“Some things you shouldn’t get too good at…like smiling, crying and celebrity.” – Bono
There’s a couple of things in Christianity that you don’t get to be good at either. Prayer is one. Besides, can you imagine the bonehead who would actually say “I’m awesome at prayer!”
The other thing you don’t get to be good at is evangelism. Know why? Because like prayer, both of those things have to do with dependency upon the Holy Spirit. If you didn’t need God to do either of them, it would kind of defeat the purpose of them altogether.
Evangelism is God inviting us into His work of expanding His kingdom. When you get that God is already working all around you, and that you are just being invited into the experience, it’s a game changer. First, it removes the pressure. Second, it makes you laugh a bit. It’s kind of like my buddy and New Breeder, Charlie used to say, “Working for God is a bit like ‘Take-Your-Kids-To-Work-Day’, they can bang on your keyboard all they want, but you know they’re not really getting any work done without you making it happen.”
So what are four ways that God invites us into His work of evangelism? When I was a kid, a commercial used to come on T.V. for the 4H Club. I have no idea what those four h’s were, but the commercial showed kids riding horses, fishing, BMX biking, and doing all kinds of things. We only had Atari’s back then, so it was the stuff! Every kid wanted to be out there. Let me give you the 4H Club you need to be involved in this summer. Each of these four ways begins with the letter H to help you remember how to keep it natural.
I used to think that hospitality was a way to show up to bible studies and get free brownies and pie. Of course, I was young and could eat those things, but when Paul says that an elder “must be given to hospitality” (1 Tim 3:2), it’s because anyone who’s serious about expanding the kingdom of God must open their houses and lives to people on the fringes of faith. In the middle eastern culture setting your table for a stranger was the best way to get to know them. It’s the same in our culture as well. It’s not by accident that the first thing you do when dating your future spouse is to eat with them. This summer, as we are planning on planting a church, our main focus is to go to the beach with our neighbors, host barbeques in our back yard, and go out to eat with people connected to our social spheres.
Eventually, it’s gotta come back to him. I’ve seen missional churches pride themselves on hosting barbeques that grill a mean meat, but never get down to the nitty gritty. Eventually, evangelism has to, well…contain evangelism. There are just some things you can’t outsource, like quality time with the kids, telling the wife you love her, or sharing the gospel. Nobody can do it for you. Everyone you spend time with will be hanging out with you for various reasons. Maybe they need another set of hands on moving day. Maybe their kids like your kids. Maybe they just think you’re cool and want to have you as a friend. If you own a boat, it’s definitely because of that. Don’t kid yourself. Nevertheless, everyone you hang with is going to talk about things that are important to them. Whether it’s booze, sports, surfing, or making money, everyone’s idols eventually out sooner or later. If Jesus means something to you, He’ll eventually come up in conversation. If he doesn’t, you’re the nicest guy in the neighborhood, or your church is the grooviest social spot outside of the karaoke bar, but you’re not going to see people come to faith.
It’s because of this third component of Natural Evangelism that people don’t do the second. Jesus doesn’t come up because we’re actually afraid of hostility. After all, we’re having a beer. We’re relaxing on a warm summer evening, with barbeque sauce smearing our faces, and you had to go and bring up religion. What’s the deal with that? It’s part of the deal. And so is hostility. Hostility may be too harsh of a word. Perhaps it’s only a bit of opposition or pushback, but when somebody disagrees with you on spiritual things, it becomes an honest conversation. And you can get somewhere with those. If somebody is just smiling and nodding, and not making any fuss, you’ll probably never see them again. The first thing they’ll say to their spouse on the way home is “never again”. They were just being polite, but they’re politely rejecting what you said, and possibly you. No big. Jesus said it would happen. I’m not out to win somebody to church going. I’m wanting to talk spiritual things and if they don’t feel comfortable putting their views out there like I did mine, then it’s probably not gonna be that great of a friendship anyways. Tolerance is a two-way street after all.
This is the hardest of all of them, and yet it’s the one that everyone wants to get to the fastest. The number one mistake that people make at that barbeque is trying to “close the deal” like a Jesus-salesman. Chill like the beer you’re neighbor is holding. God isn’t in a hurry. A conversation is a starting point. On average people need to talk about the gospel about 7 or 8 times before they really understand what it is and are ready to make a commitment. God is working, so you can relax a bit. If things get awkward, drop it. No need to bludgeon somebody who’s just trying to enjoy some good company and good food. The harvest takes the skill of a “patient farmer first to partake of the crops”. Paul gave that advice to Timothy to be patient in gospel work and not to try and force it. If you pluck a piece of fruit off a branch before it’s ripe, you’re not going to be able to eat it. You hold off until it’s ripe for the picking. Don’t be in such a hurry. God’s not either.
Those four aren’t the only four, and I’ve barely touched on them, but they’ll get you started in the right direction if you’re eager to reach the people around you. I’ve not gotten much better at evangelism since the day I first started, and I need the Holy Spirit just as much today than I did when I shared the gospel for the first time. That said, these principles have born fruit because their gleaned from scripture. Some things aren’t passing seasonal summer fads, but timeless truths that haven’t changed for thousands of years. You don’t have to be any good at evangelism to observe these principles. You just need to do them and rely upon God, who will do most of the work for you.