Ever felt that in your evangelistic life all you’re really doing is wheel spinning? Like you’re going round and round in circles and not really going anywhere with anyone? What I’d love to have is more evangelistic traction. I’d like to feel that in my interaction with people what I’m doing actually connects in such a way that we make some progress.
In thinking this issue through for the Co-Mission Staff Focus, I was prompted to look afresh at Colossians 4:2-6. This is Paul’s final passage in a section describing life under the rule of Christ. And it’s all about turning believers’ attention to the unbelieving culture. The reason for doing so us that they might make the truth of the gospel known to those who don’t usually come to church.
It answers the question what can an ordinary group of believing people do to make sure that outsiders hear the gospel. It assumes that the church is committed to not only praying for the conversion of unbelievers but also speaking to unbelievers.
There are two clear sections.
- In verses 2-4 Paul encourages his readers to pray for his evangelistic life because that’s what he ought to be doing
- In verses 5-6 Paul encourages his readers to have an evangelistic life because that’s what they ought to be doing
We’ll consider verses 5&6. But before we do, let’s not to miss the point that all effective evangelism begins with prayer. Paul’s encouragement to persevere in prayer is surely a reminder to us to give ourselves once again to deliberate and detailed intercession for those with whom we seek to share Christ.
These next few paragraphs are all about developing evangelistic traction. I’m not specifically talking amongst our friends, colleagues and neighbours. I don’t want to limit it to ‘friendship evangelism’ because I don’t think the Bible does. I’m talking more generally about making progress with anyone whom we meet.
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Let’s look at the five principles Paul gives for gaining traction with our evangelistic zeal.
1. Our conduct should be wise
5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders;
Paul is concerned first with our behaviour. He wants us to be wise in the way we interact with unbelievers. He’s not talking about being cautious. He’s talking about godliness. He wants us to be like Christ in the way in which we relate with people who don’t come to church.
It’s worth asking, are we godly, like Christ, or are we worldly? If we’re worldly it shouldn’t surprise us if we make little progress with any unbelievers. Why would they listen to us if we’re no different to them? But if we’re prepared to live like Christ it might just be that the Lord uses this to provoke a response. After all, there’s substance to a life built on Christ. Faith in him and obedience unto him provide rock solid foundations upon which a life can be securely built. Jesus made that point at the end of the sermon on the mount. The godly way of life is also profoundly attractive; the state of our marriages, the way we raise our children, the importance we place on our work, our wealth and our ambitions – godliness in these areas commends the gospel.
A few weeks ago Rosslyn and I were invited to attend the Hindu dedication of the daughter of friends. They’re both pretty secular. But the husband remains culturally Hindu. After considering the issue and what our attendance would communicate to them, to our friends who were also going but especially to God who abhors idolatry, we felt that in conscience we couldn’t go. I tried to explain that carefully and repeatedly affirmed that our intent was not to offend. He was quite taken back by our refusal to attend but also the reasons I gave. But he’s prepared to come to dinner and talk more about it. We need to trust the Lord that He will use the wise application of godly principles to create opportunities for the gospel.
Paul’s instruction to be wise in the way we act towards outsiders presupposes contact with outsiders. And so our problem may not be worldliness but worldly contact. We may have become isolated from unbelievers. No doubt our involvement at church can encourage a ghetto lifestyle in a Christian sub culture. And it may be that for many of us that key component of a normal Christian life is missing.
What are we going to do about that? We can’t let it go on. What can we do about that? Are there ministry opportunities amongst the unbelieving fringe at church that we’re missing out on? In the last year the Lord has brought two unbelieving men into our midst at CCB. We’ve been friendly. Why hadn’t it crossed my mind to read the Bible with them?
But where can you go to meet outsiders? For me, it’s playing footy on a Thursday night and when I can, it’s rugby on a Saturday. But it’s tough to keep carving out the time in the diary. Other things crowd in. But why not choose one thing this year and make it your thing. It could be a sports club, a reading group or an adult learning class. Just find something where you’ll meet unbelievers and conversation is allowed!
It will feel like a terrible waste of a year if we get to March 2010 and we have no one to invite to A Passion for Life. I feel ashamed at evangelistic events if I’ve not got anyone there. And that’s probably right.
2. our time should be planned
make the most of every opportunity.
The idea behind Paul’s expression is that we should make the best use of our time. The point is don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and waste the chances the Lord gives you to speak. Our time on this earth is a gift from God and we must use it for His glory. It belongs to him and it gives it to us to use in His service. So we have an obligation to employ the time He gives us with wisdom. Snap up the chances as they come along. Ask yourself how well you use your time. I’m not intending to inculcate a sense of guilt; I just want to prevent waste.
Do you plan your week? Management consultants have made a lot of money selling seminars that are supposed to make us more efficient. And we’re rightly sceptical of their claims. But there must be soemthing in it! There’s something to be said for being proactive rather than reactive. Wouldn’t it be awful to get to next Easter and realise how much time we’d squandered and frittered away on worthless pursuits. So are you in charge of your diary? Are you making sure that the important wins out over the urgent?
There’s wisdom in planning your week and developing a routine. We’ve investigated a new timetable at home because with three kids, two sets of homework, after school clubs, Rosslyn working two days a week and my desire to still play rugby. Sad isn’t it but we realsied that without careful planning it was all going pear shaped. Over the summer we took stock of our situation. W were aware of what we’re not doing and how little time we’re spending with non-Christians. We need time with unbelievers and that’s not going to happen unless we plan it.
And so what are the opportunities you have in the week to contact outsiders? What are the shared activities that you can do? In other words what do you already do that you could do with others? Some of the men at CCB go running. What’s to stop them going running with a non-Christian friend every week?
Let’s analyse a typical week for a church elder, who are surely soem of the busiest people in our churches. There are seven days a week. One of those they’re preparing their small group Bible study. Another one they’re leading that study. That leaves five. His wife needs two good nights, one of which ought to be a non-negotiable date night. But that still leaves three free nights. One of those can be spend entertaining a church couple of supper. That leaves two nights. At least one of those ought to be a regular commitment to non-Christians. And there’s still one spare.
Plan your time and don’t waste the opportunities.
3. our approach should be gracious
6 Let your conversation be always full of grace,
Obviously we want our speech to be full of the gospel; namely God’s grace to us in Christ. But that’s not his point here. Paul’s point is not so much the content our speech but the manner of our speech. He’s aware that it’s not always what we say to an outsider that gains their attention but the way in which we say it. If we’re churlish, impolite and obnoxious then we’re likely to be dismissed. If we’re gracious and kind then we’re likely to be heard.
This may well be Paul’s version of Peter’s concept of speaking with gentleness and respect in 1 Peter 3:15. Paul’s primary point is that any conversation should be gracious. But as we’re aware, a conversation is more than a few words; it’s an interaction between two people. And that interaction must be characterised by grace. When we engage with people our whole demeanour should be marked by generosity as we give ourselves to them.
When questions arise or when an opportunity to say something is forthcoming we mustn’t simply dump on them with an ‘off-pat’ response or everything that we’ve learnt from our latest MP3 apologetics talk. We need to be gracious and really listen to them, really enquire of them so that we might really understand them. This kind of genuine involvement with someone can only help us gain traction.
It may well mean that a few of us need to speak a little less and listen a whole load more in order to make progress with unbelievers. Not because we don’t have anything worthwhile to say but because we want what we say to hit the mark.
Let’s be generous in our attitude to others.
4. our conversation should be distinct
seasoned with salt,
Gracious words can be insipid and dull. Salt means that they’re to be distinctive. The point of the salt image, as I understand it, seems to be that salt is unlike whatever it’s added to so that when you add it to something it provides a distinct flavour. In Matthew 5 Jesus suggests that when salt loses its distinctiveness it has no further use. Therefore if our topics of conversation, if our logic, if the passions of our hearts revealed in the things that we get excited about are no different from the unbelieving world, we’re of very little use to Jesus! Wouldn’t that be awful.
We need to get used to being different and having something different to say. Most people, once they discover that we’re Christians, expect us to be different. They know we’re different. But are we distinct? We seem to spend most of our time trying to show people who know that we’re different that we’re not distinct. It’s bonkers. And yet God requires us to stand apart.
It’s helpful to think through issues from a Christian perspective. It’s worth asking what’s in the news and what do we say? The internet is so helpful in this regard. Andrea Williams’ site ‘Christian Concern for our Nation’ and the Christian Institute site contain articles so that we can be informed on the ethical and political issues. Al Mohler the President of the Southern Baptist Union has a web site that’s well worth reading. He writes from an American perspective and so deals with their issues. But he reads the British press and often has something sensible to say. It just means that we can give the distinctive Christian perspective in any discussion.
Weher we live there are three topics of conversation that unfailingly come up at a dinner party; holidays, homes and education. I’m often worried that I have nothing distinctive to say on those issues. I’m pretty sure that I’m not that different from my unbelieving peers. Surely God makes a difference to the way I view those three things.
5. our response should be prepared
so that you may know how to answer everyone.
We need to have done some homework. We need not only to know where people are coming from but we need to have made some headway in knowing how to respond. We know some of the issues that need an answer but we need to do the next thing and formulate a response.
There are two books by Randy Newman that I recommend, ‘Corner Conversations’ and ‘Questioning Evangelism’. They’re an easy read. The London Men’s Convention resource ‘Biblical Answers to Tough Questions’ can be purchased from the Good Book Company.
But get your pastors to prepare you. It’s what you pay them for! Let them know what you think you need to respond to what people are saying in the office. We’ve decided to have a short slot each week tackling one of the common objections to Christianity. I discuss that here.
But after you finish reading this, why not consciously and deliberately answer these personal application questions
- Where do I need to change my behaviour?
- How can I make better use of my time?
- What might I need to change in the way I interact with people?
- Which topics of conversation frequently crop up in which I can be distinct?
- What do I need to think about in order to be better prepared?