Some of us don’t talk about Jesus because we’re scared we’re going to screw things up. We don’t think we know what we’re doing, so we timidly hold back and hope someone else will step up to the plate with the person sitting next to us.
Some of us realize we are that “someone else,” but screw things up because we’re not scared enough—or rather, we have a zeal, but it’s not a zeal in accordance with knowledge. We mean well, mostly, but for some reason, when we try to share Jesus, friendships end, restraining orders get filed and we end up wondering where it all went wrong.
Believe me, I’ve been there. (Well, not the restraining order.)
I’m not a naturally quiet kind of guy, so I’ve had my share of evangelism catastrophes. I’m not an expert at this. I still fumble. I walk away from conversations replaying various missteps, thinking, “I should have said this right there and waited a bit for that.”
At the same time, over the years, through trial and error, various lectures, sermons, books and plenty of the Holy Spirit working on me, things have gotten better. I can generally walk away from conversations having said something true, sometimes even uncomfortably true, about Jesus, and not have the person hate me, or scuttle away every time they see me. Sometimes that plays out into something more like being able to hand them a book, or invite them to church.
In the spirit of helping people who want to witness for Jesus more effectively, I offer three tips on what NOT to do:
1. Shoot First, Ask Questions Later.
Let’s be honest, we have things to say. We have a Gospel message, a Bible-full of truth to share. Great. Awesome.
I’m just going to point out that, if they don’t care, it doesn’t matter. You want to say something that means something—to them.
According to Jerram Barrs, Francis Schaeffer used to say, “If I’ve got only an hour with someone, I’ll spend the first 55 minutes asking questions, and only then will I try to say anything.” See, unless you know something about the person you’re speaking to, you’re just going to be speaking at them.
Instead, try listening first. Hear their story. Ask them about their life, their passions, interests, personal history.
Oftentimes, it’s only after knowing something about them that the Holy Spirit will guide you to speak some Gospel truth that actually connects with their lives and renders them open to hear more. It’s better to plant a seed that takes root than to try and ram a full-grown tree down into the soil with no prep. Even if it’s only something small, you have no idea what that seed will sprout into.
Update: My friend Sean Kelly adds, “Also be ready to share yourself with the other person. Asking them questions about their life is a great place to start, but they’re not going to take you seriously unless you’re willing to open up to them as well. Even if it’s just discussing simple, unimportant, everyday happenings. Otherwise, it just feels like an inquisition.”