The Changing Face of Evangelism, Part Five: Talking about Pain and Passion

July 31, 2015 Category :Blog 0

I fly a lot. I recently got on an airplane and took my typical aisle seat. As much as I have traveled I have looked out enough airplane windows, and at my age I would rather have access to the bathroom! I looked up to see a guy about 6 feet 14 inches tall peering at the middle seat next to me. He looked at me, and I’m thinking he would love my aisle seat. But it was early, I was tired, and I was frankly not in a particularly generous mood. At that moment a young lady behind me saw what was happening and offered her aisle seat to him. I let her in to sit beside me in his former seat. A young lady I figured about the age of our children, I told her she got the “good passenger of the day award.” She laughed and said she didn’t travel much and didn’t mind.

I told her about my wife and my kids and asked her what she did. She said she worked retail, naming a popular store found at most malls. I told her I took our daughter Hannah to that store often in her high school days. As we talked I told her how I led a ministry to young adults just like her at our church. Wanting to turn the conversation to the gospel, I told her there is a question I often ask young people around her age (she was 25). I asked, “If you were not limited by money or geography, where would you go and what would you do?”  This is a great question to ask people, particularly young adults with their whole life ahead of them, to learn a little about their passions.

She immediately said she would dance, and cheer. I told her I had never gotten that one before. I asked her then if she did any dancing and cheering (I have never met a 25 year old cheerleader, after all). She humbly, sheepishly said, “I am a cheerleader for the Washington Redskins.” We talked football and cheerleading, how she loves to make people smile and bring joy to others, and so on. Then I told her that the reason she had the ability and the drive to do this—and the reason I have the same passion about teaching––was because of how God created the world and made both she and I in His image. We talked about God’s design, about brokenness that caused things like the objectification of women, and how Christ came to rescue us from sin and ourselves. She talked about a religious background, but not a clear relationship with Christ.

I later sent her more materials to help her think about the Lord, but as we got off the plane I told her this: “One day when your dance troop is performing on television for the president of the United States, I will tell people I got to sit next to their coach on an airplane once.” She beamed, and said, “I hope something like that happens.”  For her, I was able to talk about the gospel in a conversation about her dreams and passion. It was natural, not forced, and was a conversation moving from her passion to the gospel rather than a presentation of the gospel detached from her circumstances.

One of the simplest ways to introduce Jesus naturally in a conversation is when we let someone talk about one’s passion or one’s pain. Jesus’s work on the cross speaks directly to these matters.

We converse regularly––either in serious or in casual conversations––about our pain or our passion. Somebody had a flat tire, their kids were out of sorts, or perhaps something worse, like the news of cancer or an unexpected death. Or, they just got a promotion, their kids received an honor, or they got good news from the doctor. In such conversations we can easily talk about Christ.

When someone brings up pain, we can talk about our own pain and relate that to the brokenness that came from the fall. Then, we can talk about how Christ helped us through the pain. Or, if they talk about their passion, we can go back to creation, to God’s design, and the image of God. (Note: I talk about this in more detail in the book Get Out.)

My friend Jonathan Dodson uses a helpful conversational approach where he listens to a person in a conversation and helps them see the gospel in their story. His approach, adapted from the counseling world, is

  1. Listen to their story—really listen to what they say and how they say it.
  2. Empathize with their story—at this point don’t pass judgment, and as you can identify with them, noting your own struggles.
  3. Redemptively retell their story—go over their story from the perspective of how Christ can change their story into something beautiful for His glory.

I want to encourage you to pray, really pray for opportunities to converse with people.

Seek them out. Trust the Holy Spirit within you—He is our partner in gospel-bearing. Then, take a risk, step out in faith, and talk with (not at) them about Jesus.

It might not only change them; it may just change you.

The Changing Face of Evangelism, Part Four: how to have evangelistic convos

July 30, 2015 Category :Blog 0

How do we have conversations that intentionally involve the gospel story? How to we include the gospel in everyday conversations? Doing this takes more effort, more prayer, thought, and gospel knowledge than learning a simple presentation. But it’s also far more rewarding over the long haul. Let’s face it: lots of folks, and especially in the younger generation, confuse Christianity with organized religion, and, we don’t have the home field advantage we once had in America. We can’t assume that just because we love it and it’s changed our lives—which it has!!—means they will suddenly be as compelled by the gospel as we are. But, as we have conversations with folks and they see we genuinely care for them (and about a lot of stuff they care about) we can talk about Jesus. We must, actually, because never talking about Jesus is a message about Jesus—a message that He is not a big deal to us.

Here are a couple of ways to think about evangelistic conversations. I will unpack this first one today and the other tomorrow. —

First, you can take the initiative to include Christ in the conversation from the start. I do this in particular using the Story ( which shows people the whole, majestic story of the gospel throughout Scripture. I’ve often asked people if they would agree with me that we live in a beautiful world. No one has ever disagreed with that, and most people start talking about what they love (animals, flowers, sunsets, the ocean, etc). Just last Friday I was with Michelle up at a big lake north of us where we recently bought some property. That day we saw a bald eagle, an osprey, a great blue heron, a beaver, and several deer. I’ve mentioned that to a half dozen people this week, believers and unbelievers. In every case they wanted to talk more about these amazing creatures. An approach like the Story or the 3 Circles (Life Conversation Guide) allows us to have a conversation with someone about life, with you guiding the conversation.

I do the same thing with movies, using plotlines, having a conversation with various movies we like, and why we like them. In that conversation I talk about the gospel story and how it parallels movie plotlines. I discussed this with a neighbor a while back and he admitted he had never thought of Christianity like that. In particular it showed him for the first time that the gospel related to more than just our church experiences.

You can also do that simply by talking about their story and your personal story. Learning about other people is fun! But it also opens up a conversation where you tell your story, and how can you tell yours as a believer without speaking of Jesus?

Understanding the gospel (i.e. having gospel intelligence, or as my friend Al Gilbert says, gospel fluency) in the context of its great metannarative (creation, fall, rescue, restoration) allows us to help people to understand it. It also helps us to converse about it in different ways:

–A conversation about a beautiful day can lead to talking about creation as noted above;

–A conversation about sports and competition can help us see how we love winning and hate losing, unlike anything else in creation, which allows us to talk about our being made in God’s image unlike anything else;

–We could talk about conversations related to music (why do we love harmony and want dissonance resolved, for instance?), or why we have primary colors, or build museums, etc.

A book could be written on this, and I just might write it one day. My friend Greg Stier and his ministry Dare2Share offers a great way to have a conversation with someone by asking questions. I would also highly recommend Randy Newman’s book Questioning Evangelism. D2S uses an “ask-admire-admit” shorthand for their approach:

1.     ASK questions to understand where others are coming from spiritually. “Can you tell me more about your spiritual story?” One I ask young adults a lot is: “If you were not limited by money or geography where would you go and what would you do with your life?” That’s opened some great conversations with college students on airplanes.

2.     ADMIRE what they can about what others believe. “I’m grateful you have spiritual interests.” “I share with you a belief in God, and like you I think there is more to this live than just marking time.” (See Paul’s response in Acts 17 to the Athenians).

3.     ADMIT that the reason they’re a Christian is that they’re so messed up that they need someone else to rescue them. “May I share with you more about the One who rescued me from _____(i.e., guilt, fear, hopelessness, pain or some other aspect of you personal faith story)____?” It’s really vital in our context to be vulnerable and not sound “holier than thou” to people. Remember, we aren’t better than others, we received a gift they can as well!

Tomorrow I will talk about the other way to have a conversation, by starting in their world. There, I will pick up what I mentioned yesterday about people talking about their passion and their pain. By the way, I talk ab

The Changing Face of Evangelism: From Presentations to Conversations

July 29, 2015 Category :Blog 0

When I learned how to share my faith I learned from some of the finest personal soul-winners of my day. They taught me some simple techniques to move from a casual encounter to a gospel presentation: ask leading questions to build rapport, and then jump right into the gospel message. The goal was to get the message out, which is a very good goal. I’m so grateful for this. I have seen many come to Christ this way. It was pretty natural for me, since I’m a people person and a preacher by calling. But, as I mentioned Monday, most believers who are not preachers by calling (and a lot of preachers, if we can be honest) get nervous with a learned presentation that feels more like public speaking than a genuine conversation. Yet, everybody has conversations about all kinds of things every day.

What if instead of teaching a rote presentation, we helped people know the gospel in all its glory, how the gospel affects every part of life (not just our church life/spiritual life), and learned how to converse about the gospel naturally? In a gospel conversation the witness seeks to do more than get an unbeliever’s attention enough to get the gospel presented to them. It’s less an information dump and more a walk together. It seeks to do more than share the gospel as briefly as possible with people we hardly know; it starts in the worldview of the unbeliever, shows them truth they already affirm, and then moves from that truth to show the gospel.

Take a moment and think about the last conversation you had with a coworker, neighbor, or friend. More than likely, in the course of the conversation they brought up some concern or they talked about a hope or dream. Over the next few days listen to the things people you meet talk about. We converse regularly––either in serous conversations or in casual chit-chat––about our pain or our passion. In such conversations we can easily talk about Christ. I want to help you to move from a rigid gospel presentation to having gospel conversations.

We need to help believers learn to speak about Jesus confidently in the every day walk of life, integrating their witness into the warp and woof of life. These conversations are no less intentional and are just as focused on winning people to Christ, but they take the focus off our delivery the message only to focusing both on delivering the message and genuinely caring about the person with whom we speak. This means rather than learning a set “plan of salvation,” we develop a certain amount of “gospel intelligence” (my friend Jonathan Dodson’s term) so we can introduce the good news in everyday discussions. Let’s face it: it’s a lot easier to teach a roomful of people a presentation, but is easier more important than effective?

Note: I personally utilize both presentations and gospel conversations. They can both be effective. I’m not hating on learned presentations, but I’m arguing that increasingly in our world presentations are less effective and conversations connect better, especially with the younger generation and those outside the church.

Here’s the difference:

Presentations: Start in our worldview

Conversations : Start in their worldview

Presentations: Assume they know the gospel somewhat

Conversations: Assume they don’t know the gospel

Presentations: Focus on the lost person as a sinner

Conversations: Focus on the imago Dei in the sinner

Presentations: Effective with people with a church

Conversations: Effective regardless of church background background

Presentstions: Focus on immediate decision

Conversations: Hope for a decision but appreciates the process involved in reaching people today

I live in the Raleigh-Durham area, one of the fastest growing cities in America, and a very progressive one as well. I spend a lot of time talking with young adults who are either unchurched or dechurched (formerly churched who chose to leave the church when becoming an adult). The shift from mostly evangelistic presentations to conversations has been crucial for my witness, and I’m learning this is true for many I meet who minister in the increasingly post-Christian America of today.

Evangelistic presentations were very effective in the programmatic era of mass media and advertising; today social media has turned even advertising into a conversation. In evangelistic presentations we seek to give the gospel message to unbelievers by presenting to them the truth and trying to help them see and embrace it. In conversational evangelism we still proclaim the unchanging gospel but we do so by seeing ways an unbeliever to whom we talk a) reflects the image of God in creative, helpful, or useful ways, and b) sees for himself truth that is God’s truth, as Paul did in Acts 17.

Helping you learn to have conversations with your unsaved friends takes the pressure off you learning a presentation you must recite with precision. We have conversations all the time, every day. Statistically speaking, most of us who know Jesus don’t witness to others about Him, so we put evangelism in a different category than just talking to people. Doesn’t the term “conversation” seem just a little less intimidating than “presentation?” So, here is a fundamental shift in our witness training: from focusing 90% on the HOW, or the imperative, we need to focus MUCH more on the WHAT, the gospel, or the indicative. This helps people develop gospel intelligence to be able to converse more about Christ. This is a reason I’m so committed to helping people understand the gospel from the entire grand narrative (like the Story, and the Life on Mission: 3 Circles is a variation of this).

I can tell you this: I’ve had students as well as both laity and a staff member of our church tell me how the mindset shift from giving a presentation to a conversation has genuinely taken pressure off them and made evangelism feel a little more like good news—even to them!

As a boy, my brother and I had an aquarium with tropical fish. If we got a new aquarium, took it home, filled it up, and then simply released our new exotic fish in the water from their bags of water from the store, what would happen? We would soon have a ceremony around the toilet as we said goodbye to our now-dead fish. No, we first had to prepare the water in the tank, removing the chlorine, adjusting the temperature, and let them sit in the aquarium in their bag of water for a time until we released them. Our goal was not to dump in the fish as quickly as possible, but to have an aquarium full of fish for a long time! In the same way, our goal must not be to dunk people into the living water of the gospel as fast as we can, but to show them the wonder of the living water that can alone quench their deepest thirst. We want to help folks see that living in their current bag of water does not compare to the ocean of life Christ gives.

Tomorrow I will unpack in greater detail some specific ways we can have conversations with people about Jesus using everyday subjects—like movies, music, sports and so on. By the way, that includes people in the church, because one reason we don’t talk about Jesus to people outside the church is that we don’t talk enough about Him with each other!

The Changing Face of Evangelism, Part Two: From the Juke Box to Itunes

July 28, 2015 Category :Blog 0

I finally found a radio station I enjoy. Between the Christian station that sounds like an oldies network (how many times can we keep hearing “I Can Only Imagine”?), the local sports talk (which I like, but mostly in football season), and the local pop stations (is the music today as bad as I think it is?), I get weary quickly.

Then I found 100.7 WRDU FM in Raleigh. We’re talking Classic Rock. The Crazy Train, Welcome to the Jungle, give-me-some Led Zeppelin/Doobie Brothers/Eagles/Creedance station. This one I like.

I have to spend so much of my time thinking about stuff that matters and so much time with people talking about stuff that matters that when I get in my vehicle (a 2008 Honda minivan, so if you are a guy who thinks you need a truck to be a man, keep moving) I don’t want to have to think too much. I just want to get my groove on.

So, I’m listening this week and what do I hear? “Juke Box Hero” by Foreigner. Aside the skreetchingly high vocals (hey, lots of worship songs in churches seem that high, but that’s a topic for another day—just let me say to worship guys YOU CAN CHANGE THE KEY), the song makes a point that really made sense back in my day. It’s about a guy who gets the music fever (welcome to every 14 year old male) and gets himself a guitar. His hope, his dream is not to win American Idol (no such thing back then). No, he is seeking a bigger prize:

[To] be a juke box hero, got stars in his eyes, he’s a juke box hero
He took one guitar, juke box hero, stars in his eyes
Juke box hero, (stars in his eyes) he’ll come alive tonight

What under heaven does that have to do with evangelism? At least this: in my youth it was a cool deal to go to a local café (or today, Waffle House) or the local dive where you could dance, drop a dime to hear your favorite song  (think Joan Jett, “I love Rock & Roll”). This was the day of the phonograph and the (emerging) 8-track, where you could play one album, and pick a few songs, but you simply did not have the ability to pick and choose a lot of different songs from a variety of artists like today.

Except with the juke box.


The closest thing we had to a playlist on itunes was the ubiquitous juke box. The juke box was a special place, one where you could display your coolness by the song you chose. It was a singular musical device that affected the whole venue, and you could control it. I think I was the epitome of that kind of coolness maybe once in my entire teen years.

But the juke box is a relic today. Instead, walk into a coffee shop; music may be playing, but every person not in an intentional conversation has their earbuds in listening to what? The playlist of their choice. The advantage is the individual has much more power to control the music he or she hears, but much less control (basically no control) over what others hear. We’ve moved from centralized to individualized, with a lot more options.

What does that tell us?

  • For better and for worse, we have become increasingly individualistic. What that means for evangelism is that a one-size-fits-all approach to sharing Christ is about as effective as a jukebox in a Starbucks (i.e. not gonna happen). We can and must continue to teach the beauty and the wonder of the gospel story, but we have to help people apply that gospel to their own individual Christian lives and to those with whom they witness.
  • The selection of musical choices and musical genres has exploded. With the juke box, only the top 40 songs and a few others (basically the flip side of the 45, if you know what that is) by popular bands, but with itunes you have most all the albums from all time (I just saw you can get 47 Led Zeppelin songs in one collection for 12.99!), from all genres (and there are a lot more of those—think hip-hop, grunge, techno, and so many more), and another huge assortment of indie bands. That’s not to mention Pandora or Spotify.                  images-1In a similar way, the religious choices facing people have exploded in number exponentially. There are far more “gospels” being preached now. In my day you were either a Christian or not, but the “not” included a fairly narrow and predictable group. Today you have every major religion in the world, a proliferation of cults, the New Atheism, and the new, ubiquitous group called the “Nones.” Our evangelism must communicate the gospel in a way that connects with people who are often unaware of the gospel message as they swim in a sea of confused “ismisms.” We can no longer simply blare the gospel from the local church building (i.e. the juke box) and hope to connect with masses in the current generation.
  • In my day, the radio stations and the record labels controlled the artists. They had a huge impact on what made it to the juke box. They still have a lot of influence, but not nearly like they did. Think Justin Bieber and his youtube videos (ok, bad example, I get it). Before then, the rise of television talent shows, which helped to give us Usher, for instance (not endorsing, just saying), and folks like Carey Underwood were discovered on Idol. As noted above, itunes has created a whole new world for indie artists who were ignored by record labels and don’t need radio. Macklemore (definitely not endorsing) won 4 grammies for an album his independent label produced. While it’s not the same, the church has lost much of her influence over the past 40 years as well. It’s true that the overall percentage of Evangelicals to the population has not declined in a generation, but our influence in culture (witness the recent SCOTUS decision) has. Denominations don’t have the power they once wielded even among their own, for that matter. We would do well to recognize those who faithfully teach the Word but find more independent and creative ways—like serving the community, like film and the arts––i.e. the outliers who are finding ways to reach people effectively. For instance, most established churches struggle mightily to reach 20somethings. It may be that discovering effective ways to reach them will not come from established places like parachurch organizations or denominations, but from leaders on the margins who are more connected to the people they seek to reach than the heritage from which they came. As a young man I watched a generation of youth reached in the Jesus Movement, often by those not in the mainstream church. We who are in the established church need an increased posture of humility and an attitude of learners as we go forward.

What hasn’t changed from the juke box to itunes is people’s love for music and music’s ability to move us. What hasn’t changed from then to now in evangelism is people’s need of Christ and the gospel’s power to save. But even as the world of music has changed, and the ways we enjoy music has advanced, we might advance the gospel more effectively if we change our attitude and approach to loving, living, and sharing good news in our time.

Tomorrow: thinking about how to do this: moving from Gospel Presentations to Gospel Conversations–what’s the difference and why it matters.