Christians talk too much. At least, they feel the pressure to.
I have a talk entitled “Why I Am a Christian,” where I discuss the primary reason we ought to follow Christ: because He’s the Truth. Christianity (in the sense of C.S. Lewis’ “mere Christianity”) is true and we have good reasons to think so. But sometimes, when students hear this they feel pressure to have all the right answers for their non-believing friends. I hear the stress in their voices when they ask, “So what should I say to my non-Christian friends?” Here’s my advice.
First, start with questions. Oftentimes, Christians think evangelism means we talk and others listen. So, the believer is supposed to have a polished “Gospel presentation” and a finely tuned response to all objections. But this approach is undignifying to non-Christians and it completely ignores the unique questions an individual might have. And it’s why some Christians are really good at answering questions no one is asking. Francis Schaeffer’s words are instructive here: “If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first 55 minutes asking questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then the last 5 minutes I will share something of the truth.”
I encourage students to start with Stand to Reason’s first two “Columbo” questions:
#1 — What do you mean by that?
#2 — How did you come to that conclusion?
The first question gives you the opportunity to really get to know the other person. They are not an evangelistic target. They’re not a means to an end. They’re a valuable human being made in the image of God and deserving of dignity and respect. Plus, this question gives you more information about what they believe, rather than assuming you already know.
The second question takes the pressure off you by putting the burden-of-proof on them. Everyone believes something and you’re simply asking why they believe what they believe. It’s not just Christians who need to give reasons for their beliefs.
Notice something. These two questions require absolutely no knowledge on your part. You can use them in your very next conversation. So, the pressure is off a bit. You don’t have to have all the right answers or a slick presentation. Just start with questions.
Second, have a modest goal for your conversations. When an opportunity for a “God conversation” arises, don’t feel like you have to get that person to the Gospel in the next 10 minutes. Instead, simply attempt to put a stone in their shoe.
Christians feel pressure to get to the cross in every conversation. But that’s an unrealistic goal. The cross is utter foolishness to an atheist in your first conversation. Rather, a more realistic goal is to put a stone in their shoe. It’s the idea that you give some information that bothers them, causes them to think (notice, it’s the information that bothers them, not you!). And in the next conversation, they may want to know more. If you put enough stones in, who knows, you may even get them to give up some of their false beliefs, moving them toward God’s truth. Of course, if you get to the cross in the first conversation, great. Go there. But usually the soil of the heart needs time to be tilled before it’s receptive to Christ’s message of reconciliation. Indeed, it may take years of tilling.
This advice is usually followed by an audible sigh of relief. Pressure relieved. Of course, some pressure is good but not when it’s paralyzing. We don’t want Christians sitting on the bench, we want them in the game. We need to be having deep, profound, meaningful conversations with non-believing friends and family. Hopefully, good questions and a realistic goal will move us in that direction.