This is a really strange time for ministry generally and evangelism specifically. Last week, I began to develop a series of short posts designed to aid us in evangelism during this unprecedented time (See Step One and Step Two).
Step 3a: Tell the Lost about Christ: Recognizing Opportunities
The irreducible minimum of evangelism is talking about Christ. You cannot do evangelism without talking about Christ. In your efforts to shine the light, at some point you must get around to Christ. There are several activities that can adorn the gospel, but don’t necessarily involve speaking the gospel. Examples include performing good works, inviting someone to church, and sharing your personal testimony. If we only do these things, but we don’t talk about Christ, then we haven’t evangelized.
So the questions is, “How do we have conversations about Christ?” I think the first part (technically it’s pandemic evangelism Step 3a) is recognizing opportunities. We must perceive open doors for the gospel. I’m convinced that I gloss over many daily opportunities for the gospel. Often my antenna is not in tune with the frequency of the Lord of the harvest. I need a keener sensitivity to detect open doors.
I mentioned in Step 1 that we must pray for opportunities to tell the lost about Christ (Col 4:3). God opens doors for the gospel, and we depend on him completely (That’s why it’s a prayer request!). This is a foundational truth. We cannot coerce people to listen. Unbelievers must voluntarily listen to the message about Christ. This is how Paul spread the gospel. Paul’s pattern when he showed up in a new town was to first preach the gospel in the synagogue (e.g., Acts 13:14). He announced the good news to those who had gathered to hear from God’s Word. Paul also shared the gospel in the market with those who were present (Acts 17:17). He spoke with those who would willingly listen. In defense of his methods, Paul explained that he openly proclaimed the gospel. He refused to manipulate people or distort God’s Word (2 Cor 4:1–2). We can’t force people to listen; we depend on God to secure us a hearing for the gospel.
The Lord of the harvest is working behind the scenes to prepare people to hear about Christ. Here are some things that you can do to sharpen your awareness.
- Take notice of the people you see on a regular basis (next-door neighbors, mail carriers, store clerks, classmates, etc.). The Bible says that God chooses when and where people live so that they will seek and find him (Acts 17:26–27). It’s no coincidence that you cross paths with the same unbelievers daily. Odds are God wants them to hear the gospel from your lips (Rico Tice first brought this implication to my attention [Honest Evangelism, pp 48–50]). So look around. Who do you bump into regularly? I’ll bet there’s an opportunity there.
- Talk to these people. You’ll never get around to the gospel if you don’t start the conversation. Purposefully put yourself in their path. If you see your neighbor outside, then stop what you’re doing and go talk to him/her. When the mail carrier walks up the front steps, pop your head out the door and say hi. Leave yourself a little extra time in the store, at the gym, or the coffee shop (whenever gyms and coffee shops are open again!). Often we schedule our lives so tightly that God may fling the door wide open for the gospel, but we have no time to walk through.
- Learn names. The baseline for friendship is addressing a person by name. When you ask for someone’s name, you show interest in developing a more significant relationship. This is important because you’re seeking an opportunity to talk with them about the most significant and serious thing, their relationship with God. Most people prefer to know someone, at least minimally, before opening up. Not only does learning names strengthen the relationship, but also it enables you to pray for people by name, making your prayers more focused and increasing your burden for the lost.
- Listen. Train your ear to listen well and especially take note when someone talks about the meaning and purpose of life. When the conversation moves beyond small talk to more meaningful topics, this is where we encounter opportunities for the gospel. Listen to them talk about their hopes and aspirations, future plans, relationships, problems, and fears. These kinds of topics lead to opportunities to talk about the true meaning and purpose of life, knowing God through Christ. The pandemic is exciting because we can get to the gospel faster. People are primed to talk about the frailty and uncertainty of life. The coronavirus has confronted us with our finitude. It’s made us aware of the brevity of life and our desperate need for hope beyond death. Listen carefully as people talk about their lives.
Even though we are more limited during the stay-at-home order, these instructions still apply. Our mail carrier still comes to our house every day. We see our next-door neighbors from across the fence every day, more than usual actually. We still go to the same local market when we need to stock up. These routines represent dozens of people whom the Lord of the harvest has intentionally put into our lives.
These are a few simple means by which we can heighten our awareness for gospel opportunities. In the next post, we’ll discuss taking opportunities.