By some estimates, 55 to 78 million adults in the United States seem content without attending church (Lee Strobel, Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary, page 44). Unchurched Harry and Mary are a lot like many Americans today — people trying to fight the traffic, pay the bills and eke out a living in today’s uncertain economy. They are “nice” people. They don’t throw wild parties, ruin the neighborhood, or threaten others with bodily harm — but they probably haven’t been to a church for years, except to attend weddings and funerals. They are the unchurched.
As Christians, we are expected—sometime, somehow—to share our faith with people like Harry and Mary. If Jesus lives in us, then we have little choice. The apostle Paul showed that all Christians participate—to one degree or another—in God’s intentions to reconcile the world to himself:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
God has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation. It is hard to think of a bigger incentive to share our faith with the unchurched. “God has reconciled the world in Christ,” writes Ralph Martin. “But the task of proclaiming the reconciliation goes on” (2 Corinthians, Word Biblical Commentary, page 138).
Paul created a vivid analogy for this part of our Christian job description: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.… As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain” (2 Corinthians 5:20; 6:1). We are to yield to God, allowing him to make his appeal to this hurting world through people like us. It’s a humbling assignment, isn’t it? Thankfully, God’s Word and real-life Christian examples can help train us for the task.
Evangelism most personal
Charles Swindoll explained personal evangelism:
The skeptic may deny your doctrine or attack your church but he cannot honestly ignore the fact that your life has been changed. He may stop his ears to the presentations of a preacher and the pleadings of an evangelist, but he is somehow attracted to the human-interest story of how you—John Q. Public—found peace within. (Come Before Winter, page 43)
The gospel according to you—it’s one of the best weapons in your Christian arsenal.
When I was young, I had drifted away from regular church attendance. A preacher forcefully challenged me on some ideas I had. I was stirred to search the Bible, to come to grips with the urgency of the gospel. That produced an upheaval in my life that has had a lasting effect. I remember wanting to share this new conviction with my best friend.
Guess what? Because he was my friend he listened. He heard me out. And because he had a friend, and she had other friends, eventually a group of seven people who had more or less drifted from active church involvement made a commitment to put God number one in their lives. We’ve had our ups and downs, but all were affected for the good.
Here’s the point: When we are first convicted by the gospel, we are almost bubbling over with enthusiasm for what we have learned. We want to share it with people close to us. We find out fairly soon that some will respond and some won’t. It seems that rule number one in sharing your faith with the unchurched is to not be easily discouraged. Even in Jesus’ parable of the sower, much seed fell by the wayside (Matthew 13:3-7). As a pastor, I learned that this is normal.
We are best able to influence those closest to us, those with whom we have more credibility than the hit-and-run style of evangelism. But you won’t win them all. Jesus was crucified between two thieves. One responded. One did not. Even Paul, probably the greatest missionary in history, didn’t always convince the skeptics. “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered.” Thankfully, there were some who said, “We want to hear you again on this subject” (Acts 17:32).
In Acts 28:1-6, we see Paul being regarded first as a murderer and then as a god. That is an insight into real-life evangelism. It is hard to predict how people will respond. But since we care about people and their hurts and fears, we try to stay open to the opportunities God provides for effective witness. “Seize the moment” might have been coined as a slogan for personal evangelism. My challenge has been to learn to build personal evangelism into my Christian walk as an ongoing experience. How about you?
Letters from Christ
Another great principle of sharing your faith is to know the kind of questions you could be asked. The good news is that most things people have on their minds are personal issues. Often it is a personal experience that has turned unchurched Harry and Mary off to Christianity. An abusive minister, a harsh doctrinal stance, above all, a conflict with someone in the church. These are the hurdles in many people’s minds.
Here is where your personal example comes into play. Most people you will share your faith with want the gospel according to you. You don’t even need to know how to read and write to be an effective ambassador for Christ. It is how we live our Christian lives as employees, neighbors and family members—these are our credentials. The apostle Paul was pleased that his converts were “a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
People open up to people they know. In this unpredictable and uncertain world, we can expect personal and social troubles keyed to the crises of life—a bout with cancer, or the office reaction to a recent disaster, for example. These real-life events can create the seedbed for Christian witness to flower. As Peter wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Having Christ in us makes us different. Over time, that difference stands out. This is core training in sharing our faith.
Words that help
The best evangelism is intimate, up-close and one-on-one. Perhaps Jane the receptionist will tearfully confide to you that her husband is leaving her for another woman. Or maybe Mark from the shipping department will close your door quietly and break the news he has cancer. These are the real issues of life.
So what do you do? Verbalize your feelings. Make your communication heart-to-heart as well as head-to-head. Tell others you will pray for them. In some situations, it might be appropriate to pray together, asking God for wisdom and healing. Ask for strength and faith and peace, or share a favorite scripture. Perhaps 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
There is healing in God’s Word. Scripture can calm people. Sometimes that’s all that people need when they are caught in the panicky first frightening wave of a crisis. People who share their faith report how these dialogues often go:
- Question: “Susan, how does your church explain the killing of those innocent children in the terrorist attack?”
- Response: “I can’t answer for everything that happens in this crazy world — the Bible says the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. God doesn’t promise us clear-cut answers; he offers faith for those who ask.”
- Question: “Jack, how does your Christian faith help you figure out that big airline crash over the weekend? Still believe in a God of love, do you?”
- Response: “Plane crashes and other tragedies trouble us — it might happen to us one day. We make our choices and take our chances. But a Christian always has Someone to turn to when trouble hits.”
Be discerning. Go only as deep as the person wants you to go. Most unchurched people are not expecting us to be theologians. It’s our personal reaction—the gospel according to you and me—that people want to hear. “Be concise. Be spontaneous. Tell them in your own words what God has shown you,” advises one Christian.
God gives us faith to share. Let’s remember these basics:
- Be Christlike. Be the kind of person people can respect and confide in. Agree with people as much as possible. Be known for going the extra mile at work and elsewhere (Matthew 5:41). Christ living in you day by day will help you accomplish this. You don’t have to be perfect, but you have to be consistently open, honest and concerned.
- Be bold. Don’t be afraid to tell people: “I’ll be praying for you” or “I have an article that helped me. I’ll bring it tomorrow if you want.” Offer to pray with them right then and there.
- Follow up. This shows you really are interested. A card or a gift is a concrete way of letting people know you care. Our world is starving for spiritual connection. With God’s help we can be ambassadors of healing. God wants us to share our faith with others.