Evangelism

Gospel Fluency in Your Relationships

I was recently asked by someone in my Missional Community how Gospel Fluency applies or works in personal evangelism. My conversation with her reminded me of a book I read this past year called The Unbelievable Gospel by Jonathon Dodson. In his book, Dodson looks at how we have made the gospel unbelievable in our age and how we can make it more believable in the midst of a changing culture. He addresses concerns and fears about the state of evangelism in our churches. He’s not undermining the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation, for we certainly believe that salvation is a work of the Spirit solely based on the finished work of Christ. His approach to how we can make the gospel more believable addresses why our increasingly post-Christian culture has stopped listening to the church.

Reshaping Our View of Evangelism

Francis Schaeffer was once asked what he’d do if he had an hour to share the gospel with someone; he responded by saying he’d listen for 55 minutes and then, in the last 5 minutes, he’d have something meaningful to say. In other words, he listened in order to speak the gospel.

Far too often believers today have turned this around. We feel like we must preach to someone for 55 minutes and then in the final 5 minutes ask them to respond. Constantly, throughout the gospels, Jesus is always asking questions and looking to engage people. As we think about sharing the gospel we need to reverse how we think about it. Dodson says, “we should listen to people’s story, then empathize with their story, then look to redemptively retell their story with the hope of the gospel.”

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How the Gospel Speaks to People’s Needs

From my experience, most of the time when we dig deep enough people share in very similar needs and desires for life. Jonathon Dodson shares in his book 5 of the greatest needs all people experience and how the gospel speaks to each. This is what gospel fluency in relationship and in personal evangelism can look like. We should listen to peoples stories, hear their needs/hurts/pain, empathize with them, and then share with them the hope that the gospel specifically gives to their needs.

SEEKING ACCEPTANCE

One of the greatest needs people have today is to be accepted, to know that they are welcome and won’t be rejected. Though we may try to deny or hide it, we all carry with us a sense of shame, a fear that we will be found out, rejected, and judged when people learn who we really are.

When we explain that, through justification, the holy God offers perfect acceptance through his unique Son, Jesus Christ, it can bring tremendous relief and joy to those seeking acceptance.

SEEKING HOPE

The metaphor of new creation can be especially compelling for people who are longing for a new start in life. People whose lives have been littered with failure, scarred by abuse, humbled through suffering, darkened by depression, or ruined by addiction need the hope of becoming a new creation.

When we explain that, through new creation, their old life can be exiled and that God welcomes them into a new life in Christ, it can shed a bright ray of hope into the lives of the hopeless.

SEEKING INTIMACY

Our search for intimacy is in relationships seems to never end. Even the best friendship or marriage inst enough for our insatiable demand to be noticed, loved, and cared for. We all want a place where we can be ourselves and know that we are accepted. We want relationships that are secure, where we feel safe to share our innermost thoughts and darkest struggles.

When we explain that, through union with Christ, people can enter into the most intimate, loving, unbreakable, fulfilling relationship known to humanity, it can bring deep healing and joy to those seeking intimacy.

SEEKING TOLERANCE

Many people are seeking tolerance. Some don’t know the difference between classical and new tolerance. That alone can be an illuminating conversation that deepens mutual respect and admiration between people.

Others will not like the exclusive claims that Christianity makes. However, before scoffing at their perspective or trying to crush their worldview, ask questions to get on the inside of their perspective and appreciate their views. They often have good reasons or difficult stories attached to their objections.

Respectful dialogue can go a long way in over-turning bigoted impressions of Christianity. In fact, it will open doors that would remain closed otherwise.

Sharing that, through redemption, Jesus offers a redemptive tolerance that gives progressive people an opportunity to experience grace and forgiveness in a way that doesn’t demean other faiths, can be very liberating.

SEEKING APPROVAL

The thoughts and opinions of parents matter to their children. What my dad and mom thought about me as I was growing up meant a lot. Their thoughts and opinions could crush or lift me in a moment. We are made for approval, and though our parents are often the first ones to give this (or withhold it from us), the truth is that we seek this approval from others all the time.

Sharing that, through adoption, God the Father offers an undying approval in his Son Jesus can radically change people’s view of God, and thrill them with the hope of a Father’s love.

Next time you’re in a conversation with someone listen more and talk less. Listen specifically for areas of unbelief or struggle, empathize with them, then retell their story through the lens of the gospel, the hope of Jesus.

Same Message, Different Methods

I grew up in a family of six and my older brother and I were only two years apart from each other. We are very close now but growing up we fought like cats and dogs. Sometimes my parents would disciple us separate from each other and I remember getting upset because it seemed like I got punished differently than my brother. I would complain that it wasn’t fair and that they loved my brother more than me. As I’ve grown older, I’ve began to see that my parents weren’t showing favoritism but rather they were disciplining us with the same goal in mind, just with different means because my brother and I have unique personalities that receive discipline in different ways.

This truth applies well to the work of evangelism. As Christians, we must affirm the message of the gospel and that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation is true and unchanging. As for methods of evangelism, they can be fluid and change over time. For example, there is the confrontational type where the individual is forthright and urgent in sharing the message of the gospel. There is also the relational type in which someone wants to be hospitable and warm and build a relationship prior to sharing the gospel. Maybe consider the service style of evangelism where someone sees a felt lead and enters in empathetically, meets that need, and then proceeds to share the gospel message. All of these are right and true and appropriate because in all three cases they are trying to emulate Christ in all they do and proclaim the gospel message to a lost and dying world.

So for us, we must be genuinely interested in our neighbors, co-workers, classmates, roommates, friends, and family members to get to know them, their stories, their personalities and then adapt our method of sharing to that individual situation. For example, if your neighbor is an astrophysicist you know that she is highly intelligent and you may want to approach your evangelistic efforts with more of an intellectual approach. What about your co-worker who comes from a Middle Eastern country that is very big on hospitality? What you can do is invite him into your home, around your table, to eat with your family because it is through that that he will be open to receive the gospel message you have to proclaim to him.

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Again, let me affirm that the message of the gospel is never-changing but the method of sharing the gospel is ever-changing. The reality is this, as Tim Keller said, “there are some needs only you can see. There are some hands only you can hold. There are some people only you can reach.” The command, privilege, and joy of sharing the gospel is yours and mine. You can reach different people with the gospel than I would ever be able to reach. How amazing is it that God has invited all of us into His Story to play a part in redemption and restoration? It truly is a great joy to play a part in God’s Story! Are you sharing the gospel with those around you? Do you need help learning how to share the gospel? I’ve tagged some resources below to help you get started.