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

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

Is Relational Evangelism in the Old Testament?

God's been good to meA reader submitted a question about evangelism in the Old Testament.

I’d love to be steered toward some Old Testament passages that relate to “Relational Evangelism” any passages come to mind?

Part of how I answer the question is rooted in how I define evangelism and relational evangelism.  So let’s start with these

My definition of evangelism

I consider evangelism as the entire process

  • of a person awakening to their spiritual restlessness
  • seeking answers to that restlessness
  • hearing how Jesus is the way God satisfies that thirst.
  • hearing about our sinful condition before God.
  • hearing the proclamation of Jesus as Lord and our need to repent
  • the call to place faith in Christ and live as a follower of Jesus.

Every conversation about faith, every rumination in the late night hours, every invitation to church, every sermon heard, every bible verse read, every small group conversation all become “seeds” that that the Lord uses in the drawing process.

Since I’m a Presbyterian pastor, I choose to use an excellent definition of personal evangelism, as adopted by the General Assembly (1990).

Joyfully sharing the good news of the sovereign love of God, and calling people to repentance, to personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, to active membership in the church, and to obedient service in the world.

I’ve written about this definition before.  See these articles:

This definition of evangelism has guided me since the early part of the last decade and I have chosen to live it out in my own personal lifestyle of evangelism.

Evangelism involves me telling the first hand stories of God’s activity in my life.  In the course of doing that, I can talk about how I started my relationship with Christ and how my friends can do the same.

A stricter definition of Evangelism

A stricter definition of evangelism would focus exclusively on the presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ.

In this view, all of the process leading up to the sharing of the gospel would be “pre-evangelistic” seed planting.  An example of this is seen in Doug Cecil’s book “7 Principles of the Evangelistic Life”

Evangelism is an event and not a process. We are to do the work of an evangelist. The definition of evangelism has two main parts: information and invitation. One part without the other is out of balance. One should not think of presenting an invitation without any information. And likewise, providing only the information without an invitation to trust Christ will leave the listener frustrated and still unsaved. After a person trusts Christ, instruction in the spiritual life starts the person down the road toward spiritual maturity.”

On the one hand, I agree with his definition of evangelism.  A strict biblical interpretation of meaning of evangelism would be the actual proclamation of the gospel.

On the other hand, I would see all the appropriate activity and conversations leading up to that particular moment as part of the evangelistic process as people walk through stages of their journey to Christ.  He would call that “witnessing.”  It’s a slight difference of nuance.

My definition of Relational Evangelism

Before getting to some Old Testament passage, I need to share my perspective on Relational Evangelism.  This style focuses on doing good, living good, so that your lifestyle attracts spiritual curiosity.  “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” Matthew 5:16 (NLT)

I look at relational evangelism this way:

  • Living in such a way that your faith is obvious AND
  • Being intentional in talking about the gospel
  • In the context of intentional relationships

It is living in such a way (actions) and speaking regularly (Words) that your friends know you are an approachable Christian they can talk over their own spiritual issues.

Relational Evangelism in the Old Testament

In one sense, evangelism in the strict sense is not seen in the Old Testament.   Since the proclamation of evangelism is Jesus centered, you’ll not find evidence of such in the Old Testament, which only foreshadowed Christ.

However, we can see that the covenant people were to be active witnesses of their faith.

They were to live out their faith and tell stories of all that God had done.

The exhortations that speak to me the most are found in the Psalms.  The people of Israel were to tell of the goodness of the Lord.

Psalm 73:28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

Isaiah 63:7 I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us— yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.

I see where parents should teach their faith to their children

I see where believers were to talk about God’s goodness and faithfulness.

The Psalms are full of summaries of what God has done in history so that people could remember the stories.

I would argue that all of this is a predecessor to relational evangelism we practice today.  The members of the covenant community were called to talk about their faith with their friends.

Coaching Corner

Can we tell of ALL the deeds of the Lord with our non-Christian friends?  Can we share “the many good things He has done?”

Think back over the last 30 days. How have you seen God’s kindness at work in your life?

You might see evidence of God’s work in:

  • Guidance
  • Healing
  • Love
  • Forgiveness
  • Speaking to you
  • Growing a particular fruit of the Spirit
  • A season of testing
  • To be a blessing in the life of another

With whom can you share a story this week?

7 Observations from Fox News’ Kristen Powers’ Testimony

Christianity Today recently released an article you may have seen, Fox News’ Highly Reluctant Jesus Follower.  It’s a worthy article to read Kristen Powers’ first hand personal testimony of how she became a follower of Jesus.

Kristen Powers' Testimony

It is getting a lot of airplay at the moment (I must have seen it 30 times already in personal Facebook feed, and uncountable times in my Twitter feed).    If you haven’t read it yet, click on the link to read it.

Her testimony shows me 7 important principles of personal evangelism that we can all remember as we share our faith in Christ with people who mean a lot to us.

7 Principles Seen in Kristen Powers’ Testimony

1.  Evangelism is a process.

Some people would define evangelism strictly as an event – the verbal proclamation of the gospel.  Instead, I see evangelism as a process.

The conversion process is not always instant or dramatic like the Apostle Paul’s.  Powers’ story tells us the whole process of her life.

She covers the journey of awakening, gathering evidence, reflecting on information learned, doing some reading, and talking out loud with friends about what one is learning of God.

It is a process of sowing, watering, cultivating, tending, weeding, and preparing a fruit for harvest.

2.  Spiritual thirst propels a search.

Spiritual thirst is what opens the doors to great spiritual conversations.   Spiritual thirst is the underlying motive that people have to seek after God, to start and continue their search for God.  Powers experienced spiritual thirst in her restlessness that kept propelling her to return to hear Tim Keller’s sermon.  That Spiritual thirst also propelled her to seek out that friend who recommended the Bible Study.

I write about this elsewhere on the blog, so follow this link to the spiritual thirst tutorial

3.  God can reveal Himself

Powers writes about a mystical encounter with Christ that even she had a hard time processing.  God can choose to reveal himself to a person who is seeking Him.  It can be part of the process that God uses to bring about a faith awakening.

4.  A good question can help the process.

Powers’ boyfriend asked a critical question at good time.  The force of that question was life changing.  It triggered the restlessness that lead to an intense search for the truth.  Sometimes, people need to hear a question, not a proclamation.

Imagine the boyfriend had shared the gospel at that time.  The results could have been dramatically different.  Wisdom continues to show us that sometimes, we need to be patient in the process.

5.  People need time.

People need time to

  • Consider the new information being shared in the teaching
  • Clear up misconceptions about God.
  • Trust Christians (as many have likely encountered aggressive evangelists).
  • Be willing to surrender to Christ.

Even though we have an urgency to share the gospel, we know that people need time to process.

6.  A credible witness.

A credible witness can change a person’s perspective.  The gentle witness of Powers’ boyfriend helped her journey to faith.  This is where lifestyle evangelism has an important role in demonstrating the work of Jesus in a person’s life.

Keller’s preaching also presented a credible witness.  The logic and reasoning helped persuade Powers to the truth of Christ, even if she was unwilling to accept it personally for a season.

Relational Evangelism works.  Your life can help change a person’s mind about Jesus.   

7.  People need a safe place.

Redeemer Presbyterian became that safe place.  The Bible Study became that safe place.  Questions can be asked, answers can be sought.  Pre-Christian people making the first steps to come to a Christian small group are demonstrating a step of faith on their part. To some extent, that is a reflection of their spiritual thirst.  It tells me they are open to studying spiritual things and perhaps might actually seek a relationship with Christ.

Small groups can be a wonderful place to explore the truth, consider the claims of Jesus, and wrestle with those claims.

My own Personal Evangelism Teaching on DVD

DVD Evangelism Conversations

I have a DVD (or digital download) set that focuses on a conversational style evangelism that would be effective in:

  • casual conversation between friends
  • causal conversation between strangers

Read more about the Effective Evangelism Conversations in the store.  I believe it can help you understand the process of evangelism as I teach it.

It is a recording of a live seminar I gave in 2012.

Give This Book to Your Spiritually Thirsty Friend

One spiritual conversation is just not enough.  The Lord will use many conversations to help bring your friend to Christ.  But sometimes, you’ll want something that you can give your spiritually thirsty friend something that they can read and ponder over.

Books are good for this.  Invite your friend to read one with you and discuss the chapters over the next several weeks.

So what is a book you can recommend to your spiritually thirsty friend?

Book Witnessing Tool

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