Southern Baptist churches, based on our baptism reports, are less and less effective at sharing the gospel in such a way people receive it and become Christians. The reasons for this vary from church to church, but there are some common problems which span geography, culture, and ministry style. This is the third installment in a summer series highlighting some of those issues and offering some suggestions for change. The next problem limiting evangelistic effectiveness is overcomplicating sharing the gospel.
Talking about Jesus should be a simple conversation. But, like many things, we make it more difficult than it is, usually with good motives but unintended, negative consequences. In one African tribe, the word used for “American” is the same word translated “makes things too complicated.” Some witness training programs fall into this pattern. They create barriers to communicating the gospel because of their level of difficulty and subliminal message a Christian shouldn’t share the gospel until they pass the “witnessing class.” While personal evangelism training courses definitely have their place in church programming, we can’t allow them to overcomplicate the task of sharing our faith. Take the classes your church offers! If there are no training opportunities, ask your leaders to start some. But, while being trained, avoid believing the subtle lie that witnessing is only for the experts who can master detailed curriculum.
A few Christians need in-depth, specialized training related to evangelism. There’s an important role for apologists—people who make intellectually defensible arguments for the truth of the gospel. Some non-Christians with legitimate questions about Christianity will analyze and argue about religious issues. They can be quite animated in expressing their questions and concerns. Apologists are needed to take on these antagonists and convince them of the truth.
Most people who raise questions about the gospel, however, aren’t motivated by intellectual opposition to Christianity. Their concerns stem from personal issues, often painful circumstances they are grappling to understand. These might include the death of a child (Why didn’t God answer our prayers?), an accident that killed a friend (Why didn’t God stop it from happening?), or the loss of a job (Why does God let bad things happen to me?). People asking questions like these are often looking more for compassionate reassurance of God’s love than a persuasive argument about God’s providence.
Another way we complicate witnessing is making it an event, rather than a normal part of the ebb and flow of life. Sharing the gospel means talking about it whenever it’s appropriate in the conversation, not just on visitation night or when you make an appointment to see a friend. Witnessing is an unscripted dialogue, sometimes an ongoing dialogue with bits and parts of the gospel shared over time. Yes, there is usually a moment when you ask, “Can I take a few minutes and tell you how you can personally commit yourself to God?” But that question, and the ensuing presentation, is usually the culmination of other conversations contributing to an unbeliever’s readiness to commit to Jesus. Effective witnessing is simple, direct, and a natural part of daily relationships.
Solution: Master the basics of the gospel and a simple way to present it. Learn straight-forward replies to a few common questions unbelievers raise about the gospel. Focus on answering questions by unbelievers honestly, with compassion, remembering most objections to Christianity are personal or relational, not intellectual. And, if you are motivated and able, do the intellectual heavy-lifting to become an apologist for our faith.
This series is excerpted from my book, Unscripted: Sharing the Gospel as Life Happens