Story Number 3: The Gospel Story

My hope is in the Lord Who gave Himself for me,
And paid the price of all my sin at Calvary.
For me He died, For me He lives,

And everlasting life and light He freely gives

— Hymn, For me he died, for me he lives

God’s love has worked in your life

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us
Source: YouVersion

Jesus died for you.

His death paid the price for the forgiveness of your sins.

His death and resurrection paved the way for you to enjoy fellowship with God forever.

You have been reconciled to the Father and you can now discover the outrageous  love of the Father for you.

It’s the greatest story every told.

But we fail to tell the story

We think we know the gospel story.

But when we are put on the spot, in some random moment in a spiritual conversation, we grasp at fog.

We stumble for words.

We are not sure where to start.

We start off in one direction, and then change direction in the middle of a thought.

Most of us have fallen short in mastering being able to tell the greatest story ever told.

We might be good at telling stories

But telling people the actual gospel leaves us speechless or disorganized.

Tell the gospel story well in real life

I once challenged a teen in my youth group to tell the gospel story to a friend.

She was nervous about it, but she knew the major movements of the gospel story.

  • God loves us, but sin separates us from God
  • God’s love didn’t leave us without a solution.
  • God demonstrated his love in Christ’s death and resurrection.
  • That if we believe and confess, receive him, we become a follower of Christ.

As her gospel sharing conversation proceeded, even with conversational detours, she confidently moved through them.

At the end, her friend simply said:

No one has ever shared it so clearly before.  Now I know what it means when they say “Christ died for me.”

How could this teen tell the story so well?

Even when there were conversational detours?

It is because she had memorized a gospel story and mastered the outline.

We reviewed one quarterly in our youth group.

I made everyone practice it on a regular basis.

Because she knew the outline, she could calmly and clearly communicate.

Lesson learned the hard way

A self declared non-Christian friend asked me one time:

“Chris, what is the Gospel?”

I had the perfect opportunity to explain the gospel simply and clearly.

Instead, my explanation was a clear as the muddy Mississippi River during a flood.

After that moment, I decided that I needed to learn a script so that I’d not be caught unprepared again.  In God’s sovereignty, my friend eventually came to faith, but certainly not because of my eloquently clear presentation.

Action Steps

To master this conversational story, find one of the gospel scripts and master it.

Here are a handful of gospel scripts.

I personally have chosen the bridge illustration

The Key to Using a Gospel Story

The key to using gospel scripts is to know ONE “inside out”so that your explanation is crystal clear, but doesn’t seem scripted.

Meaning that you can use it

  • at any given moment,
  • can “do it in your sleep”
  • without having to think too hard.
  • without hyperventilating
  • without forgetting where you are out.
  • without a fear of lack of words or not knowing what to say.

Once you are deeply familiar with one, then add another one to your skill set.

The Problems with memorized gospel stories

1.  Theological debates

Some will find fault with the theology of certain gospel presentations.

No script is able to capture the full richness of the gospel in 3 or 4 propositional points.

While I think all of us would agree on the main points, some of the theological nuances will be points of difference.

For example, I know people who think the Four Spiritual Laws is wrong because it starts in the wrong spot.

Others believe the gospel is all about law and sin, and so the starting point must be the 10 commandments.

Each of these scripts deal with the problem of sin, but how they discuss sin is often related to some theological presuppositions.

For example, read are you a Genesis 3 Christian?  Would sin have been the best starting point for her?

Or for a different point, where would you start the gospel with a member of an indigenous tribe who doesn’t have a Western worldview, but worships an alligator?

The solution is to find a gospel version that fits your theological stream that you can be comfortable with.

2.  Using scripts by rote memory.

Following a script as exactly as possible can be as impersonal as calling a 1-800 number for customer service.

The customer service person in the remote call center has a script to follow, who doesn’t cares what you really need or are really asking.

For the user who is following the script as strictly as possible, the give and take of the conversation messes it up.

This leads to interior anxiety and frustration because it’s out of line.

I’ve talked with some who think a presentation doesn’t work (as if the gospel presentation is a magic formula) unless it’s followed exactly, which means there can be no give and take of a discussion.

I’ve encountered others who place so much emphasis on the right presentation, that their “conversations” are actually monologues led by their own rhetorical questions.

When we follow a script, we have to listen to the “customer” (don’t get carried away with my analogy) and respond appropriately with love. Conversational evangelism is sharing the good news of the gospel, not a canned product placement pitch.

Let me ask you this

Which script of those listed above do you know inside and out?

If you don’t know one, commit this week to learn one.

Want to watch more of my teaching on Spiritual Conversations?

This teaching set (download or DVD) can help you have more effective conversations with people when you discern where they are in their spiritual journey.  Knowing where they are can help relieve the pressure of any conversation about Christ.  Click the banner to read more.

Effective Conversations: Clues to Better Personal Evangelism DVD

A Good Friday Reminder – Jesus Changes Lives

Jesus changes lives.  If you need a fresh reminder, watch this tear jerker video of changed lives via Cardboard Testimonies

One challenge to shortening a personal testimony is to get at this core question:

What difference has Jesus made in your life?

As I watched this video below, I was struck by the power of the cross.  Real lives changed by a real Jesus.

This is what Jesus does.

Jesus transforms a life.

Jesus gives hope.

Jesus redeems the past.

On this Good Friday, remember afresh what the Lord has done for you.  Being a follower of Jesus is not simply agreement to some theological point.  It’s a living relationship with the God who can heal you, save you, and redeem you.

This Good Friday, remember the treasure we have.

 

The fear of the E-word

In the November issue of Presbyterians Today, I share an article that gives 3 basic steps to overcome your personal fear of evangelism.

Sometimes called “the e-word,” as if evangelism is an unspeakable curse word, personal evangelism is generally not a regular discipline among believers in mainline churches because of associations with pushy street preachers.

Here is a snippet from the article:

Street Preacher EvangelismWhen it comes to personal evangelism, the street preacher is the negative go-to stereotype. The common reaction is “I don’t want to do that.”

Though a few are indeed gifted to be effective street preachers (and I’ve done it myself in parks and city streets), the rest of us want a more natural way to share our faith.

Easier done than said

The problem for many people is that talking about faith is difficult.

In the final hours of my mother’s life, she whispered, “I’ve always believed in Jesus; I just didn’t talk about it.” Others have told me that they hope that their good behavior is enough of a sermon that they don’t need to say anything. Ernest L. Gardner III, interim pastor at Philadelphia Presbyterian Church in Mint Hill, North Carolina, says, “I have found that cradle Presbyterians are more accustomed to having their church doors open to visitors than [they are] to engaging others directly about what it means to be a follower of Christ.”

There are many reasons we choose not to talk about our faith. We don’t want to participate in high-pressure tactics or in the kinds of emotional manipulation seen on television. We don’t want our friends to think we’re foolish or simple-minded. Nor do we want to be perceived as combative or disrespectful of others’ deeply held religious beliefs. Laura Long, pastor of Clinchfield Presbyterian Church in Marion, North Carolina, says, “People don’t want to be perceived as nosy about another person’s beliefs.”

We may feel that we lack the skills or knowledge to effectively discuss being a follower of Jesus. I remember hearing an evangelist compare, point by point, the beliefs of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. I began to panic because I knew I couldn’t give a presentation like that. When we’re challenged about the existence of God, or about why we believe that God is love and that God sent Jesus to die for our sins, we may feel as if we can’t give a reasonable defense of our belief.

In a way, we sometimes undermine ourselves. If we aren’t nurturing our relationship with Christ, we’ll miss out on God’s work in our life; we won’t recognize how God is transforming us, leading us, using us, or teaching us. And that can affect how we witness to others. According to pastor Geoff McLean of Christ Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia, “If we don’t appreciate the changes that God works in our life, we have little to say . . . about the relevance of following Jesus.”

Finally, we may feel uncomfortable about sharing our faith because we haven’t thought about how to explain the gospel in a simple way. A friend once asked me, “Chris, what is the gospel?” My obtuse, 10-minute, directionless explanation taught me that, even though I had two seminary degrees, I couldn’t explain the gospel in simple terms. I was not prepared.

I interviewed a couple of Presbyterian pastors, some of whom are using the Engage curriculum on personal evangelism.  That resource is one that I can recommend.  It uses some of the same principles that I teach in my own evangelism seminars about watching for spiritual thirst and engaging people in intentional conversation.

To read the 3 basic steps I share, click through to read the whole article, or read this snippet:

These basic steps can help:

1. Talk about your own experiences with Jesus, not just your church.

Talking about your church is easy, but talking about your own experiences is more meaningful. You might describe how the wisdom of Scripture is helping you in some difficult season in your life. You might talk about how you see the Lord answering particular prayers. Or you might describe how the Lord has used you in some ministry.

2. Talk about how you became a follower of Jesus, not just a member of your church.

I’ve found that many Presbyterians have difficulty answering the question “When did Jesus become real to you?” It’s not that they don’t have faith but that they lack words to express that faith. Think back to some season in your life when it was clear that you had an encounter with Jesus. Try to describe that experience without using overly religious words.

3. Talk about the gospel of Christ, not just your church’s weekend message.

You may find it easy to talk about Sunday’s sermon or even why you were moved by the anthem the choir sang. While those are good to talk about, we need to know the core content of the gospel of Jesus Christ and be able to explain it in a meaningful way to people who may have never read the Bible.

Due to space requirements, I didn’t put a fourth one in there, but here is one that I would add:

4.  Talk about the difference Jesus has made in your life, not just your church programs that do good.

You may find it easy to share how you give to the food pantry, tutor a child, or repair the car of a single mom.  But how has becoming a follower of Christ changed you?  Could you share your hope filled testimony story in two phrases?

TAKE THE NEXT STEP

As you ponder how you and your congregation might grow as evangelists, know that you are not alone in this sometimes difficult journey.

The Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Evangelism and Church Growth ministry area is here to support you.

  • To watch the Engage video series, download related resources, and order the three-part printed curriculum: pcusa.org/engage
  • To partner with New Beginnings as you envision a new future for your congregation and come up with a strategy to make it happen: whatisourfuturestory.com
  • To connect with staff, find more resources, and get information on the next Evangelism and Church Growth Conference: pcusa.org/ecg

photo credit: nan palmero via cc

How to Pray for Your Neighbor’s Salvation

I recently got new neighbors.  They moved in across the way.

I know very little about them at the moment, other than they are Jewish.

At least, that is my best guess based on the mezuzah that is on their door frame.  I am told that the mezuzah holds a small paper scroll with the words of the Shema prayer written on it in Hebrew.  Mezuzahs fulfill the command to keep the laws of God on the doorposts of our homes, and I’ve seen family members touch it each time they walk into their house.

I doubt my first greeting with them will be to talk about Jesus.

But I can begin to pray for them before I have a chance to know them personally.

How can you pray for your neighbors?

How to Pray for Neighbors Salvation

I know there are many different prayer strategies in personal evangelism (listen to this one), such as this one from Colossians 4:3-4

  • “Lord, Open a door.”
  • “Lord, open their heart.”
  • “Lord, open my mouth.”

When I last got new neighbors in 2011, here is what shaped my prayer for my new neighbors.  We are praying along these lines:

  1. That we’d find common ground with our new neighbors
  2. That we’d build a genuine and authentic relationship.
  3. That we’d be part of God’s work in bringing them to Christ.
  4. That if they don’t have a church, that they would become part of ours.
  5. That we’d get to invite them to our church.
  6. That God would draw them to Jesus if that hasn’t happened yet.

Due to the course of life events in both our families, we moved and they moved before we ever had a meal together.

As I step into a new seasons of praying for new neighbors, here are some ideas that are fueling me.

1.  Pray for passion to share the good news

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s  driving passion to share the good news, as spelled out in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23.

For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!  If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.  What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law),so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

2.  Pray that God would give you divine appointments

Earlier in the Corinthian letter, Paul wrote:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. (1 Corinthians 3:5)

Paul reminded the Corinthians about how they made their journey to faith over time through various conversational encounters.

Each of those conversational encounters were divine appointments, those prompting a moment that will impact someone’s life in their journey to faith.  I want to give you examples of how this can play out in real life.

Pray for more divine appointments with your neighbor.

3.  Pray that God will keep those neighbors before you.

Your neighbors are not just a nameless class of irrelgious people.

They are not simply “the unsaved.”  Rather, they are individuals with names, stories, hopes, dreams.  They are people that you can grow to love and serve.

You could pray that seeing your neighbors will become a trigger that will prompt you to pray,

Lord use me to share the love of Christ with them.

Lord, use me to invite them to church.

Pray that God would give you the opportunity to invite someone to church this coming weekend.

4.  Pray that you’ll receive the Father’s heart of love.

It’ll be easy to get annoyed with your neighbors when they won’t cut their tree limbs back, or when their dog continues to do its business on your yard.

It’ll become easy to ignore your neighbor if you never interact with them.

It’ll become easy to forget about their spiritual condition once you have spent a good amount of time with them.

Instead of letting business as usual develop, ask the Lord to give you His heart of love for those who don’t know him.

Ask regularly, ask plainly, and ask with great passion.

Ask the Lord for that same compassion Jesus felt that day outside of Jerusalem.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  (Matthew 9:36-38)

5.  Pray that you’ll discern their spiritual thirst.

As you pray regularly for your neighbor, you’ll begin to see what the Spirit of God is doing in their life.

You’ll begin to see their spiritual thirst.

Recently, I went on a charter fishing expedition.  The captain looked for clues as we drove to the fishing spots – birds feeding on bait fish.  The birds showed the captain where the small bait fish were swimming near the surface and that was the clue to the likely presence of the bigger fish we would catch.

Spiritual thirst is that clue that will begin to give you a hint of the spiritual hunger that is just below the surface.

In the way I teach personal evangelism, this thirst is what God uses to draw people to himself.  Jesus said:

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” (John 7:37b)

Jesus plainly taught that if anyone wants a relationship with God, it can be obtained.

But notice that this claim to a relationship is specifically addressed only to those who are spiritually thirsty.

Pray that you’ll begin to see it.

Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field
“Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

I pray for my neighbors.  Will you pray for yours?

Here is the coaching corner.

Are you praying regularly for your neighbors?

Maybe it is time to make a prayer list of every neighbor in your apartment building, condo complex, or cul-de-sac.

Write down their names and set apart time in your devotional times to pray for them.