Today I’m off to Ft Worth to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I earned the MDiv and the PhD many years ago. I’m meeting with a task force appointed by Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines on the subject of evangelism. This conversations makes me think of the shift we need today to learn to talk about Jesus in everyday conversations. The gospel alone is the power of God to save and never changes. But we must constantly be growing in our understanding of how to proclaim this gospel in effective ways in our ever-changing world.
The following is adapted from my Sharing Jesus (Without Freaking Out) book and offers some of my thoughts.
What if you could just talk about Jesus to others simply because you love him and you love them and you want to introduce them to him? What if we spent less time giving people scripted evangelistic presentations and instead simply learned to introduce Jesus into normal conversations we already have?
What if I told you that the gospel you received and the life God gave you are all you need to start having real, effective conversations with people about Jesus?
A big reason we don’t talk to unbelievers about Jesus is because we don’t talk to one another about Jesus as often as we should. What if talking about Jesus were not awkward, but became as normal as talking about other things we enjoy?
Our day of increasing biblical illiteracy calls us to move from giving a rigid gospel presentation to a having gospel conversations. This means we develop a certain amount of “gospel intelligence” or “gospel fluency” so we can introduce the good news in everyday discussions.
Both presentations and gospel conversations have their place. Some people know enough gospel content to be reached through a simple presentation. If someone walks up to you and asks how to be saved, just lay out the gospel for them. 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. Some differences:
Start in our Christian worldview Start in the other person’s worldview
Assumes they know the gospel somewhat Assumes they don’t know the gospel
Focuses on the lost person as a sinner Focuses on the imago Dei in the sinner
Effective with people with a church Effective regardless of church background
Focuses on immediate decision Hopes for a decision but appreciates the process involved in reaching people today
When I first learned how to share my faith I learned a simple technique to move from a casual encounter to a gospel presentation: ask leading questions that let you jump right into the gospel message. I’m grateful for this as I’ve have seen many come to Christ this way. But for increasing numbers of unbelievers in America, virtually interrupting them to share a gospel presentation does not come as easily as it did 30 years ago. Today, evangelistic conversations matter more than ever.
In a gospel conversation the witness seeks to do more than get an unbeliever’s attention enough to present the gospel to them. 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, as Paul did in Athens in Acts 17, starting with an unknown god and with creation. Or, as Peter did in Acts 2 with devout Jews, starting with the Old Testament and emphasizing Jesus as Messiah. Different approaches; same gospel. Different audiences; same message.
I live in the Raleigh-Durham area, one of the fastest growing and more progressive cities in America. I spend a lot of time talking with young adults (we call them young pros, or young professionals at church) who are either unchurched or dechurched. The shift from a monological evangelistic presentations to dialogical 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.
Yesterday we had our young pros Christmas dinner. I sat at a table with some new young pros, including two new believers. They have been reached this fall through the gospel in the context of community via conversations about Jesus. Statistics show we are failing badly at seeing young adults come to Christ. I would argue it’s not because the gospel has lost its power or young adults aren’t spiritually interested, but because we are trying to reach them without really getting to know them. This week, have a conversation with a young adult, start where he or she is and learn his/her beliefs, and then show them the beauty of Christ.
 This is a term used by my friend Jonathan Dodson, author of The Unbelievable Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014). [[Note: he talks about this in an interview; will go into the digital version]]
 See http://wearesoma.com/resources/watch/gospel-fluency/.