Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

30 Apr 2020

Pandemic Evangelism: Spreading the Gospel, Not the Virus (Part 3c)

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This is a really strange time for ministry generally and evangelism specifically. Over the last few weeks, I have been writing a series of short posts designed to aid us in evangelism during this unprecedented time (See Step One, Step Two, Step 3a, and Step 3b). 

Step 3c: Tell the Lost About Christ: The Art of Evangelism

The last post acknowledged that evangelism is both an art and a science. It’s an art in the sense that it’s a skill to be developed, and it’s a science in the sense that certain truths must be conveyed. The last post focused more on the truths of the gospel, and this post will focus on the skill of gospel conversation.

What do you say when your conversation with a lost friend moves beyond small talk? The science of evangelism means that you should say something about one of the four foundational truths of the gospel (God created us; we rebelled against God; Jesus died and rose; turn and trust Christ). However, the question still stands. How do you progress from having a meaningful conversation to having a conversation about the gospel? Similarly, in what manner should you communicate one of those truths? How do you go about it?

When the conversation moves beyond small talk, the first thing we must do is speak lovingly. Good evangelism doesn’t have ulterior motives. We actually care about the lost people in our lives. That’s why we’re trying to muster the courage to tell them about Christ! We truly believe that a Christless eternity is the worst possible fate, and we want those we love to be rescued. We care about the wellbeing of others. So we need to show and express that kind of care in our conversations with the lost. When a neighbor mentions that a family member passed away, we must offer our condolences. When a coworker opens up about relational stress at home, we should sympathize with him/her. When a friend loses his/her job, we should express concern. I am reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man in Mark’s Gospel. Though the man ultimately refused to follow Jesus, Mark 10:21 says, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Jesus genuinely cared for the lost, which was evident in his interactions with them.

When the conversation moves beyond small talk, the second thing we must do is speak truthfully. Truthful speech is our modus operandi (Eph 4:25, “Let each one of you speak the truth”). We must speak truth into the situation. Avoid the temptation to respond with clichés. Clichés don’t actually help anyone even if they sound and/or feel good. In most cases they’re actually untrue, and they won’t help in the long run.

When the conversation moves beyond small talk, not only should our response be loving and truthful, but it should also be tactful. We ought to say the right thing at the right time (Prov 15:23, “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!”). There are many things we could say in response to a situation which may be true, but not fitting. We must hone our discernment so that we give an appropriate answer per the situation.

Here’s the formula for the art of evangelism:
Loving + Truthful + Tactful= Skillful Gospel Conversation

Here are some negative and positive examples:

Situation– a neighbor mentions that a family member passed away

Negative: “They’re in a better place.” This cliché sounds good, but it’s not necessarily true; therefore, it’s neither loving nor fitting.
Negative: “Did you know that everyone who dies without Christ is condemned for all eternity?” This is true, but it’s not the appropriate thing to say at the time; therefore, it’s not loving.
Positive: “I am so sorry for your loss. Is there anything that we can do for your family? We would love to support and help you during this time. The Bible says that death is one of God’s enemies [1 Cor 15:26]; it’s a terrible reality.”

Even if the conversation stops there, I consider it a redemptive-relationship success. You expressed genuine concern, which is loving and tactful, and you brought God’s Word to bear on the situation, which is truthful. Those sincere words pave the way for future gospel conversations. If the conversation continues, then you could say something like, “Did you know that God has done something to defeat death and that one day even death will pass away?” That question gets you directly to the gospel.

Situation– a coworker opens up about relational stress at home

Negative: “This too shall pass.” I’m not even sure if this cliché sounds good, but it’s something people say. As with the previous cliché, it’s not necessarily true, and therefore, it’s neither loving nor fitting.
Negative: “Your relationships are broken because you’re a depraved sinner.” Generally speaking this is true, but it’s not expressed in a tactful way; therefore, it’s neither fitting nor loving.
Positive: “I’m so sorry for the trial you’re going through. The Bible says, ‘Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.’ That verse means that a home of love is a priceless treasure. I can imagine that this situation has caused you a lot of emotional pain.”

I say again, even if the conversation stops there, I consider it a redemptive-relationship success. You expressed genuine concern, which is loving and appropriate, and you brought God’s Word to bear on the situation, which is truthful. Those sincere words open opportunities for future gospel conversations. If the conversation continues, then you could say something like, “Did you know that there was a time in history when relationships were perfect? But sadly that all changed when sin entered the world. Has anyone shared with you what the Bible says about sin?” This response introduces one of the four foundational truths of the gospel: we rebelled against God.

Situation– a friend loses his/her job

Negative: “I’m sure it’ll all work out in the end.” Once again, this cliché might sound good, but it’s not necessarily true; therefore it’s neither loving nor fitting.
Negative: “Your spiritual needs are more important than your physical needs.” I say once more, this is true, but it’s not expressed in a tactful way; therefore, it’s neither fitting nor loving.
Positive: “I’m so sorry to hear that. Is your family going to be ok? Is there anything that we can do to help? The Bible says that God cares for us. He’s the one who sends the rain and meets our daily needs. He cares about you; you’re made in his image.”

I repeat a final time that even if the conversation ends there, I consider it a redemptive-relationship success. You expressed genuine concern, which is loving and fitting, and you brought God’s Word to bear on the situation, which is truthful. Often, those sincere words pave the way for future gospel conversations. You also began to explain one the four foundational truths of the gospel: God created us. If the conversation continues, then you could say something like, “Did you know that God proved his love for us by providing for our greatest need. He sent his only Son to die for us.” That response draws a straight line to the heart of the gospel.

We cannot explore every situation you may encounter, but hopefully you get the idea. The art of evangelism is a skill we must develop and hone. When the conversation moves beyond small talk, speak lovingly, truthfully, and tactfully.

PS: This step assumes that you have significant relationships with lost people in which you have meaningful conversations. Pandemic Evangelism Step 3a gives advice for starting and nurturing redemptive relationships.

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