Evangelize the Lost
Have you ever been driving home, only to get there and realize that you don’t remember how you got there? I certainly have. You knew there were turns, stoplights, and stop signs, but you didn’t remember them. You were on autopilot. You’ve gone home so many times, you’ve familiarized yourself with it so much, and you know the people there so well that you don’t even think about it anymore. It might even be difficult giving people directions because you don’t even remember the names of the streets or which landmarks are at which intersections. You just know how to get there.
This is what it is like for many Christians with their Bibles, in their churches, and among other Christians. No directions or explanations necessary. Everyone knows what to do and where to go. The preacher says, “Turn to Matthew,” and no one thinks to look around them for a guy named Matthew. The Christians say to each other, “I really enjoyed the fellowship we had last night,” and no one thinks it’s a name of a Norwegian dish. They just know.
But this isn’t true for those who didn’t grow up in church and have never chatted with friends about heart idols, besetting sins, and preaching the gospel to themselves.
Here’s the question I’m interested in: how do these two worlds intersect? How should we interact with our non-Christian friends, co-workers, and classmates around us in order that they might hear and believe in the gospel?
Here are five lessons to remember.
1. Be friendly.
There are plenty of times for one-and-done conversations with strangers about the gospel, but most evangelism opportunities are sitting in front of you on a regular, if not daily, basis. They’re the people across from your cubicle (or in your Zoom meeting). They’re the people you work out with or buy coffee from. They have histories of the life they’ve lived and hopes for a life they want to live.
For many of us, the initial challenge is not making disciples, it’s making friends.
So take interest in people. Observe their life, ask about their weekend, learn about their relationships, and listen to their stories. Jesus talked to people. In between pronouncing curses on cities, challenging Pharisees on their logical fallacies, and restoring peace and order to a town by casting out demons, he talked to people. And their answers became conversational bridges to discuss eternal matters.
I’m not advocating for extroverted personality training. I’m putting some street clothes on Matthew 7:12, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” I’m encouraging you to learn about people and find ways to love them and serve them as one who lives for the reputation of Christ, not yourself.
2. Keep the gospel in view.
Have you ever told someone a story about something that happened to you and halfway through they interrupt and say that something similar happened to them? The problem is that after hearing their runaway story for a few minutes, you realize that it’s totally unrelated to yours. This is quite common in conversations about the Bible with non-Christians. We try to head somewhere but they take the conversation elsewhere. Whether it’s past bad experiences with “the church,” beliefs about meditation, or the power of positive thinking, people bring up all kinds of topics once you start talking about Christ.
It’s good to keep a good conversational roadmap in front of you as you think about your desired destination. The initial goal is friendly interaction. The intermediate goal is meaningful conversation. The ultimate goal is making disciples of Jesus. This can help us assess where we are in our interactions with others. Anything might come up: politics, reasonable curfews for teenagers, the exact dimensions of heaven. But through it all, the goal is to steer the conversation back onto the road of gospel clarity and conviction.
As you seek to do this, don’t neglect prayer. Don’t forgot to appeal to other Christians to pray for you and the people you’re trying to reach (Col. 4:3–4). You’re engaging in more than conversational jujitsu. You’re engaged in truth for the sake of the lost, while encountering all kinds of opposition along the way (Eph. 6:12).
3. Invite them to be your guest at a gathering of Christians.
Do you remember the first time you met your spouse’s parents? No doubt you were a little intimidated, especially if the relationship was still in its early stages.
This is how many non-Christians feel when we invite them to church right away. They understand that Christians usually gather in groups called “churches,” but they’re a little taken back by the whole prospect of maybe getting up earlier on a Sunday than they normally would. They wonder what outfit they should wear; they wonder how much singing or talking they will have to do. Meanwhile, others are suspicious of churches—some for good reasons, some not—and they’re not eager to go back to one.
This is why you could look for a time and a place with a lower barricade for them to get over. Are you and some church members playing pick-up basketball at the park? Invite your friend to join. Are you going out for dinner and a movie with church friends? Invite your friend to join. Are you hosting a get-together at your apartment to watch a game? Be sure to invite your friend!
These gatherings would be full of meaningful interactions with other Christians. Plus, they get to see small but significant acts of love between other Christians (John 13:34–35). Perhaps they’ll hear you mention that you’ve been praying for someone. Perhaps they’ll see you encourage one another in conversation—or not lose your cool on the court! In short, you want your non-Christian friends to see Christian love reverberate in other people’s lives. Let these gatherings serve as an appetizer before the entrée—when they see Christians gathered together as local churches worshipping the risen Savior.
4. Ask them to read through one of the Gospels with you.
Many non-Christians, even those who grew up in churches, have actually never read the Bible. Yet they often have all kinds of opinions about God, Jesus, Christians, and truth. So ask your friend to read one of the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry for themselves and talk about it with you. Challenge them to get to know the Jesus of the Bible; challenge them to reject their incomplete or inaccurate representations of Jesus. I think you will be surprised at who says yes to this.
One great resource I recommend to you is David Helm’s One to One Bible Reading. Helm’s book offers different reading plans and strategies for this kind of Bible reading. It includes an eight-meeting plan through the Gospel of Mark, complete with questions for the reader to ask in each section. It will move the conversation and personal reflections toward gospel clarity.
5. Keep the bigger picture in mind.
When people asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, most of us probably didn’t say we wanted to be farmers. And yet that’s exactly what we are. Sure, you might be compensated for your time working at a bank, a convenience store, or a school, but that’s not all you do. You’re also called to the agricultural pursuit of planting the seeds of the gospel in people’s lives. Whether it’s a stranger on the Metro, a childhood friend who still lives in your neighborhood, or a new hire at your company, you are called to make disciples.
Let me encourage you to remember that success in evangelism doesn’t depend on your skill, personality, or immeasurable Bible knowledge (Mark 4:26–27). It’s the Spirit of God who uses the Word of God as told by the people of God—and all of this is done for the glory of God. Furthermore, no strategy, no list of tips, or no different reading plans will convince some people that the gospel is good. We’re reminded that “the message the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” But the verse does go on to say, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
Do you remember what happened in the Garden of Eden after Adam disobeyed? God pursued him. He went after him. He didn’t wait for Adam to come to him. God has been doing that with sinners ever since. Let’s do the same thing and remember “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom. 10:15).