I like to describe evangelism as a process. From a witnessing perspective, we as believers are in the process of being conformed more into the image of Christ through what the bible calls sanctification. This takes a lifetime. And so it takes time to grow as a witness for Jesus. Unbelievers with whom you’re engaging in conversation are also in process – meaning their beliefs about God and ‘the way it is’ have been shaped…over the course of their lives. So typically it will take time for a person to process a view that initially will be contrary to their own – the gospel says they are lost and under God’s judgement without Jesus. The parable of the soils (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23) reveals the processional aspect of evangelism.
With this context, let’s summarize the main components undergirding witnessing conversations. Because in all my years teaching, whether it be in the sports (tennis) or spiritual (evangelism) arenas, I’ve learned that repetition is a key to learning. As witnesses for Christ, we never ‘arrive,’ no matter how skilled or inept we may feel in talking with others about spiritual matters. The main components undergirding witnessing conversations include:
The foundation of prayer should undergird everything we do – including spiritual conversations. Go to God on behalf of people before you go to people on behalf of God. Praying should precede the doing and will galvanize the doing – this can make a huge difference between walking in the spirit and walking in the flesh.
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18).
Since spiritual conversations are a God-thing, we need to acknowledge our dependence upon Him to provide ministry opportunities and open up doors. Hence, we pray!
In Colossians 4:2 the Apostle Paul asked the Church in Colosse to pray that ‘God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ.’ So pray for open doors, ministry opportunities, divine appointments, and ‘a word aptly’ spoken.
For a deeper study on praying and evangelism, click here for an excellent resource from Dr. Kevin Meador.
Questions & Listening
Questions are the key that open up conversational doors. Click here for a list of conversation starter questions. And once the that door opens, we need to actively listen and learn. We previously pointed out this subtle but powerful difference in thinking about conversations: Do I want to speak ‘to’ someone or speak ‘with’ someone about spiritual matters?
Speaking ‘with someone’ conveys the idea of working together, sharing ideas and thoughts, seeking understanding.
Questions also affirm others. Inquiry communicates that we care about what another thinks, believes and feels. You know as I, that often we as Christians are sometimes accused of simply wanting to talk and be heard. Yet a winsome and humble witness will include the willingness to listen. And listening will be the result of asking questions.
Active listening will inform our witness [What is their God-paradigm & are they open to speaking about spiritual things?] and will enable us to effectively contextualize the gospel. Remember when the Apostle Paul went into synagogues, he reasoned with the Jewish people from the Scriptures – the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. But in Acts 17 on Mars Hill, Paul addressed the Athenians, who were not well versed in the scriptures, by starting with general revelation (see Acts 17:22-24).
Questions provide the platform for listening. While listening affirms others, informs our witness and allows us to humbly and gently share the truth in love as doors of opportunity open.
Questions or objections are a normal part of spiritual conversations. In our witness, we ought to expect and affirm them. Additionally, we need not be fearful about not having the a right, good, or sufficient answer (2 Timothy 1:7). Remember also it’s ok to say, ‘I don’t know. That’s a good question. Let me get back with you.’
Here’s the deal. Since ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen’ (Hebrews 11:1), our faith is substantive and based upon evidence. In other words, God has given us a brain to use, and faith is not blind – it is reasonable and rational. So strive to be ready for questions and/or objections.
We mentioned previously there are two types of questions: sincere and insincere. Is this honest inquiry or does someone simply want to ‘jerk your chain?’ If you suspect, insincerity, it’s ok to ask them, “Do you really want an answer?”
Answering honest inquiry may be with a ‘coffee shop’ answers, or with books, video’s or in-depth articles that can deal more comprehensively with questions or objections.
One of the keys in answering questions is to be familiar with standard objections and being ready with simple answers – “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). If you need more comprehensive answers later, you always can access them using various resources.
Click here for an excellent link to brief answers for many other standard objections.
A Final Word Of Encouragement
The ‘will to’ precedes the ‘how to.’ As you read these words you are demonstrating a ‘will to’ grow in your witness, and I affirm you. The best way to grow in the area of conversing about spiritual matters is to practice. Trial and error are an important part of the process. In addition to personal experience, watch or listen to others witness to the lost and answer questions. Additionally, you can read how other believers are responding to questions and/or engaging issues, whether age old questions (i.e. What about the origin of evil?) or contemporary questions (What’s wrong with gay marriage?). Walk by faith, asking God to grow you in this area, making you a more effective ‘conversationalist for Jesus!’ And God is faithful!
“A man has joy by the answer of his mouth & a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” Proverbs 15:17