Robert Crosby: “Authenticity in our outreach conversations is perceived by others through our genuine compassion."
If the gospel is good news, then that news is supposed to flow amidst our daily conversations. When I first learned as a new believer that Christians are called to share the story of Jesus and his salvation with the world, I had a challenge to face. First of all, I was quite young; 16 years old. Second of all, I was shy. Although quite certain that Jesus is Lord, I was not at all so certain that I knew how to convey that truth to a big, lost and dying world.
I heard story after story from evangelists who visited my home church about their sitting on airplanes with strangers and leading them straight through the gospel and to Christ all within the timeframe of a three-hour flight from Atlanta to wherever. I wanted in on the adventure, but I had several questions:
* When the opportunity to witness presented itself, would I know what to say?
* How should I bring up the subject of Christ and the gospel?
* Would my faith talks turn people off?
* What if they asked me something I didn’t know how to answer?
Although I felt a fair measure of “gospel anxiety” over my first attempts to share my faith, I was too excited about Jesus and intrigued by the Bible to give in to mere butterflies. No, I had to find a way to share my faith. I was unsure about how to do it at first, as many are, but I was sure I wanted to find out how. Through the years as a pastor, it has been important to me to not only find ways to share my faith but also ways to equip others to do so, as well.
The gospel is certainly the good news of Jesus Christ and his free gift of salvation purchased at the high price of his own death. Yet, in some ways you could also say the gospel is an event, an idea and even, from the New Testament accounts, a conversation. In a world that is increasingly polarized religiously, as it was in the first century, it is vital that we find ways to re-engage the gospel in our real-world daily conversations.
Something far more important than the development of evangelism strategies is the cultivation of what I would call compassionate and evangelistic souls. God wants churches to be full of people with hearts that break over the things that break the heart of God. Outreach seen at its best in the pages of the New Testament and in the world today is a compassionate conversation.
A Lawyer and a Long Flight
One of the most helpful experiences I ever had in evangelism occurred on a flight from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Charlotte, N.C., a few years ago. Embarking on a 13-hour flight, I found myself sitting next to a young Israeli lawyer. The first several minutes of our flight I asked several questions of him, about what it was like growing up in Israel and about his legal work in both Israel and the United States. After visiting the nation for few days I found myself curious and quite interested in his world. As we talked, he spoke of his Jewish faith. I sensed an opportunity to share Christ, but instead of jumping quickly to the gospel I took several minutes simply to first affirm my respect for Judaism and to share how much we Christians have in common with it. As I did, he opened up even more as he sensed that he was in a circle of honor.
Then, this lawyer asked me a question I wasn’t expecting: “You know, I have never read the New Testament, but I hope to do so one day. Tell me, what is it like?”
When he asked this question only a few hours into our long flight, I thought, Wait a minute. That was a little too easy. But what I have since come to discover is that to effectively “preach” the gospel to the lost, we must not only give them Jesus’ words but we must do so in Jesus’ ways. The people we reach out to not only may hear Christ in the words we speak; they may also sense him in the way we do so.
As we read our Bibles, it is vital that we pay attention to the way Jesus spoke to the lost. More often than not, it was compassionately and conversationally. But the way he addressed people had much to do with his personal view of them. I call it Jesus’ P.O.V. (or point of view). Matthew describes the lens through which he saw this way:
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).