I once asked a group of Christians how they had come to receive Christ as their Savior. Was it by reading a tract or a book? Or by going to a camp or an evangelistic meeting? Or was it a radio program, a film or a TV message? A few came by these means, but the greatest number of those present came to know Christ in a completely different way -- through the friendship, testimony and influence of a close friend or relative!
Use what works
I have nothing but good to say about all the other approaches to evangelism. Indeed, I use them myself. But doesn’t it make sense to emphasize the method which experience proves to be the most effective? In our warfare against the enemy, isn’t it sound strategy to use the weapons which cause him the most damage? Shouldn’t most of our time and effort dedicated to evangelism use the form which works best? It is not that we should stop using other methods, but we all need to start using, and mainly use, the approach which involves witnessing with our whole life to those with whom we are naturally in contact!
During our Lord’s three years of ministry here on earth, He gave us a great example in this. It is true He spent much of his time teaching the multitudes, but I think it is fair to say that the majority of His time was spent in close friendship with twelve men with whom He shared His meals, His walks, His life — in fact, everything! There is nothing new or revolutionary about “lifestyle evangelism.” Our problem is that we have gotten so involved with novel methods that the best and most effective method has been forgotten.
How not to evangelize
To many believers, evangelism is something one “does” now and again. It is an uncomfortable “duty” which we have to engage in on certain occasions. So we go out on a Saturday afternoon to put tracts in letter boxes, and hope nobody comes to the door while we are doing so! Or we fix our hope on the “gospel meeting” and pray that some “pagans” will enter our hall, hear the message and get saved. Or we periodically “do” one of the other things mentioned above. Some believers, perhaps rightly, reckon that evangelism is not what they are good at. And so, with a guilty conscience, they stop their efforts altogether!
Pray for your unsaved contacts
As with most things in the Christian life, prayer is where we should start. Paul prayed earnestly for his fellow Jews that they might come to know Christ (Rom. 10:1), and we ought also to pray this way. As we pray for our unsaved neighbors and friends, God will begin to work in our own lives, giving us a heart to reach out to them. He will enable us to reach them effectively. He will also prepare their hearts to be receptive to His Word. He will give us opportunities in which we can share in a natural way our faith in the Lord. But do we want to pray that this would happen? Perhaps we need to pray, first of all, that God would change our hearts so that we would want to be used in some way to reach our friends for Christ. If so, let’s not be ashamed to tell Him. He understands and loves us. And He will answer us.
Live a transparent and consistent witness
I suppose this is the second requirement for effective lifestyle evangelism: Our lives must show Jesus Christ! Our Lord told His disciples, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16 NIV). The way we do business, the way we play football, the way we drive, the way we prepare for exams, the way we react to family problems, all that we do should allow Jesus to shine out from our lives. Our lives should be different! We need to consistently show the Christian alternative lifestyle. This demands honesty on our behalf. We should not present a false front of a “perfect life,” but be transparent, showing our difficulties as well as our joys, our struggles as well as our victories.
Make opportunities to interact
And this brings us on to another indispensable fact: If our lives are to shine, our “lamps” will have to be visible. Jesus warned against hiding our lamps under bushels, bowls or beds (Mt. 5:15; Lk. 8:16), and insisted that we must put our lives “on a stand.” This means we must have regular and meaningful interaction with non-Christians. I will repeat this because it is imperative: We must interact meaningfully with non-Christians on a regular basis. If we are not doing so, something is seriously wrong in our Christian lives! Special emphasis needs to be put on this point, for the longer a person has been a Christian, the easier it is to move entirely in Christian circles. This is a tendency which must be fought against.
If we hardly know the names of our neighbors, and we rarely interact in any meaningful way with our co-workers or fellow students, how can we be a witness to them? We need to make time to do things together with them — to invite a neighbor over for tea, to play golf with a business associate, to go with another family to the park, to talk with other parents at school functions, whatever! It is not a question of artificially creating an occasion to smuggle Christianity into their lives, but rather that of building significant friendships with non-Christians in which we are open and willing to share all that we are, including our Christian perspective on life.
A danger to avoid
When Jesus prayed for His disciples, He said, “My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (Jn. 17:15-18). We are not of the world, so we need to live holy lives; but our Lord also sent us into the world. When we start interacting with unbelievers, there is always a danger of slipping into doing the wrong things, or going to the wrong places, out of fear of offending them.
But the solution is not to cut ourselves off from unbelievers; for then we would be disobeying our Lord’s second injunction, which is, “Go into the world” (Mk. 16:15). We need to ask God for wisdom and tact so we can meet our unbelieving friends on “neutral ground” — not at a night club, but at a park; not drinking a bottle of beer, but a cup of tea; not watching a questionable video, but playing a family game.
Be prepared to talk about your faith
However, living an honest and open Christian life is not enough: We must also be willing to talk! This is easier for some than for others. Indeed, some cultures find talking about important matters much easier than other cultures. In most Western societies it has become an unwritten rule not to talk about what really matters.
Instead, one “makes conversation” about the weather, about news items, about anything except what is actually important. This is an enormous pity, and makes us less than human. An indispensable part of our witness to those around us must be to tell them how we feel, what we think and what we believe. This is part of being fully human. Peter urges us to “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” (1 Pet. 3:15). But, you ask, how can we talk about God if they are not interested?
We need to learn to converse
For myself, I am more comfortable listening than speaking. This is not entirely a bad thing. To converse meaningfully we must learn to listen properly — to truly understand what the other person is telling us. But we also need to express ourselves. And this is where most of us find it difficult. It seems artificial to force the dialogue around to God and the Bible; and the normal direction of all our casual conversations steers clear of such subjects.
I am convinced that the key to having interesting interactions in general, not just in evangelism, lies in knowing how to ask the right questions. By asking non-threatening, relevant and strategic questions, we can direct a conversation without manipulation. We may actually say very little, but our questions have encouraged the other person to think about and express himself in meaningful areas. This, in turn, allows us to say what we believe about what they have just said. This way the dialogue can move on to deeper questions in a very natural way, without our friend feeling “preached at.”
A useful model for conversations
There is a model I came across years ago, which I find very helpful. It is explained in an excellent book entitled “Out Of The Salt Shaker,” by Rebecca Pippert. On pages 143-145, it views conversations like onions. As we peel off each layer in a conversation, we go a little deeper into the mindset of a person. Usually conversations begin with “general interest” questions (What is your job? Where do you live? What sports do you enjoy?). Then we ask more “specific interest” questions (What do you enjoy about your work? Why did you move back home? Where did you grow up?). We frequently miss the next, but very important, “abstract or philosophic” layer (Why are you studying history? What aspects of your upbringing have most affected you? What do you think are the secrets to a happy life?).
Finally comes the “theological layer” (What do you think God expects from us? Why do you think Jesus died on the cross?) This model may be illustrated graphically as a series of concentric circles. The idea is, that as the friendship deepens and trust is gained, we should gradually move towards the deeper, more significant levels. We should not use this model rigidly, but it is a very helpful way to focus and deepen our relationships with everybody — spouse, family, friends, neighbors, classmates, co-workers, Christians and non-Christians.
The family: God’s invention to help us
Most of us live in a family context. This provides us with the most natural field in which to let our light shine. Those with non-believing family members should ask God to help them relate more fully to each one. Having said that, of course we should do the same with our believing relatives too! But what we need to be open to are the opportunities we have — through our family and the natural contacts they provide – to develop meaningful friendships with non-Christians. Let us not be afraid of opening our homes to them. Today, perhaps more than ever before, families are breaking down, and so many people are wounded, lonely and unfulfilled. They will react positively to the warmth and love they see in our Christian families — but only if our families are opened up to them!
So what’s stopping us?
In this postmodern era in which we live, where other methods of communicating Christian content — such as print, radio and video — are becoming less and less effective, we need to be like those “men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chr. 12:32). Likewise, let us invest our lives where it really matters!
Lifestyle evangelism is an enriching way of life. It is not only a God-sanctioned and very effective way of leading many to Christ; it is also the most fulfilling way of living our lives. It is, likewise, the most completely human way of life, for we were created to develop deep relationships — first with God, but also with one another.
When we cut ourselves off from those with whom God has placed us in contact, we also become the losers. So what is stopping us? Let’s roll up our sleeves and get on with it! And our Lord will help us, for it is His express will that we “Go into the world!”
By Andrew Nunn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.