We are wrapping up our series on Intentional Relational Evangelism and how we are using it.
When we initiate spiritual conversations, we need to do it in the power of the Holy Spirit. God prepares the hearts of others, and it is because of him that anything happens. Whether we are taking the initiative with friends we have known for years, starting a conversation with someone in our neighborhood that we have never talked to before, or approaching a complete stranger; we can expect that things won’t go as well if we are doing it on our own strength.
When Paul was sharing with the Corinthians (1 Cor 2:1-5) in Greece, which is a place known for intellect, philosophy, and the quest for knowledge, he spoke simply and avoided trying to come across as superior. What he said was focused on Jesus. He, like us, felt weak and fearful. These are legit emotions in a fallen world in which some are hostile to the message of the gospel. His ministry was dependent on the power of God, not on his own words to change hearts and lives. We need to keep this in mind as we seek to reach out to others. As my friend Jim mentioned a few days ago, we don’t have to have all the answers, we just need to focus on the simple truth of the gospel as we have genuine conversations with those around us.
Initiative Evangelism isn’t a one-time event. Sometimes it is the initiation of a new relationship, or less commonly, it is the start of a conversation that others will follow up on. Other times it is taking the initiative to bring the truth of God’s Story into our current relationships. So, just as 3Story Evangelism is a way of life, Initiative Evangelism is part of a lifestyle as well. 3Story helps us continually interact with those around us that we know, as we likewise interact with our faith. It helps us merge those two areas of our life together. The idea of Initiative Evangelism compliments this by encouraging us to always be engaging others in conversations about Jesus as the Holy Spirit leads us, and it helps give us an idea of how we can engage in conversation with others. Everything that Jeremy has talked about regarding 3Story Evangelism is a good launching point from which we can then move toward engaging new people in spiritual conversations as well, as we get to know them.
We need to know our story and God’s story if we are going to initiate spiritual conversations with others. Without knowing what God’s story is, it is just finding good friends. We want to have spiritual conversations.
We shared a few hours ago tools that Cru has to start spiritual conversations, but these are not the only ones available.Another way we can start spiritual conversations in our everyday life without using any tools is through connecting points. This can be done with people we have known for years, as well as people we are meeting for the first time. We use this term in Cru and you heard Jeremy use it as he talked about 3Story as well. It is fundamental to sharing our life and faith with those around us.
While a good starting point is to know our testimony, we can take this further. We all have connecting points in our lives to the Gospel. For instance, when someone asks what my job is, I tell them that I work for Cru. Depending on the setting, this can allow me to tell them why I work for Cru, and a little about what God has done in my life. We also have times in our life, though, when we have experienced loneliness, regret, the death of a friend, or something similar, in which we have really seen God show up in a significant way in our life. These areas of our life are also good connecting points to the gospel, as we initiate spiritual conversations with those around us. It is also important that we remember that we’re having a discussion. As Jeremy has already talked about, we need to know their story. This is true when we are interacting with those we already know, and it is equally true when we engage in a spiritual conversation with someone we are meeting with for the first time. As we hear their story, we can find connecting points between what they have experienced in their life, and what we have experienced in ours.
So what are some ways we can initiate with those around us?
Classic 3Story Evangelism
This happens best with people you are already naturally forming relationships with. I don’t need to go into much depth here, because Jeremy already did a great series about 3Story. As we interact with friends and others that we are already forming relationships with, we live a lifestyle that allows us to tie our story and their story to God’s story. We take the initiative to bring God into the equation and interact with them by sharing more deeply about us, learning more deeply about their life, and talking about deeper spiritual matters with them.
Starting Conversations with Strangers
If you think about it, this isn’t that uncommon. In our daily life most of us probably talk to people we don’t know. Sure, they are usually short conversations, like a brief conversation on the metro about the weather, or talking to someone in line at the post office about who they are sending their package to. Even when we talk to strangers, or people we won’t see ever again, we can move them towards the gospel by setting a good example in how we interact with them. When there are good connecting points, we can share a little more about how our story connects, and even their story connects to God’s story.
Leaving a Tract with Someone
I might know what you’re thinking here. Whenever I hear about someone leaving a tract with someone else, I think “what a cop out.” I think evangelism should be more hands on and relational. However, Bill Bright, the co-founder of Cru often did something similar to this with his Four Spiritual Laws and he had amazing stories about how God worked through him doing so. However, even when he did this he would have a relational aspect to it. An example of this is that after getting to know his seatmate on a plane he would say, “The things this booklet talks about changed my life. If you are interested, I’d love to talk to you about it. Would you like a copy to read yourself?” Then, if the individual chose to read it and they wanted to talk further, they could. If not, no problem. While I don’t think this is the most ideal situation, there may be times in our life when we can’t stay and talk to someone about the gospel, even though the Holy Spirit might be placing a strong burden on our heart to share with them. In that case, it might be a good idea to give them a tract like The Four Spiritual Laws or the newer Would You Like to Know God Personally booklet. With an introductory statement and a way to contact us, this could still be relational. (Or better yet, if possible we can find a way to contact them later on if we can do so without coming across as a creeper.) It can still give us a chance to eventually share more of our story, learn more about their story, and connect both of our stories with each other and God’s story. Even if we can’t connect with them later, it is possible that we helped move them closer to the gospel.
The way we initiate spiritual conversations is different in different settings. If we are approaching someone we have known for years, we would initiate a spiritual conversation differently than we would with someone we are talking to for the first time. While the truth of the gospel is always the same, the starting point, depth of the conversation, metaphors used, and so on can all vary. It helps to have a clear understanding of the gospel or, as we have already talked about, it helps to know God’s story, and be able to clearly communicate it. Within Cru, we use a booklet I’ve already mentioned that is called Would You like to Know God Personally. (This is a new version of the Four Spiritual Laws.) When we use this booklet to share, we already have a clear understanding of the Gospel, so we don’t ramble incoherently (which some of the shyer among us might otherwise do). It can sometimes be helpful to use tracts as we share God’s story with others, and less mature Christians might even find themselves needing to as they learn to clearly communicate the message of Jesus. When we can memorize the essence of the Gospel as it is presented in tools like Would You like to Know God Personally, then we can truly be prepared to give a clear concise answer for the hope that we have. Different methods may work better for different people, but we all have the common call to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that comes from Jesus.
Last time we talked about some common myths about initiating spiritual conversations. Now, we are going to talk about some ways to start spiritual conversations. We will look at a few ways on how to have conversations about Jesus with others.
Ways to Initiate Spiritual Conversations from Cru
Whether we are talking to someone for the first time or to someone we have known for years, sometimes it is hard to move our conversation towards deeper spiritual matters. So, we are going to take a look at some of the ways we do this in Cru as well as some other ideas on how we can naturally move conversations toward the Gospel.
Sometimes in Cru we actually try to start conversations with complete strangers. We go out and try to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. and approach people that he leads us to. Then we start conversations with them. Some people are naturally good at starting conversations with anyone, but it is helpful for others to use tools to get conversations going. One of the main tools we use to start conversations with people we don’t know yet is surveys. This is something that Cru has been doing for years.
Surveys allow us to get to know their story, while we share more about our story, so we can learn good connecting points to God’s story. We tell people who we are, then ask if we can take a survey that asks 4 or 5 spiritual questions. As we ask them questions, we learn more about their story and share more about our story. Through this, we find places where both of our stories connect with God’s story.
In recent years we have been using a new similar tool for surveys that is called the Soularium. The Soularium is a collection of 50 pictures. We ask people to choose pictures that represent the answer to questions we ask them, and to explain why they chose those pictures. (An example question would be, “Choose 3 pictures that represent what is going on in your life right now, and tell me why you chose those pictures.”) Again, this gives us a chance to really hear more about their story, and to talk about our story with them as we move towards dialoguing with them about the Gospel.
Editors Note: Many of the thoughts that I have about initiative evangelism came from the time I have spent involved with Cru. Cru has helped challenge me to take a good hard look at what the Bible says about telling those around us about Jesus. I say this because much of the post I am going to write today is not my own, but it is taken from myths staff have encountered over the years as they have worked with Cru about initiating spiritual conversations with others. While I might put many things in my own words here, a lot of what I discuss today will come from Cru. Under this, there is another myth that another seventy8 Productions contributor, Jim King, mentioned in the comments from yesterdays post.
Today we are going to take a look at some of the reasons why we often don’t feel comfortable initiating spiritual conversations with others and reasons that people give for not initiating spiritual conversations. So lets dive in, shall we?
- “If we live a good enough life, people will come ask us about it, and we can share more about our faith in Christ with them then.” I think it is true that the world should see we are different, and yes, sometimes seeing this difference causes people to approach us and ask about why we are different. Most of the time though, people don’t ask us about why we are different. Also, others might already know why we are different, that it’s because we are Christians. However, merely knowing why we are different doesn’t give them a greater understanding of the Gospel unless we talk to them
- “If we initiate spiritual conversations with people, we will turn them off.” Remember KJV guy that I referred to back in my first post? This is what I envisioned when I was first challenged to initiate spiritual conversations. In my mind, KJV guy is pushy, has an objective, and his conversation with others centers around accomplishing that objective. Because of this, intentionally or not, he can come across as insensitive or even obnoxious. This kind of person probably turns people off. However, if we can learn to sensitively approach people and give then an opportunity to interact with the gospel and are available to have a dialogue with them if they are interested, we won’t turn people off. We can’t expect to effectively share Christ with others if we are preaching and not listening. Yet, that isn’t initiative evangelism in the power and sensitivity of the Holy Spirit.
- “If we initiate spiritual conversations with others, we are bothering them. People don’t want to hear the gospel.” This one is true… sort of. There are some people that will not want to talk about the gospel at this point in their life, but there are also others that do want to hear about it. Even if they aren’t ready to engage in a relationship with Christ when we talk to them, they have a better understanding of how they can do that as time goes on. We can trust God to lead us to the right people. During the time I have spend doing initiative evangelism, most people are more than willing to talk about spiritual things. In my experience, people who don’t want to talk are the exception, not the rule. If we are truly having a discussion with others around us instead of preaching, most people enjoy discussing spiritual things, and for us, that is our relationship with Jesus.
- “You can’t really effectively share Jesus with someone until you have a relationship with them.” This is the reason why the thought of initiative evangelism was difficult to me. I believed this to be true and even now I still think it is true. The question, however, is how long do you need to know someone to have a relationship with them. It is possible to have trust and rapport with someone else in 5 minutes. God calls us to share with those that we know and those that we don’t. He is preparing their hearts for the moment that we talk to them. It is our job to show the greatest act of love that any Jesus follower can show by giving someone who is living in a state of death the opportunity to cross over into light; to play our part in Jesus to rescuing those around us.
- “Initiative evangelism means that I have to preach on street corners and knock on doors.” These actually are legitimate forms of evangelism, and if done right, they can work well. However, most of the evangelism we will probably be doing in our daily lives will have a relational connection. Even if we were going door-to-door, I feel a relational connection is important. There are many ways to initiate, but what it comes down to is lovingly initiating spiritual conversations with others around us, both the ones we do and don’t know yet, and giving them a chance to interact with the gospel.
Also, here is a bonus myth that Jim “Train” King posted in yesterdays comments.
- “If we are going to initiate spiritual conversations, we need to have all the answers.” From Jim’s Post “The fact is in intiating spiritual conversations I think it’s best not to come across like you have all the answers. Yes, know what and why you believe like 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Key in on gentleness and respect. Huge behaviors needed in conversations with others.”
Next time we’ll talk more about some ideas on how we can start conversations with those around us about our faith in Christ, but now I want to hear from you. What do you think are good ways to share with those around us while being relational.
When you think of initiating spiritual conversations, especially with people you don’t know yet, what are your thoughts and feelings. If you are like many, you might feel a sense of inadequacy or unpreparedness. Yet, despite how afraid we often are about sharing our faith in Christ with others, during the time I’ve spent on campus, I’ve learned that when asked, most people say they would like to be able to communicate their faith better.
But still, given our general fear of starting conversations with complete strangers, why should we do it? First of all, the originator of initiative evangelism was Jesus. We learn in Romans 3:10-12 that no one seeks God on their own. Yet in Luke 19:10, Jesus came to seek and save us. He took the initiative to come to us, commanded us to do likewise, and to take the gospel to everyone (John 20:21 and Mark 16:15 are some examples of this). We then see that the example set by the Apostles and the early church was to initiate conversations with others. Acts is full of stories like this.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
- John 20:21
Now thousands of years later, for many reasons it is something we are often uncomfortable doing. Maybe we feel that others won’t want to talk about what they believe and what we believe. Maybe we just feel that we aren’t equipped to share more about what we believe. Next time we will explore some of the myths we believe about initiating conversations with others, but I would like to hear from you. What are some myths you think are out there that keep Christians from talking to people they don’t know. What are some myths you find yourself believing that keep you from starting conversations about Christ. Do you start conversations with strangers about what you believe? Why or why not.
I remember when I was a student with Youth for Christ, when I first heard of 3Story Evangelism. I remember thinking how complicated witnessing seemed, what a beautiful thing it was the 3Story encapsulated the basics of what I needed to do to start sharing my faith in Christ, and the difference he has made in my life with those around me. With 3Story, we can talk to our friends, family and co-workers about our faith in Christ by knowing Our Story, listening to Their Story, and dialoguing with them about God’s Story.
In high school as I became more and more familiar with 3Story (which is a method of what is called relational evangelism), it became something I grew more comfortable doing. It is exciting to think about the impact that students can have for Christ merely by sharing their whole life, including their relationship with Christ with people they already know. Then I went to college. Early on, I became involved in Campus Crusade for Christ (soon to be renamed Cru). One thing that Cru does well is initiative evangelism, which is where students and staff take the initiative to start conversations with other students, both those that they know and don’t know yet. Now, I know what many of you might be thinking and I was thinking the same thing. When I thought of initiative evangelism, I thought of someone going door to door, his KJV at the ready, asking if you would like to know Jesus. This is something that I felt I would never be able to do, and every fiber of my being wanted to fight against the very idea of talking to people I didn’t know.
Eventually this changed. After a little while I learned more about what Cru means when they talk about initiative evangelism. In fact, as I learned more, I eventually made up a new term, initiative relational evangelism. The truth is that we are called to reach out to those around us, both those that we know and those that we don’t know, with the message of Christ. In every case, forming a sincere relationship is important, whether we have just met someone for the first time, or if we have known them for years. Over the next few days I am going to write more about initiative relational evangelism, but first I would like to hear your thoughts. How can we be relational when we are initiating spiritual conversations with people we don’t know? Can you think of any ways that what we have learned about 3Story as a form of relational evangelism can inform what we do when we are engaging in initiative relational evangelism?