Trust travels along the highway of relationship. That principle is where my mind went when asked to write on the subject of how to share your testimony. In a post-Christian culture, establishing credibility is the key to communicating the Christian faith. Gobs of valuable, how-to books have been written on evangelism, but I would like to focus on the roadway we have found to be most effective through years of ministry.
Recently I was with my nonreligious hairstylist, and we had the most interesting conversation. It went a little like this:
Her: “Have you ever read A Course in Miracles?”
Me: “I’ve not heard of that.”
Her: “You should order it. It’s so uplifting. It’s similar to the Bible—with books/chapters/verses—but it takes out all the bad stuff, like sin and death and hell. You don’t feel bad after reading it.”
Me: “That is interesting. Thanks for sharing. You sound like you have some past experience with the Bible?”
Ninety minutes (and a few less gray hairs) later, this woman had unveiled a large part of her life story, including a laundry list of hurts from former people who claimed to be Christians but abused her. She was trying to be a “good person,” and she could not believe in a God who would allow bad things to happen to those trying to live well.
It wasn’t easy to listen to, I’ll admit. There were moments I wanted to interrupt and defend, but the hard work of evangelism for me is to seek to understand before seeking to be understood. As I sat in that chair, I made a conscious decision to hear her out. While I could have become confrontational, explaining all the reasons the Bible must speak of sin and death and hell, I kept my mouth closed and took it all in. It wasn’t the time to talk; it was the time to listen.
As believers in a rapidly changing society, we must learn to be conversational rather than confrontational when sharing our faith. It seems everyone is suspicious and reaching the place where we can speak the truth in love will require many hours of intentionality.
If you can relate to what I am saying, I would like to offer a few points to encourage you along the way. Having lived in a major post-Christian city for years, we learned a great deal about relating to our non-religious neighbors and building meaningful bonds with them. I’d love to share four helpful tips with you.
Invite people into your life. Not a location.
When we moved onto our street, I was determined to become close friends with our neighbors, even if they never entered the doors of our church. I did this mostly by creating environments where positive memories could be made. We hiked, swam, cooked out, played games in the street, sat under our shade tree, and had picnics. That was the everyday kind of stuff, but then there were the big events that rolled around each year. At Christmas, we purchased gingerbread kits for our neighbors and invited them over for decorating, cookies, and fun photos. At Halloween, we provided multiple pots of chili, snacks, and enjoyed large group trick-or-treating. At Easter, I would ask our neighbors to help stuff candy into thousands of plastic eggs for the church hunt. They seemed to enjoy being helpful and contributing to the community through the Mandrell cause.
This is just a sample, but you get the point. Through intentional events like this, I knew that I was doing what I could to create trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to work and to open the door for deeper conversations.
Ask open-ended questions.
In their book I Once Was Lost, Don Everts and Doug Schaupp explain the Christ-like way of creating meaningful discussions. “Jesus often asked questions of those around him. This seems normal, but when you consider that Jesus knew everything already, it makes you rethink why Jesus did ask so many questions. It seems Jesus used questions not to elicit information from people but rather to stir within them some thought or emotion.”1
Our family learned that we could build a stronger rapport with our neighbors by drawing them out than we could by shoving the truth in. This is not something that is preached much today. Sermons on listening are not a normal part of evangelism training.
Be careful what you call them.
Nonreligious people would never refer to themselves as lost, and they would resent the label. Even though Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, we have to be careful in this culture how we use those words on our websites and social media. Our church would challenge folks to bring their nonreligious friends or those interested in exploring Christianity. The softer language made a difference in our outlook.
Use non-pretentious words.
I don’t know about you, but I personally dislike seeing a doctor that uses technical terms I don’t understand. We call that bad bedside manner. What if we, as Christians, began to evaluate our “bedside manner” and were more careful about words we use? We can use big words like sanctification that wow people or we can simply say “spiritual growth” and involve them. We found that purposeful simplification like this made our nonreligious friends feel more at home.
More than any tip or practice, the challenge of evangelism is to become aware of the natural tendency to pull away from those who need the love of Christ. Most of us start as fishers of men but soon become keepers of the aquarium. Without knowing it, we morph into Pharisees. The word Pharisee means separated ones.2 Consider the words of Kent Hughes:
None of us [Christians] espouse Pharisaical beliefs. In fact, we loathe them. But many of us live them out nevertheless. We come to Christ, and in our desire to be godly we seek out people “like us.” Ultimately we arrange our lives so that we are with nonbelievers as little as possible. We attend Bible studies that are 100 percent Christian, a Sunday school that is 100 percent Christian, prayer meetings that are 100 percent Christian. We play tennis with Christians and eat dinner with Christians. We have Christian doctors, Christian dentists, Christian plumbers, Christian veterinarians, and even our dogs are Christian. The result is, we pass by hundreds without ever seeing them or positively influencing them for Christ. None of us are Pharisees philosophically, but we may be practically.3
–R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word Commentary, Mark
Have you become a practical Pharisee? At times, I have. I hope the words I’ve shared will spur you on to build relationships with the people God has placed all around you. Only then will you earn the right to be heard.
Lynley Mandrell is the wife of Ben Mandrell, the new president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. Before coming to Lifeway, Ben and Lynley spent five years in Denver, CO, planting a church designed to reach the unchurched. She is a mother of four and a fan of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Dr. Pepper®, and silence.
1. Don Everts and Doug Schaupp, I Once Was Lost (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 54.
2. Strong’s 5330, Blue Letter Bible, accessed June 17, 2021, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g5330/csb/mgnt/0-1/.
3. R. Kent Hughes, Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 71.