In light of the challenging time, I have been writing a series of posts designed to help us think through how to do evangelism during the pandemic. You can see the previous posts in the following links: Part 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 3c.
Step 4: Keep the Conversation Going
The last post described the art of evangelism. When the conversation moves beyond small talk, we should speak lovingly, truthfully, and tactfully. This post will partly answer the question, “What next?” What should we do after taking an opportunity to speak gospel truth to a lost friend?
I was first confronted by this question after speaking with Chris, an old friend of mine. Chris and I worked together in the rental shop of a ski resort. I was 20 years old at the time, and I was experiencing a fresh work of awakening in my relationship with God. Because of God’s renewed work in my heart, I wanted to share the good news with those around me. I had worked with Chris for a few years, and we developed a friendship. So I was anxious to tell him about the Lord. I vividly remember one conversation in the ski lodge. After explaining the work of Christ on the cross, Chris told me that as a Catholic he already believed everything that I had shared with him. It was a bit of a letdown really. It felt like having one of your birthday balloons pop. Anyway, there are many things that could be said about Chris’s response. For one thing, he often talked about his party lifestyle, so it was evident that he had not been transformed by the new birth. However, the biggest question I wrestled with after that conversation was, “What should I do next?” How should I proceed with Chris? Is it enough to simply explain the gospel once? Where do we go from here? In the eleven years since that interaction, I’ve learned a few things about redemptive relationships that I want to share.
The foundational principle is that we should aim for regular exposure to the gospel. That is, we should seek repeated opportunities to speak with our lost friends about Christ. I think there are a few compelling reasons to do so. First, most people require several explanations of the gospel before they understand and believe. I’m sure there are people who convert immediately, but it’s extremely rare. Second, the Word of God is ultimately powerful. God’s Word accomplishes his work; it never fails (Isaiah 55:10–11). When you speak the Word of God to someone who is spiritually dead, you bring him into contact with the life-giving power of God (James 1:18). The more exposure, the better. Third, the goal of evangelism is to make disciples, not simply procure professions or change a person’s eternal destiny. We must teach the people who trust in Christ to follow him. This requires regular contact; it’s a life-on-life process. So let’s pursue regular opportunities with the lost people in our lives. Here is pandemic evangelism step #4: keep the conversation going.
Next, it’s helpful for me to remember that each redemptive relationship is in process, and each relationship is not necessarily in the same stage of the process. I’ve had extended opportunities to talk about the gospel with a few of my neighbors and minimal opportunities to share with others. Only one of my neighbors has attended our church and heard the preaching of the gospel. One of my other neighbors sat down with me on one occasion to actually read the Bible together. Each of these relationships is in a different stage of the process. I need to consider that as I plan my next step with each of them. In my friend Chris’s case, we were in the beginning stages of talking about Christ.
A prerequisite for taking the next step with each person is spending time together. (This is more challenging during the pandemic, but there are still several ways that we can talk with people). If we don’t spend time with the lost people in our lives, then we won’t have opportunities to talk to them about Christ. Intentionally plan to spend time with them. We intentionally plan the things that we value, and evangelism works the same way. For Chris and me, we spent time together snowboarding and having burgers at Farmer’s Restaurant in the lodge.
As you spend time together (or simply talk during the pandemic), build a genuine relationship in which you have meaningful conversations. Remember, we encounter opportunities for the gospel when the conversation moves beyond small talk (see PE step 3a). Since Chris and I were both college students at the time, several of our more meaningful conversations were about our future plans. At the time, I wanted to be a missionary. I’m sure that topic could have led to great opportunities for the gospel.
As you build the relationship, try to take the conversation to the next level. In each relationship, I want to reach the stage of the process where I can open the Bible with my friend and explain the gospel directly from Scripture. Short of conversion (which is outside my control), that’s my ultimate goal. In my next and final post, I will detail steps for taking the conversation to the next level.