If you have come to this post for some great advice, you are in luck! In fact, you are in even better luck than you thought because the following advice isn’t coming from me, but from Winston Churchill. Churchill is known both for his wisdom and his wit; and so, here are some of his best pieces of advice.
- “When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber.”
- “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”
- “It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.”
- “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; it’s also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
- “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
- “I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.”
- “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
- “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
- “The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.”
- “Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.”
In 2002, I read a book on evangelism that changed everything. I was frustrated with my attempts at evangelism, and I was looking for some good advice. I found it. The book is entitled, More Ready Than You Realize: Evangelism as Dance in the Postmodern Matrix; and it is written by Brian McLaren (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2002). I have said many times that Kierkegaard is my favorite evangelist because he understands that the best approach to sharing our faith is to talk less and make people think more. I was introduced to Kierkegaard the evangelist in this book. I also taught evangelism for a dozen years. This was the book I relied on more than any other. So, if you are looking for some great, practical advice to enhance your evangelistic skills, look no farther. McLaren is your guy. In fact, he gives us eight factors that we should always keep in mind.
#1: The Relational Factor: Count conversations, not just conversions (page 135). Think about that. McLaren is saying that the task of the evangelist is not to make converts, but simply to have spiritual conversations with a friend. That awareness alone should remove 90% of our fear and trepidation. And if you are looking for some great advice in quote form, here’s a line from McLaren that deserves to be underlined: “You don’t start [these conversations] by being religious; you start by being human, relational, neighborly, and friendly.” If you are willing to engage your neighbors in spiritual conversations, not necessarily to convert them, but simply to exchange a few thoughts, then you are probably more ready to share your faith than you realize.
#2: The Narrative Factor: Listen to their story, share your story and share God’s story, not just propositions or formulas (page 135-136). Once upon a time, we believed that the way to convince people to believe in God was through propositions and arguments and logical reasoning. That advice doesn’t really work in our world anymore. Instead, stories hold the upper hand. The task of the evangelist today is not to engage in arguments or proofs for God’s existence, but rather in sharing stories (stories of God, stories of our struggles and faith, stories of grace and redemption and need and hope). Never underestimate the emotive power of story to convince people the truth of God’s goodness. I love this little reminder from McLaren to us: “You are a story in progress surrounded by stories in progress.” If you are willing to listen to the story of the people around you and share some of yours, then you are probably more ready to share your faith than you realize.
#3: The Communal Factor: Expect conversion normally to occur in the context of authentic Christian community, not just in the context of information (page 136). The task of the evangelist today is not to be “the guy”; it is to be ONE of the guys. In other words, evangelism is not an individual sport. It involves a team. It involves the whole church reaching out, having conversations, befriending and showing God’s love to the seeker. And if we don’t have such a team that would be willing to do that, then we are in trouble. McLaren writes: “One of the best things you can do for your friends who don’t yet know and love Jesus is to introduce them to your other friends who do.” In short, it takes a church to do evangelism well.
#4: The Journey Factor: See evangelism as a holistic process and as a journey, not just a conversion event (page 137). I grew up being taught that evangelism was something we should do fast. Open the door. Share the four spiritual laws. Pray the prayer and get out as soon as possible (and go tell everyone you know that you saved yet another soul). But the task of the evangelist today is to go slow, to go at the pace of the seeker and not to worry about who made a profession of faith tonight and who is close. Instead, we need to relax and see everyone on a journey. Again, if we can do that, most of the pressure is off of us. We don’t have to convince anyone to sign on the dotted line tonight. All we have to do is love the person in Jesus’ name. And if you already love that person, then you are probably more ready to share your faith with them than you realize.
#5: The Holy Spirit Factor: Believe that God is at work “out there in people’s lives,” and not just “in here” in the church (page 140). The task of the evangelist today is twofold. First, we need to realize that we are not alone when we are having spiritual conversations; God’s Spirit is with us and is going to do the heavy lifting, not us. Second, our task (at least, in many instances) is to get out of the way so that the Spirit can work. Here’s the bottom line: We are involved in spiritual work, and our job is to follow God’s lead. When there is evidence that the Spirit is at work, we engage. When there is evidence that the Spirit is quiet, we can back off. In both cases, we don’t have to worry or fret. We can relax and let the Spirit do his work. Imagine that, evangelism without any fear or guilt! Our job is simply to follow the Spirit’s lead; and if you are excited about doing that, then you are probably more ready to share your faith than you realize.
#6: The Learning Factor: See evangelism as part of your discipleship–not just the other person’s (141). Evangelism is not just about them. It is also about us. It’s about our growth and our faith and our joy.
#7: The Missional Factor: See evangelism as recruiting people for God’s mission on earth, not just people for heaven (page 141). Evangelism is not about winning peoples’ souls for heaven, but recruiting people to advance God’s kingdom to change the world. Let’s face it, for most people, the idea of heaven is rather dull, but changing the world is never dull. We are calling people to give up their petty passions and invest themselves in something far bigger than themselves. Enough of the “if you pray this prayer, you can go to heaven when you die!” Instead, “pray this prayer, and let’s go change the world in Jesus’ name!”
#8: The Service Factor: See evangelism as one facet of our identity as servants to all (page 143). The task of the evangelist is to follow Jesus and serve and to give ourselves away in love. That is all it is. Evangelism always starts and ends with service.
Amazingly, the whole process of doing evangelism comes down to these eight factors. As a result, what seemed daunting and impossible is now not only doable, but rather fun and exciting. Maybe Churchill was right: “Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.” (But who knows, because Churchill also said: “I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals!).
More next week on More Ready Than You Realize (but not more on pigs, cats and dogs!).