That’s what God did, that’s what Jesus did, that’s what his disciples did—and that’s what we are called to do!
Gospel witness is at the heart of authentic godliness. It’s who God is. It’s what God does!
Now if this truth really gets hold of us, it will mean a radical change in our Christian thinking and living. Evangelism will not be optional—or just for those with the gift! Witnessing will no longer be something that just “happens” if the opportunity presents itself. We will do more than hope people notice the difference in our lives and are magically drawn to Jesus.
No! If we really get it, then we will strive and work at witnessing. Gospel witness will become a discipline in our lives—a discipline of our godliness. In fact, it must become one of the central disciplines of our daily Christian walk.
So what does this look like? What should we be working at in our lives to be better gospel witnesses in this world? Let us suggest two things.
The first and simplest discipline of witness is to be intentional about our relational circles, about whom we hang out with. For most of us (apart from the inner ring of a few close friends) our social circles just kind of happen through school and work and church. And we don’t pay very close attention to what is going on; we just accept our circle of acquaintances as it develops. But to be an effective gospel witness this must change.
Jesus didn’t just let his relational circles happen. Not only did he give careful thought to the selection of those in his inner circle (the disciples), but he also strategically pursued relationships with unbelievers by entering into their social situations and hanging out with them. He sought out the “spiritually sick” (sinners and tax collectors) so as to bring them the good news. Jesus was constantly on the move to escape the crowds that only wanted their bellies filled or bodies fixed, so that he could proclaim the gospel to those with ears to hear. The apostle Paul did the same. His travels from city to city and frequent visits to synagogues and town halls were not about tourism; rather they were for the very purpose of creating relational opportunities to proclaim the gospel to more unbelievers!
Of course, most of us are not called to be traveling evangelists. But we all should be evangelistically intentional about the social and relational circles we run in. For some of you this needs to start by just seeking to get to know some unbelievers. I often hear from young guys in my church, especially those who attend Christian schools, that they actually don’t know any non-Christians, and they say this without any embarrassment. This is totally unacceptable! It’s our job to know and pursue non-Christians. The fact that they don’t naturally run in your social circles is no excuse. We must pursue non-Christians and be intentional about the relationships we already have with them.
Now, depending on our circumstances, we may need to be a bit creative to make this happen. My father was the pastor of a church of almost three thousand people for twenty-seven years. This put him at the epicenter of layers and layers and layers of Christian circles. He could hardly see pagans in the distance much less hang out with them. He could have said, “Well the Lord placed me here. I guess equipping the saints is my gig and evangelism is for others,” and no one would have faulted him for it! But he didn’t. Instead he made a list! He actually made a list of every non-Christian he had contact with—the mailman, the neighbors across the street, his brother, his barber, the lady at the coffee stand. He then prayed for those on his list and worked to foster those relationships—engaging them in conversation about their lives and inviting them to family or church events. He went to the same barber every month and tried to never miss his appointment. This allowed him to develop a consistent gospel dialogue with the man that continued for years.
In my own life, I’ve chosen to coach boys’ recreation league soccer for the past ten years. I got weary of coaching at about year three, but I keep at it because of the contact it affords me with families outside my regular church circles. Although I have to say that assistant coach, not head coach, is the ideal position, because it allows you to gab with the parents on the sideline—without being blamed when you lose!
If you are so “in” the Christian social scene that you are completely “out” of the unbelieving world, then you are totally missing a key component of true godliness.
The sad truth is you will never be an effective witness—and things need to change in your life! Perhaps it’s time to quit the Evangelicals United All Saints Soccer Team and disband your Tuesday-night Trekkies for Jesus club and get out! Step out of your comfort zone for the sake of the gospel. The apostle Paul put it this way as he was challenging the Corinthians on how to use their freedom in Christ for evangelistic witness, “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
At this point you may be saying, “Hey I have lots of non-Christian friends (maybe even too many).” Great! But here is the question for you: How intentional are you in those relationships when it comes to actual gospel witness?
And I don’t mean “witness” as in modeling it by your exemplary moral conduct. That will only confirm for them that you’re a serious Mormon, or Catholic, or Christian, or Muslim—or prude! (I am the father of eight, so they always guess that I’m Mormon.) By “witness” I mean—what is it that you talk about with them? Have you been purposeful in guiding your conversations toward “God stuff” and even Jesus?
Our evangelistic intentionality must progress from making contact and relationship to making gospel conversation—or we are just wasting our time.
Of course, excellent gospel conversations generally don’t just happen. Your friend isn’t likely to start a gospel dialogue—like you’re sitting there in your flat (or your parent’s basement) with your pagan “gamer” buddy in the middle of a Modern Warfare II all-nighter and he’s suddenly going to say, “Hey man, what do you think would happen if I were to suddenly drop dead tonight and stand before God?” or “Dude, do you really believe in that Jesus stuff? And quit hogging the Doritos!”
The truth is that guiding a conversation toward spiritual things isn’t easy. It takes planning, it takes persistence, and it takes boldness. Just getting things started can be hard.
One of the best tips I know for getting into gospel conversations is this: be ready to give “spiritually leading” answers to common open-ended questions.
Take, for example, your friend asking a common question like, “What did you do this weekend?” We all get that question all the time—and we usually answer out of habit with, “Not much” or “Slept in.” But think what an opportunity that question affords for a “leading” answer such as, “Actually I heard an awesome sermon at church that really got me thinking.” Guys, if you’re ready with an answer like that, your chance of getting into a good conversation rather than the same old bull increases significantly.
Another good example comes from Pastor C. J. Mahaney. Quite often when people ask him “How are you?” he replies “Better than I deserve!” A friend of mine picked that up and used it as a reply to a lady that he had greeted every day at work for years, and it led immediately into a full-on gospel conversation. She couldn’t believe that he considered himself a person deserving of judgment, and she demanded to know why!
Now clearly, spiritually leading answers don’t always work. In response, all you may get is a blank stare or that raised-eyebrow look that I often get from my kids that says, “You’re sooo lame.” A much more sure way to get into a gospel dialogue is by taking the conversational lead by some skilled questioning. A colleague of mine is the mas- ter of this. He can meet a complete stranger after church and within a few minutes have him genuinely engaged in a spiritual conversation. I once asked him how he did it, figuring it just came naturally. But to my surprise he explained that he actually had a series of preplanned questions. He said each question was designed to shift up the intensity of the conversation without stalling it out. Intrigued, I asked him to write them out for me, and he did so in the form of a gear-shifting chart, which we now use for training our church interns in conversational evangelism. (See www.GodlyYoungMan.org.) When you check it out you will see that the questions really aren’t anything special, but they are intentional and flow naturally toward gospel conversation.
These techniques are helpful, but the truth is, the best way into a good gospel conversation is the long way. It is the result of a lot of previous conversations about things that really do matter, conversations in which you have taken the time to get to know a person and listen so that that person knows that you truly care.
If you reach out to your non-Christian friends in this way, entering their world and their lives, there is a good chance they will be the ones who start the gospel conversation.
But remember, whether through “technique” or “time spent,” it takes intentionality or it will never happen!
This excerpt is adapted from R. Kent and Carey Hughes’ book, Disciplines of a Godly Young Man.
R. Kent Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois where he served as pastor for 27 years. He has authored numerous books for Crossway, including Disciplines of a Godly Man. He is also the series editor and a contributor to the popular Preaching the Word series. Hughes now lives in Washington state with his wife, Barbara, and is the father of four and grandfather of an ever-increasing number of grandchildren. Carey Hughes (MTh, Moore College, Sydney) is senior pastor of Christ the Redeemer Church in Spokane, Washington, and former Junior High director at College Church in Wheaton.