There are multiple ways to share the good news of Jesus Christ. You can open-air preach. Or you can just walk up to a stranger on the street with a tract and hope for a brief conversation. Or you can invest into someone’s life as a friend first, eventually leading them to the gospel. One approach does not preclude the others. So what do different forms of evangelism look like in Pastor John’s life? At the recent CROSS conference, Pastor John fielded audience questions. I wanted to share two of them with you today. The first from a young woman named Christie at the microphone.
Christie: I am curious how, whenever you’re not in settings like this, you share the gospel with people. For example, if you have five minutes or less. Maybe you’re checking out at Walmart or whatever. If you have five minutes or less to tell someone about Christ, what do you tell them?
Pastor John: Let’s just use real examples. I’m in Minnesota, so I only do this about eight months out of the year. I call it jogging evangelism. I’m a jogger, and I mean really slow, like thirteen-minute miles. I jog through my neighborhood. It’s a very poor neighborhood, and I know where everything is. I know where the homeless people are; I know where the people are under the bridge; I know where they’re getting up at six o’clock in the morning. I just start running, and I’m praying, “God, show me somebody to do that — five minutes, two minutes, whatever.”
“I don’t know of any formula for when you should share the gospel quickly versus cultivating a long-term relationship.”
They’re easy to talk to. I mean, most poor people are easy to talk to, right? It’s rich people that think you’re a jerk and say, “Get out of my life.” I basically start by saying, “Hi. I’m John. I live in the neighborhood.” I used to say, “I’m a pastor,” and that helped usually. I say, “I jog, and I pray for people. How can I pray for you?” Real standard opening. They say, “Pray for my girlfriend. She just left. She ditched me last night,” or whatever.
I say, “Okay. I will do that. Now, may I tell you the best news in the world?” I just ask permission. “Can I tell you the best news in the world?” Sometimes I’ll say, “Do you know the best news in the world?” They say, “No. What do you mean?”
Then I just say, “The best news in the world is that God made you for his glory. You and I don’t love his glory as we should, right? Do you love his glory?” “No, I don’t.” “Okay. You’re guilty before God. I’m guilty before God. God in mercy is willing to send Jesus, his Son, to die in our place so that his anger and wrath doesn’t have to fall on us. If we will abandon our sin and trust in him, he will forgive all our sins and bring us into his fellowship.”
I mean, that’s the gospel. It’s 1 Corinthians 15:3. It’s gospel: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” Then I see where we go from there. That may be the end of it. If they look the least bit interested to talk more, we go, but what I just gave you up there is the gospel, those four things.
Several minutes later came a question about campus evangelism and weighing the balance between impromptu “tract evangelism” versus “invested friendship” evangelism. Which is a better opportunity for success? Here’s how Pastor John responded.
Pastor John: I don’t know of any formula that can define or decide for you when you will take an urgent opportunity to share the gospel quickly and fully with a person versus cultivating a longer-term relationship. I don’t know a formula. Both are needed.
I think what we need to do is check our hearts. Is the reason I am cultivating say a half a dozen relationships in my dorm in the hopes that I will have more credibility and lead them to Jesus — is the reason I’m doing that instead of going to the gospel in my first three conversations because I’m afraid? If it’s fear, we need to change our strategy.
Frankly, from my experience over the last twenty or thirty years, friendship evangelism, which is a beautiful thing, has discouraged people from doing what I do in jogging evangelism. Here’s the problem. This is my experience anyway.
“The gospel itself carries in it the natural impulse to be urgent.”
If you move into a neighborhood say, and you’ve got neighbors on each side, and you meet them, and you’re just going to say, “I’m going to form a relationship and within a few months, and maybe the gospel will come up.” When it comes up in six months and they hear how urgent it is, they look at you funny and say, “Why did you wait to tell me about this?” In other words, the gospel itself carries in it the natural impulse to be urgent.
I would just encourage you to pray earnestly for discernment as to whether or not in this moment, within the second or third conversation you have with a new friend, you say something like, “Can we do lunch together and share each other’s philosophy of life? Like you tell me what makes you tick, and I’ll tell you what makes me tick?” Just ask for permission.
One other thing. I think we err — I know I have erred here — in not pressing through to tell somebody, “I really want you to believe.” We share the gospel de facto. We tell them the facts. We offer it to them. And then we stop instead of looking them in the eye and saying, “I love you. I would like to spend eternity with you. I want you to be a sister. I want you to be brother of mine. Would you?” Maybe the Lord would even give you tears at that moment. Very few people ever meet a Christian who talks that way to them.