Your Personal Message of Evangelism
By Stephen C. Aldrich
It’s time to share the “words” of the gospel. At this point, Christians are known to panic. They know the world’s greatest, the world’s most important, the world’s most life-changing secret. And when it’s “time to tell,” they choke. As ambassadors for Christ, they have the privilege of delivering the best news that any individual could possibly receive. It would seem that one of life’s most fulfilling and sought after experiences would be sharing that good news. In reality, it’s the one thing most Christians fear and avoid at all costs.
There are numerous reasons for such a response. Let me suggest two. Many Christians don’t know how to share their faith. They have never disciplined themselves to learn a logical, biblical gospel presentation. A second hindrance is that many times the Christian doesn’t know the person he is “evangelizing.” As a result, the witnessing experience is often an embarrassment to both parties.
I have shared Christ on numerous occasions with virtual strangers and seen some of them respond. Praise the Lord for those who trust Christ under such circumstances! Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people become believers through such an en counter. Our goal is to mobilize the majority of believers to be involved in evangelism as a way of life. Natural, “organic” evangelism provides the most satisfying option for the largest number of believers. As a general rule, it is easier to share with a friend. And what a joyous occasion it proves to be. I often find tears of joy coursing down my cheeks as another friend trusts Christ. When have we come to the point in a relationship where it is appropriate to present the gospel and call for a decision? And what should we say when we do reach that point? In the next few pages I want to at tempt to give you answers to those questions.
Determining Readiness For The Gospel
How do you know when you have reached this decision point? Let me answer this question by asking you some questions.
1. What do you know of the person’s religious background?
2. What opportunities have you had to “plant seeds?” What was the response to these germinal ideas?
3. Do you sense that your neighbor enjoys being with you?
4. What needs have you discovered which relate to the gospel solution?
5. What caricatures have you been able to eliminate from his arsenal of questions and excuses?
6. What signs of openness have you detected?
a. questions about religious things
b. general freedom to discuss religious concepts
c. openness to reading materials and other resources
d. willing involvement in some harvest vehicles
e. positive seeking attitude
7. How much of your personal testimony have you had a chance to share?
Obviously these questions are simply aids to help you come to a general feeling that the appropriate time has come. It is important that you be sensitive about timing. A familiar pledge among salesmen is illustrative. “I will not begin talking about my solution until I’m certain my prospect is eager to hear about it.” Remember, it is the Spirit of God who convicts men of sin, righteousness, and judgment. The effective evangelist is in a cooperative relationship with God Himself. To be insensitive to or to fail to wait for evidences of the moving of the Spirit in the unbeliever’s life is to hinder God’s work.
The Pilgrimage Question
Let’s assume that you feel your friend is getting close to a salvation decision point. You know something of his background, his needs, and the caricatures he embraces. What’s next? Generally it is time to ask some key questions which “test the water.” There is no “magic question,” but I’ve found this one helpful. I call it my “pilgrimage question.” “Bill, we’ve never had a chance to talk about your own religious background. At what point are you in your own spiritual pilgrimage?”
Notice a few insights concerning this question. First, it acknowledges the fact that coming to God involves a normal (but supernatural) process. Thus the individual feels that it is O.K. to still be in process.
The pilgrimage question does not ask whether one is a Christian or not. If asked that question, most people will say “yes” because they don’t really understand what being a “Christian” is all about. Therefore your evangelism task becomes one of proving their “yes” answer to be wrong.
The pilgrimage question is general enough to allow a response without embarrassment. No one likes to be put on the spot. This question allows a person to choose a response appropriate to his own theological “comfort zone.” His answer can be as simple or profound as he desires it to be.
The chief advantage of the pilgrimage question is the fact that it gives you one final time for spiritual appraisal. As you listen carefully to the response, you make the final decision as to whether or not to share the gospel of saving grace at this time.
The fact that you have allowed a person to share concerning his pilgrimage gives you a subtle advantage. It predisposes him to listen to you at the appropriate time. When you are ready to share the gospel, you want to do most of the talking. Let him talk first. Resist the temptation to jump into the conversation and deal with side issues. If he believes his church is the only true church offering the only true baptism producing the only true believers, don’t debate the issue. Just listen! Affirm the truth of his valid insights, because you will soon have to challenge his viewpoint in some critical areas.
A related question is also helpful. “Has your spiritual pilgrimage come to the point of a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, or are you still on the way?” My experience has been that when people start talking about the present state of their spiritual pilgrimage you soon have all the information needed for the next step. I’ve had many respond to this “pilgrimage question” by saying “I’m still on the way.” Great! At this point I’ll usually say, “Well, Bill, maybe the next step God has for you is coming to understand how to establish a personal, saving relationship with Him.”
Because the purpose of the pilgrimage question is for him/her to pour out his/her religious beliefs, feelings, and concerns first, usually I find that little if any time will be left for me during this initial time period. Consequently, I plant seeds during our discussion time, designed to prepare for a later discussion. This we will call our “opportunity statement.” I find it helpful to move from the pilgrimage question to this opportunity statement.
Here it is: “Sometime I’d like the opportunity to share four principles which will enable you to understand what it means to establish a personal relationship with Christ.” A little later in the conversation I might reinforce the opportunity by saying, “Bill, I can identify with your rejection of religion, with all its formality and hypocrisy. When I get an opportunity to share those principles with you, they should help answer your questions in this area.”
In some conversations I have dropped the idea of a further discussion five or six times. The response to this repeated suggestion must be observed and properly interpreted. It literally becomes your red or green light. At this point you may be thinking that such an approach is devious, humanistic, and unnecessary. On the contrary, the Bible teaches we are not to throw pearls to swine. Interpreted, the Lord is saying among other things that audience awareness is very important. He refused to perform miracles when he sensed hearts were hard. Sensitivity is what we are talking about. It is part of being “wise as serpents.”
You can always count on this: As you get involved in discussing spiritual things, all the powers of hell itself go into operation to thwart your efforts. It is imperative that we be well-prepared, sharp instruments that the Spirit can use effectively and decisively. I am not suggesting a rote, mechanistic way of dealing with people. These are general principles which are to be adapted to specific, changing situations. No pilgrimage to God will involve all of these elements.
As the initial discussion time closes, I’ve observed that it is helpful to change the opportunity statement into a question.
Pilgrimage Question: At what point are you in your spiritual pilgrimage?
Opportunity Statement: Sometime I’d like the opportunity to share four principles with you which will help you under stand what it means to have a personal relationship with God.
Interest Question: Could I share those four principles with you?
This polite offer now allows your listener to talk. It is his turn to respond.
If the response is positive to the interest question (“Yes, I’d appreciate your sharing them,” or “sounds great,” etc.), schedule becomes the next focal point. Do you share the principles now or later? If later, some schedule-type questions are important.
“What’s the best time for us to get together?”
“Is morning O.K. for you?”
“Is Wednesday or Friday better for you?”
“How about coming by my office (home, etc.) and we’ll pursue this further?”
Once the agreed upon time is reached . . . rejoice! Harvest is scheduled. A schooling fish has been identified, cultivated, and is about to take life’s most important step! A new birth, a beginning as new as birth itself, is about to take place.
With a scheduled time and place, the next major focal point is the actual opportunity explanation. At this point the gospel itself (those four principles or whatever explanation of the gospel you prefer) is explained. The rest of the chapter following this analysis of the communication sequence will focus on how to summarize and present the gospel.
When the gospel is clearly set forth, the decision questions are the next logical step. Here we are simply asking the individual to personalize the truth. I usually find three questions to be helpful at this point,
1. Does this (the gospel) make sense to you?
2. On the basis of this (the gospel presentation) have you ever received Jesus Christ as your Savior?
3. Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to receive Jesus Christ right now?
Your friend is now at the point of decision. If he responds positively to the Spirit’s wooing, he by faith will actualize the gospel opportunity and become a new creature in Christ.
The pilgrimage question is a spiritual litmus test. The opportunity statement is seed planting at its best (never underestimate the power of suggestion). It rouses curiosity and suggests a future course of action, a potential solution to some personal problems. The interest question is your way of determining whether or not your friend is open to and interested in pursuing conversation about those “four spiritual principles” (the gospel). Assuming he is, the schedule question puts a definite time frame into the decision making process. “Sometime” becomes next Tuesday at 8:00 a.m.!
Then comes the gospel explanation, the decision questions, and the commitment to Christ!
Obviously, at any point in this communication sequence, the response could be negative. Your friend may go to the point of ex pressing an interest in hearing those mysterious “four principles,” but may be hesitant when you start talking schedule. Don’t panic. Praise God he’s expressed a positive to the idea of discussing spiritual things. Back off, continue to be his friend and wait for another opportunity. I actually had a neighbor call me up and say, almost in desperation, “Joe, you’ve got to share those principles with me.” I did. He’s now a brother in Christ. The following chart helps one see the options at each stage which are determined by the responses that are given.
As a person approaches a decision for Christ, a major key at this point is confidence. Believe, indeed expect, the individual will trust the Lord. You’ve seen Him at work in your friend’s life as you’ve spent time together. It’s time to anticipate the rejoicing of angels in heaven! At this point, I fully expect God to bring the person to a point of salvation.
So, what do you do before your scheduled appointment? Begin by praying a lot. Although God uses human agency, it is God who draws people to Himself. But don’t forget. . . He uses you. You are important to the process.
Then, if you haven’t learned a good, logical, accurate gospel presentation, by all means learn one. At this point you may be saying “I don’t like methods; I prefer to just trust the Spirit of God.” The fallacy of this reasoning is that “no method” is a method. It’s the “no method” method. It’s the “hamburger in the fan” approach to effective communication. Certainly we do not harness the creative Holy Spirit with assembly line methodology. But the logical organization of the gospel essentials does not have to rule out creativity and diversity in presentation and emphasis.
I have presented the four spiritual laws hundreds of times and I’m sure the presentation has varied as to emphasis and content each time. Hopefully I adapt my presentation to the needs of the person I am sharing with. Granted, the great diversity in personality calls for a diversity in the way people are approached with the gospel. This fact, however, in no way rules out a carefully planned methodology.
The Holy Spirit puts no premium on lack of preparation or shoddy thinking. The Creator has designed our thinking process to follow certain rational patterns of communication to logical conclusions. A disorganized, haphazard, illogical gospel presentation violates both natural and spiritual laws. Whatever else m be said, God is not the author of confusion. On the other hand, logic, brilliance, or the “powers of persuasion” are not to be a substitute for the Spirit. A carefully thought through presentation communicates to the listener that the message is important and worthy of his attention. What are the characteristics of a good method? I will suggest a few.
1. Biblically accurate and balanced
2. Logical in its development with good transitions between its major points
3. Clear in its content, avoiding churchy, unfamiliar language
4. Clear in its intent, with no question about the action steps necessary for the individual to receive Christ
5. Positive in its basic content, reflecting the reality that the gospel is “good news”
6. Simple rather than complex
7. Attractive in format, meaning a well-designed, quality piece of literature if printed
Principles For A Personal Gospel Presentation
Before looking at the actual sharing process, I’d like to consider some foundational communication principles.
In sharing the gospel, we are actually converting biblical facts into people benefits. Jesus did not come to condemn the world. Keep this in mind as you share the good news. Justification, translated into modern terminology, offers incredible people benefits. Besides being God’s provision to deliver me from judgment, it is the key to deliverance from guilt with all its interpersonal ramifications. The indwelling Christ is the answer to the powerlessness and futility of the nonbeliever’s everyday existence. Highlight these benefits.
The effective evangelist works towards establishing a supportive, nourishing climate for communication. Only seven percent of effective communication is verbal, thirty-eight percent is tone of voice, and fifty-five percent is totally nonverbal. If you establish a defensive environment, the unbeliever will spend most of his time trying to guard himself against both you and your message. Eliminate your holy hush, stained-glass voice or your religious twang. You are not a judge or a jury either. You are a sinner showing another sinner how to draw water from the well of life. A caring, sensitive manner is vital for sharing the good news. If you view this sharing process as a contest between you and the prospective believer, this value judgment will be reflected in your attitude, tone, and behavior. The unbeliever is not an enemy and the evangelist must not seek a decision in this battleground framework. If “victory at all costs” is what we value, this attitude will vitally influence the way in which we relate to others. The goal is to win friends, not arguments. Evangelism is not something the Christian does to an unbeliever as an object. Sharing Christ is something a believer does with an unbeliever as his friend, confidant, and guide.
The effective evangelist communicates empathy by asking questions and listening carefully. Empathy is the ability to become a naturalized citizen of another person’s world. The effective evangelist uses empathy to help discover the unbeliever’s problems and devise precise gospel solutions. Generally, people are not afraid to believe, but they are afraid of being “sold.” Questions are necessary diagnostic tools because people only hear answers to the questions they are asking. Communication is not complete until the recipient hears with understanding. Our questions not only help us uncover their questions and concerns, but they convey the fact that we care. Used as diagnostic tools, well-designed questions help develop tension between what is and what ought to be. Spirit-directed questions can build conviction (tension) which in turn moves the unbeliever towards seeking the gospel solution. By listening carefully and using questions skillfully, the evangelist communicates empathy.
I have found that questions are used most effectively in the early stages of sharing the gospel. They become tools to aid discussion and seek “pilgrimage status” information. As a general rule, the more questions have been used in the early states of the evangelism process, the less they are needed when it is appropriate to share the words of the gospel. Key questions may be asked months before the actual gospel presentation. This helps the actual presentation because the unbeliever has already had his “day in court.”
He has had an opportunity to share his beliefs and voice his opinions. Now it is your turn to talk, and because you have listened and used questions wisely, your gospel presentation has added impact. Effective communications are marked by humility and gentleness. If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it. Don’t assume the “I know everything” attitude. The goal is not to smother the unbeliever with facts. Often we try to communicate too much too fast.
Effective evangelists eliminate everything which is offensive (other than the offense of the cross itself). Bad breath, unkempt clothes, body odor, and poor personal hygiene are inexcusable. Such considerations as lighting, ventilation, and privacy while not “gospel essentials” should not be overlooked. Not to be sensitive to the unbeliever’s time schedule is also wrong. Be on time, and finish at the appropriate time.
Let’s assume you are with your friend, and are ready to move from the normal “small talk” to spiritual things. The following suggestions are just that: suggestions. You will have to develop a gospel presentation which is comfortable to you.
The first challenge you face is to change the conversation to spiritual things. A good transition is the key. Campus Crusade for Christ has one I use quite often. “Just as there are physical laws which govern the physical universe, there are spiritual laws which govern our relationship with God. Bill, I’d like to share four of these principles with you.” I often explain that whether or not I believe in the law of gravity, if I jump off a building, I’ll become a believer. Recognition doesn’t determine reality. Whether I recognize it or not, our universe is controlled by physical and spiritual laws. My denial of these facts does not change the reality of them.
Paper and Pencil
I prefer to actually write out the four laws (basics of the gospel) on a piece of paper. There are many advantages to this. First, it is more personal than reading from a booklet. Second, it focuses attention on what you are doing. Third, it enables you to “personalize your presentation.” You can add extra charts, diagrams, or illustrations. Fourth, you can give the sheet to them when you’re finished with it. If you don’t, most people will ask you for it. It be comes a precious document, a sort of “birth certificate” for many of them. I’ve had people open their Bibles and show me their “certificate” years after I shared Christ with them. In a Madison Avenue world with prepackaged everything it’s nice to add a personal touch (assuming your writing is legible).
Hold the Questions
This is your time to share. You’ve allowed your friend to share his pilgrimage. You’ve asked questions and listened carefully. If a question comes up, compliment the question. “Bill, that’s a very perceptive question.” Instead of interrupting the train of thought with an answer, make a suggestion. “Bill, would it be O.K. to hold that question until I have finished sharing the rest of these principles? I believe your question will be answered. If not, I’d be happy to respond to it.” A deferred question seldom comes up again when the essence of the gospel has been clearly presented. Obviously it is sometimes impossible (and unwise) to defer a question. If that is the case, answer it briefly and move on.
Read or Quote the Pertinent Scripture Verses
The Word is quick and powerful. Use it. If it is possible, let your friend actually look on with you as you read. It will be a great joy to you as you actually experience the Spirit of God using His Holy Word to direct people to Jesus Christ. I would guard against using too much Scripture. Once you have made your point, move on.
Plant Seeds Again
I like to suggest the appropriate and expected action that needs to be taken several times during the gospel presentation. “Bill, when you make a commitment to Christ, you will discover what it means to have the peace of God.” “When you receive Christ you will find that God will enable you to grow in your family relationship.” “When Christ becomes part of your life, the God-shaped vacuum in your life will be filled. . .“, etc. This lets your friend know what the appropriate and expected action is. It conveys confidence on your part that he both needs to make this decision and that he will. Our verbal (semantic) message needs to be backed up by our nonverbal message. If we convey fear, uncertainty and tentativeness nonverbally, our friend is receiving contradictory messages.
It is reasonable to expect a favorable response. Having cultivated a friendship and bathed it in prayer, what else should we expect? Are the fields white or not? When you’re standing knee-deep in a white field why be hesitant? Too many Christians, like the proverbial ostriches, go bury their heads. . . in the grain. Suggesting the action step several times also prepares the person for the coming call to commitment. On numerous occasions the individual is so prepared by God that I’ve actually had him ask, “Well, how do I receive Him?” before I’ve finished the presentation.
Another advantage to this “when you. . .“ type of seed planting is that it builds your own confidence. For most Christians the hardest part of sharing the gospel is calling for a commitment. Seed planting makes it easier and less threatening to transition to this vital part of the gospel.
Share Analogous Examples
Analogous examples are “if the shoe fits, wear it” types. Be cause you know some of your friend’s needs, you can share illustrations of others with similar needs who found a solution in Christ. Suppose Bill has difficulty expressing love and affection and you have seen him struggle in this area. Without making reference to his need, you might comment, “Bill, a friend of mine whose marriage was in trouble came and shared his concerns. I shared with him that a relationship with Christ could make a significant difference. He received Christ and found that things began to change. He hasn’t solved all the problems yet, but has found renewed hope. When you receive Christ I believe you will be delighted to see the changes He will make in your own life.”
Share Personal Experiences
Avoid the old “before Christ I was a revolting rat and now I’m a super saint” mentality. At best, only half of the statement is true. Authenticity at this point is important. Avoid all temptations to “pump sunshine.” Progress that you have made is appropriate information to share. But don’t leave the impression that you have arrived. You haven’t (your pastors haven’t, either). The fact that you are progressing towards a destination is good news to many. If they’re really friends they’ve already seen you spill your milk.
Experiences which they can identify with are especially valuable. If the individual is struggling with the issue of trusting Christ, share your personal fears and apprehensions as you approached this decision point (assuming you had them).
I can’t stress this enough. Relax. God draws people to Himself. . . through you. Guard against getting “hyper” (a favorite word of my son). This doesn’t mean you need to be Cool Hand Luke. Be yourself and talk (not preach, manipulate, or coerce) with your friend. I am in no way suggesting that you be solemn or sanctimonious. Humor can be very effective as a tension reliever. Use it wisely. Tears? Why not. This is a joyous occasion. I often find myself shedding tears of joy. A prodigal son is coming home. Glory!
Use Repetition and Review for Impact
Regardless of the plan you use, when you have finished one point, review it and move on to the next one. “Bill, up to this point, we’ve seen that God really does love you. You are special to Him.” When you move on to a third major point, quickly review the other two. This reinforces the truth and increases understanding.
Adapt Your Presentation to His Needs
If because of extreme guilt and insecurity the individual needs reassurance of God’s love, spend more time making this point. If he is already broken by sin, don’t belabor the issue. The person who knows little about Christ may need you to share some critical insights about His uniqueness. It may be necessary to spend most of your time discussing His person and work. For others who you sense understand Christ’s uniqueness but have never responded to Him perhaps most of your focus needs to be on the need to receive Him as Savior. Sometimes this adaptation takes the form of quotations and comments from notable scholars and leaders. These can be powerful. Start collecting and memorizing them. I have memorized quotes about Jesus Christ from many notable historical figures. They are especially effective for the individual struggling with the intellectual integrity of a commitment to Christ. Josh McDowell’s book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, is full of valuable quotes.
Present the Opportunity to Trust Christ
The time has come to seek a commitment. The Decision Questions provide a helpful way to make this an effective, productive experience.
1. Does this make sense?
2. On the basis of this, have you ever committed your life to Christ?
3. Is there any reason why you would not want to trust Christ right now?
The first question helps you know whether or not your friend understands the basic gospel presentation. The second question provides you with your friend’s evaluation of his relationship to Jesus Christ. The third question is particularly important. Note that it does not ask if the person wants to receive Christ. This question would anticipate a “yes or no” answer. Instead, it asks if there is a reason why the unbeliever would not want to trust Christ. At this point, you anticipate his fear. As you mention praying to receive Christ many non-Christians panic. They haven’t done much praying and fear embarrassment. I’ve found this to be helpful: “Bill, I’ve shared Christ with many people, and I’ve found they some times feel awkward praying. I can appreciate that, even though the words are riot important. God knows your heart. If it makes sense to you, why don’t I pray out loud, and if what I pray expresses how you feel, why don’t you pray out loud after me. Does this make sense?” If so, I usually lead in prayer, one phrase at a time. Often the individual adds comments of his own. These are precious moments. What a joy to lead your friend to Christ.
Provide Assurance and Follow-up
Most gospel presentations have some simple thoughts to as sure the individual of the reality of the new birth. I will not repeat them. Follow-up is a delight because friends enjoy being together. Again, there are many helpful follow-up books available. Check with your pastor for a suitable one.
Where do you go from here? To the beauty parlor, of course. From there it is out to love a friend to Christ. You’ll never have time ill keep writing. I’ll quit writing about evangelism so you can start doing it. . . beautifully. See you in glory. Introduce me to your neighbors when we get there. By God’s grace you’ll meet some of mine.
“Life Style Evangelism” “Crossing Traditional Boundaries to Reach the Unbelieving World”
By Joseph C. Aldrich
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”