Why is it that Christians are often reluctant to be bold in witness? For me that is simple – it is often hard work, or I am too chicken, or I am too distracted, or I am…
I know the excuses, because I have used them all. I am the reluctant evangelist.
It is not uncommon for me to be standing on the sidelines of a soccer pitch watching my sons play football. Alongside, stand the other parents. A perfect opportunity to speak about Jesus?
I can tell you it is so easy to talk about our kids (‘your little Jonny seems to be playing well today!’), or the football (it is always the same two kids who have worked out that you are supposed to get the ball in the goal, while everyone else makes up the numbers!), or the weather (the ground we play on, doubles as an Antarctic wind tunnel!). But, it is not so easy to talk about things that really matter – like Jesus or what happens when we die.
Now you could argue that the sidelines of a freezing football field are neither the time or place to try and have a conversation about Jesus! It probably isn’t. Early on every time I mentioned Jesus, the parent before me choked on their coffee or quickly found some reason to run over to the coach to offer advice!
Every Christian will find themselves in situations where they stand among unbelievers – if not the football field, it will be the workplace, the social club, the pub, the mothers group, the retirement home, and the list goes on. None will be the ideal time or place to have a conversation about Jesus!
So, in the absence of the ideal situation to evangelise, and knowing that the football sideline is as good as any, what would I need to do to make the time and place right? Here is my strategy!
First, my secret weapon. I pray. If I am going to try and talk to people about God, then I should at least start by talking to God about people!
In fact, I take my lead here from what Paul said to the church in Colossae.
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (Colossians 4:2-4)
Here Paul brings both prayer and evangelism together. Those who are reconciled to God, can talk to him in prayer. Yet those who are alienated from God, won’t talk to God. So, Paul says to those who are, pray about those who are not! Pray particularly for opportunities to evangelise.
The concern driving this instruction to pray is that the ‘mystery of Christ’ might be proclaimed (4:3). The ‘mystery of Christ’ is just another way to talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a ‘mystery’ to those who have not heard it or have not accepted. To Paul and to those who have accepted the gospel, there is no mystery and so Paul’s request is that a door would be open and that the gospel would be proclaimed clearly.
So Christians, pray for yourselves (to be alert and thankful), pray for Christians in general (in the least pray for those who are like Paul and Timothy who are proclaiming Christ), and pray particularly for the clear proclamation of the gospel.
There is nothing that should prevent me from standing on the sidelines of the soccer pitch and praying. I can pray for myself to be alert and ready and thankful for the opportunity that sits before me to talk about Jesus. I can pray that a door might be opened so that I can have a conversation about Jesus with those standing before me. And I can pray that if I do get the opportunity, that I might proclaim the gospel clearly.
Second, build relational connection. I want to grow a friendship with those whom I am trying to connect to Jesus. The football field is a very narrow window to gain any opportunity to talk with other parents, but it is enough of a window to set a Christian example and issue an invitation.
Again, look at what Paul says to the Colossian Christians:
5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (Colossians 4:5)
The way any Christian behaves is watched by the world. In part that (should) happen because the Christian lives distinctively for Christ and not for the world and so that discrepancy should be obvious. I take it that Paul’s instruction here is to be wise so that the outsider can see and value the way a believer conducts him or herself.
So on the football sideline, my aim is to behave in a manner which is impressive before outsiders (e.g. not swearing, respecting the referee, keeping my cool, valuing the efforts of the players (on both teams), acknowledging the good plays that happen etc.). My ‘wise’ conduct is really a demonstration of the way Christ would like me to conduct myself.
Alongside that Christlike behaviour comes opportunity and Paul says make the most of those little opportunities with the hope that you will be able to get a foot in which may lead to conversation or testimony about Jesus.
In an effort to build relational connection, I look for opportunities to invite others to something where the time and place would be right to talk about Jesus. For example, invite them over for dinner (onto my turf), or to the pub, or to some good event that is put on somewhere. My intention is to get to know them so that we can speak about Jesus at some point in the conversation and then maybe invite them to church or to some evangelistic event or to read the Bible.
I take it, that given the gospel invites people into a relationship with God through Jesus, that effort to build relationship will not only help create more opportunities, but also model the value of being Christian.
Third, talk about how Jesus intersects with life. As the firstborn of creation, Jesus is not far from most topics that matter in our world. He intersects with life on so many levels. As his witness, the Christians job is to be ready to talk about Jesus in a way that intersects with our lives.
Although I am Christian and some standing on the football sideline might not be, there is still much that we have in common – kids, football, weather, school, local news… These topics are a good place to start.
I talk about my kids and what I am doing to bring them up as boys who follow Jesus and who know how to care for their friends. I talk about the football and about playing hard and fair, treating others with respect because as a Christian we are called to be honest and true before others. I talk about how God made the weather and how wonderful it is that he gives us a reminder that he is there every time that that cold wind blows right through us! I talk about how well the school our kids attend teaches and shapes our kids, and how school values like honesty and perseverance were values that Jesus taught his disciples. I talk about events reported in the recent news which concern our city or suburb and looked for a way to bring some gospel values into perspective. What I am looking for is some way to talk about how Jesus intersects with our life.
Back to what Paul said to the Colossians:
6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6)
Paul’s encouragement is to use words well. In conversation, the manner in which a Christian speaks should be gracious. Although the content of the gospel confronts and may draw objection, Christians want the manner in which they speak the gospel to draw no objection.
Further, the character of what is said in conversation should be distinctive. Salt is added to a meal to ensure that it is not bland and as such the favour stands out. When speaking, Christians should speak about Jesus distinctively knowing that what he taught and how he lived was distinctive to the world around. It is appropriate to draw out the differences between Christian and Secular worldviews.
Why be concerned about the manner and the character of the way you speak? So that as a Christian you know how to answer the gospel questions or objections that may arise in conversation. It is all part of being a reliable witness to Christ.
Why go to the effort to find ways to talk about Jesus? I can quite easily stand on the football sideline and keep to myself! I do it because I want to make Jesus famous. He is the saviour of the world and as such the world needs to hear about him to be saved.
Christians have been saved by this Jesus and he calls for them to bear witness to him, not so he would benefit, but so that others would benefit. When people see Jesus for what is most distinctive about him, then they may realise that he is more than what they may have first thought, and so turn, and follow him.
Christian, live as a witness to Christ, and use words!
For more in this Series:
Bold in Mission
Bold in Witness & the Great Commission
Believe and Confess
How to be Bold in Witness?
Practical Tips to be Bold in Witness
Is Every Christian Called to be an Evangelist?