to do that might lead to someone asking you if you are a Christian.  That’ enough for today.


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We Need New Words!

I’m in Arkansas today, driving to Searcy to work with a small group of young people who have committed to go to Italy for two years in the Avanti Italia program. One of their main activities will include  . . . . I don’t even know what to call it anymore!  And that’s part of the problem.

We used to call it either personal evangelism or personal work. If we did it in a group or in a concentrated way, the same activity was called campaigning.  When I was a boy and my parents were doing it, they called it conducting cottage Bible classes—and I don’t have a clue where the cottage part of that came from, but I suspect it was the same place as in the old song that starts with the line, ”I’m satisfied with just a cottage below . . . .”

Somewhere in the 80s and 90s, any phrase that used the word evangelism took on a negative connotation, so the same activity was described as outreach.  With the new millennium though, we must have needed a new word, so if this activity is talked about at all, it always is described, not named, and it always includes the word sharing.  Faith sharing or sharing my faith seem to have been the most common that I hear.

More recently, the trend seems away from talking about faith and has turned to telling my story, sometimes sharing my story, and if we need to objectify it a bit more, we leave out the my and just tell the story.

Of course, the words we use change with both what we do and how we do it.  Here’s a quick and very subjective description of our methods of doing whatever it is we don’t have good words for!

  1. New people were brought the gospel and converted by the sword!  As the Crusaders went through countries, they converted people or killed them.  The conquistadors/soldier priests did the same thing .  Or your king became a Christian—or a certain kind of Christian–and if you wanted to live in his country, you did too—a la, European Christianity after the Reformation.  This is a quick, though painful way, to make lots of new Christians—or at least church members. I’m not so sure about whether people became Christians.
  2. In the New World,  education was the way people were converted. Schools were started to teach reading, so that people could read the Bible and be Christians. Natives were civilized and Christianized as if those two were one and the same activities.
  3. The 1800s were the time of great revivalism. Great preaching was the means of conversion for most people. Tent meetings and gospel meetings lasted for weeks—months—until all the unsaved were saved.
  4. Over a period of time that spanned the turn into the 1900s, the various denominations in the U.S. began mostly trying to convert each other to the “right” church.  The average Christian was unprepared to deal with someone’s unbelief if that person were a Darwinist or a scientific atheist, but they were prepared to tell others why their church doctrine was right and the others were wrong.
  5.  As rational modernism gave way in popular thinking to the more relativistic post modernism, Christians became less sure that these doctrinal differences should make such a big difference, so we quit talking about them.  But then we weren’t quite sure what to talk about, since almost everyone we knew believed in Jesus . . . and so our words got softer and fuzzier.
  6. Now we are in a time when it is socially inappropriate to try to convince someone of anything.  It’s OK to tell people what you have experienced—share your story—but to try to persuade someone that they should change their story for any reason is considered highly arrogant.

So this is why we don’t have any real words anymore for . . . .

Even this nameless activity is being changed to just living out our story in front of people and hoping that somehow they connect the dots to know that Jesus loves them and died for them. Our time may be the time of the wordless Gospel. 

And if that sounds OK to you, then I wonder if you are OK with your children or your grandchildren never hearing the story of Jesus, never reading the Bible—just watching people do good things—because I’m afraid that we are virtually to that point.

Does faith still come by hearing the word of God? And how can they hear without a preacher? And do we still persuade others because we know the fear of the Lord?  And is the Holy Spirit still a guide to all truth—or just a Comforter?

We need some new words. More and more of our neighbors care less and less about Jesus.  If we are faithful to our calling, we have to go preach and teach as Jesus said in the Great Commission.  We don’t have to call it preaching and teaching if those words are somehow inappropriate . . . but we have to do it!


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