Tips to Make
Unless you utter by the tongue words easy to
understand, how will it be known what is
spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.
—1 Corinthians 14:9
For a time when I was in college I became legalistic, focusing more on how people were behaving than on whether they had made the choice to follow Jesus. When I was sharing Jesus with someone who was smoking a cigarette, for example, I would challenge him, “Are you prepared to give up smoking?” I hesitated to help people pray to receive Christ unless they had first agreed to turn their back on drinking, dancing, going to the movies, or whatever else in their lifestyle I was down on. It was almost as if I was trying to get a person perfected before he or she came to Jesus.
Thankfully, before all this had gone on long, I studied the life of Christ in the Bible and realized that I had gotten my priorities out of balance. Living a clean life is important—there’s no question about that. But it is not my job to condemn other people, especially unbelievers, for their actions. My job is simply to introduce others to Jesus and invite them to know Him. Once He comes into their lives, the Holy Spirit will go to work, leading them to change whatever He does not like about their lifestyle.
I was not as effective during my legalistic period as I might otherwise have been, but by the goodness of God, some of the people I spoke with did come to Jesus. That’s why I try not to be critical of people who are sharing Jesus in ways I don’t think are the best. God is the One who changes lives, after all, and so long as His witnesses are acting faithfully, He will still work through them. Nevertheless, as I look back on my problem with legalism, it reminds me that all of us can learn better ways of sharing Jesus with others.
You may not have a problem with legalism, but I suspect there is another area in which you could improve your communication with unbelievers. Maybe you are too timid, passing up opportunities to share Jesus because the timing doesn’t seem right. Maybe you have a tendency to let needy people entangle you in their problems to the point that it hinders your outreach for Jesus. Maybe you put on a formal tone of voice or use highfalutin language that is not natural for you. Whatever the weakness in your approach may be, you can overcome it with God’s help.
I have been sharing Jesus for nearly six decades now, and I am still learning how to do it better. May all of us become lifelong learners when it comes to sharing Jesus.
After all, we love Him and we want to serve Him in the very best way we can!
God has gifted each of us differently to share His Son with others. And thank God for those differences! Nevertheless, I have found the following points to be generally true for all who share Jesus with others.
• Never doubt the spiritual need of an unbeliever.
“There is no difference; for all have sinned and fall
short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23).
Some you speak with may not seem to have any spiritual longings. Some may belong to another religion. Some may say they are not interested in Jesus. In one sense, none of that matters. We should never think of an unbeliever, Well, maybe he (or she) doesn’t need Jesus. Everybody needs Jesus! All who are outside Christ have a need for His salvation, no matter what they might say to the contrary. They may not realize it yet, or they may want to deny it, but they do have that need. So speak to a person’s spiritual need without any hesitation.
Of course, you don’t need to dwell on someone’s spiritual lostness. It may be enough to say, “I’m a sinner and you’re a sinner,” and then move on. But you ought never to harbor doubt about a person’s need for Jesus.
Similarly, we should not judge whether we ought to continue talking about Jesus based upon the other person’s apparent emotional reaction. After all, some people can be highly demonstrative, weeping and crying out, while others show no emotion at all. It doesn’t matter. We don’t need to judge by body language how someone is reacting. As long as the other person is still listening, we should go on with our conversation about Jesus and encourage the other to trust in Him.
• Don’t wait for the ideal situation. “Preach the word! Be
ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Sometimes, when I learn that a fellow believer is not sharing Jesus with others, I will ask why that is.
“Well, the Lord isn’t leading me,” this person might say.
“How do you know He’s not?”
“Because I haven’t felt Him telling me to talk to somebody.”
Felt? What are they waiting for—for a tingling up their spine or for their left foot to start twitching?
We don’t need to feel any specific leading in order to share Jesus with others. In fact, we should assume that God wants us to talk to others about His Son every opportunity we get unless He tells us not to. When we think we must wait for an ideal situation—a time when it’s convenient for us, the other person seems interested, and we have plenty of time to talk—we’ll do very little sharing, because the ideal situation hardly ever comes around.
Maybe your waitress is having a busy day. That’s okay—share with her quickly. Maybe someone seems resistant. Don’t let that stop you—inside maybe he’s aching for hope in his life. Take every opportunity you get to share Jesus, however fleeting or unpromising it might seem.
As we take on the attitude that we don’t need an ideal situation, we will share Jesus in every situation to the best of our ability as God gives us grace. He blesses our willing and persistent intention to represent Him.
.Think through what you might say. “Let your speech
always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you
may know how you ought to answer each one”
The Holy Spirit can lead us in our preparation
and in how we make use of that preparation.
We have talked about the importance of being led by the Spirit as we share Jesus. But there is no reason why that should keep us from preparing what we say. The Holy Spirit can lead us in our preparation and in how we make use of that preparation. Indeed, just as the apostle Paul asked his fellow believers to pray that God would give him the right words to speak (Ephesians 6:19-20), so we can pray that God will teach us what we ought to say.
Then we can go through in our minds what we will say. For example, while we are lying in bed at night, or when we wake up early one morning, we can think through what we might say and how we might say it. We will feel more ready and more confident in a witnessing situation when we have prepared what we will say.
• Recognize your personal style of sharing Jesus. “The
body is not one member but many” (1 Corinthians
I’m not asking you to adopt my style—or anyone else’s for that matter. The best style for you is your own. Some people are highly assertive; others take a quieter approach. Some people like to start with the Big Question (“Should you die right now, do you have the assurance that you would go to heaven?”); others start by asking whether they can pray for another person. Some people like to follow a script; others prefer to wing it. The possible variations are almost endless. How do you like to share Jesus?
One advantage of sharing Jesus frequently is that it helps you learn what you are comfortable with. Reflect on your sharing experiences and get feedback from a fellow believer about what has seemed to work best for you. God will lead you in finding the approach or approaches that are most effective in your case.
• Communicate in a way that people will understand.
“Unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand,
how will it be known what is spoken?” (1Corinthians 14:9).
Many people who know my history associate me with the hippie era in California. I’m known for having told people to “turn on to Jesus” and for calling God “psychedelic,” for example. What some people don’t know, however, is that I came from the Deep South and had to learn the hippie jargon in order to use it in reaching young people in California. Then, when I started traveling around the world, I had to unlearn that jargon because it didn’t work in other places. In fact, I have continued to learn how to speak effectively with different people about Jesus.
I don’t blame unbelievers when they don’t respond positively to my message about Jesus. Instead, I use their response as an opportunity to ask myself how I could share Jesus better. After all, it’s not that people don’t have a need for Jesus. Many spend their whole evening at a bar pouring out their heartaches to a fellow drinker or the bartender. They have hurts and needs, all right! We just need to learn how to communicate Jesus effectively with them.
The focus of the conversation never changes: Jesus. But we may need to adapt our conversation to what we know about the person we are speaking with.
For many of us who have been followers of Jesus for a while, one of the biggest obstacles is the churchy language we have picked up. “Atonement.” “Redemption.” “Washed in the blood.” There’s nothing wrong with such terms per se (indeed, many of them come right out of the Bible), but if we are using them with people who have no church background, they won’t be able to follow what we are saying.
Generally, simple, plain, straightforward terms work the best. Jesus told parables about the things the people of His day understood—farming, fishing, and so on. Likewise, we should use ordinary, everyday language as we share about Him.
No matter how true what you are saying is, if others can’t understand it, it is wasted.
• Be yourself. “The Son of Man has come eating and
drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a
winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ ”
Jesus wasn’t really a glutton or drunkard, of course, but He did enjoy having a good time—even if it was in the presence of some people who were not acceptable in the more pious circles. Jesus was no party pooper. He wanted to be with people and to minister among them, and He didn’t let others’ disapproval stop Him.
The lesson for us is that we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously that we can’t smile, have fun, and act naturally. That’s actually best for sharing Jesus with others.
Sometimes people, when it comes to speaking about spiritual things, will change their voice and personality, even their posture. Suddenly they are acting really “religious” and super spiritual, not their normal selves at all.
No! This is not the proper way to communicate. We should use the same voice in talking about Jesus as we do in talking about everyday subjects such as sports or shopping. And we should act the same way when speaking of spiritual things as we do at any other time. Anything else is unnatural or even hypocritical.
We all know that we can put on different personas ifwe want to. But ask yourself this: which is the best you? It’s the person who you naturally are. Let this person be changed to reflect Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18), and then unbelievers will see Christ in you and be drawn to Him.
• Show love to others. “Though I speak with the tongues
of men and of angels, but have not love, I have
become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal” (1
Once, in Africa, I was carrying the cross and speaking from village to village with the help of an interpreter. This interpreter would preach alongside me, delivering a powerful message about salvation in Jesus. But then, do you know what he would do when he was done preaching? Instead of mingling with the people, he would go and sit inside a car. Oh, this man cared a lot about winning “souls” for Jesus, but he didn’t love people.
The people with whom we are sharing Jesus can tell whether or not we love them. That’s why we need to be so full of the love of God that it oozes out of us. Our faces should shine with God’s love. People are attracted to that. On the other hand, they will turn away from an unloving follower of Christ.
Ask yourself whether in fact you do love unbelievers, as God loves them. And should the answer be no, then deal with God about that. When you ask Him to help you love others more, He will do so.
Next, ask yourself whether you are displaying the love that you feel. In fact, try this experiment: Stand in front of a mirror and look at the expression on your face. Is it grim or joyful? Practice standing up straight, looking directly into your own eyes, and smiling in a friendly way. That’s how you should look as you are speaking to others about Jesus.
• Let the method fit the place. “To everything there is a
season” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
We may be sharing Jesus with the homeless in an alley, or we may be sharing at an elegant dinner party. We may be sharing with an old friend or with a stranger. We may have only a few seconds in a grocery store checkout line, or we may have an extended period to talk during a car trip. The situations where we can speak of our Savior are incredibly diverse, and so are the ways we can be sharing.
The apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Jesus sometimes preached to crowds and sometimes He spoke in intimate settings, and He healed differently from occasion to occasion. Likewise, we can adapt ourselves to the situations we find ourselves in.
Should you be in a grocery store line, for example, you might not have enough time to do more than hand out a gospel tract. In another situation, you might do something else—that’s all right. There’s no bad way to witness, so long as you are sharing Jesus and His love.
Don’t worry about it. Just do your best at what you feel God is leading you to do in a given situation.
• Lift up Jesus and lift people up to Him. Jesus said, “I,
if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples
to Myself” (John 12:32).
Jesus was lifted up from the earth on the cross to bear the sins of us all. He is likewise “lifted up” when we praise and magnify Him. As people are presented with the image of the Savior, they are drawn to Him for salvation.
Our objective should always be to help people be lifted up to Christ. This means we should never put them down. Criticism and condemnation keep people from rising to put their hope and trust in Jesus.
• Focus on Jesus, not the enemy. “He who is in you is
greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Sometimes when followers of Jesus are talking about spiritual things with unbelievers, they get drawn into talking about the problems in the world. In other words, they are focused on what our spiritual enemy, the devil, is doing. Meanwhile, they are not lifting up Jesus, the assured victor over the enemy.
Certainly there is spiritual darkness in the world. But we all know that already. So let’s not dwell on it. Instead, let’s show people the solution to the problems of the world: Jesus. In Him is the power to change lives and to change the world.
• Don’t let yourself be drawn into arguments. “Avoid
foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate
strife” (2 Timothy 2:23).
Sometimes, when we are sharing Jesus with others, they will bring up a controversial subject, such as the role of Christians in politics, the failures of prominent church leaders, the dilemma of unmarried people living together, or any number of other topics. And when the subject is one we feel strongly about, we might be tempted to argue the point. But we have to resist that temptation. An argument like that isn’t going to do anything to move the other person closer to Jesus.
All other subjects—as important as they might be to discuss within certain contexts—are secondary in comparison to the subject of Jesus Christ when we are speaking with someone who needs to be born again. So develop your skill at turning a conversation back to the subject of Jesus whenever it threatens to be diverted.
Here are some examples to show you what I mean: UNBELIEVER: “You’re one of those people who refuse to believe in science, aren’t you? Don’t you know it’s a proven fact that people evolved from lower life forms by natural processes?” JESUS FOLLOWER: “We could get into a big debate about that. But what do you think about Jesus? What attracts you about Him?” UNBELIEVER: “I used to go to church. They were all a bunch of hypocrites.” JESUS FOLLOWER: “Well, I can’t defend them. I don’t know them. But I know the greatest person in history—Jesus. You don’t think He was a hypocrite, do you?” UNBELIEVER: “Oh, you must be one of those fundamentalists. Why don’t you people want to let us gays fall in love and get married just like you do?” JESUS FOLLOWER: “I’m not here to talk about gay marriage. I do know that as we receive Christ and begin studying the Bible, God gives us light about all sorts of issues.”
This is an area where working as a team can really help. For example, if two believers are talking with two unbelievers and one of the unbelievers is becoming argumentative and mocking, the believers could gently try to separate the unbelievers. That way, one of the believers could focus on sharing with the person who seems more responsive.
Nevertheless, there may be times when, no matter how hard we try to turn the conversation back to Jesus, a person will insist on talking about whatever hot-button issue is on his or her mind. At that point the conversation is going to be nothing but counterproductive. We need to exit from it in a gracious way, saying something like “God bless you. I will pray for you.”
Most of the time, however, I have found that people are willing to discuss Jesus as we nudge them in that direction. The key is for us not to let ourselves get bogged down in issues of theology or morality. We are not out to persuade someone of our own beliefs. The claims of Jesus are what matter. He is the one who will bring people to a point of life change.
• Don’t try to “fix” others. “Each one shall bear his own
load” (Galatians 6:5).
I have seen it time and time again. A follower of Jesus will share the good news of salvation with a person, and the other will accept Christ. Hallelujah! But then they will get to talking about the problems in the new believer’s life. “My husband left me.” “I don’t have a job.” “I’m depressed and I’ve been feeling suicidal.” Then the mature follower of Jesus—with the best intentions in the world—will start to get involved in the other’s life. Go over to the new believer’s house. Offer advice. Spend long periods of time trying to deal with the problem issues. Before they know it, the mature believer has gotten bogged down in helping the other person. Often he is doing no good, or is even being counterproductive, because he has gotten involved in areas that he knows little about.
Meanwhile, he is no longer sharing Jesus with other people who need to know Him. Sometimes emotional entanglement will even lead to a sinful relationship.
This piece of advice might sound harsh, but trust me, it is for the best: beware of getting too involved in another’s life. You are not the Savior. Let the real Savior, Jesus, bring healing to another’s life. Assuming you are not a trained marriage counselor, for example, you shouldn’t be trying to reconcile an estranged couple. Don’t get into an area you don’t know much about.
…remember that you can’t fix every
problem in someone else’s life.
I’m not saying that you should not disciple a new believer (see chapter eight). By all means, pray with people and point them to what the Bible says about their problems. But remember that you can’t fix every problem in someone else’s life. Entrust them to Jesus; He is more than capable of taking care of their needs.
• Don’t worry about failure. “Well done, good and faithful
servant” (Matthew 25:21).
Some think that if someone with whom they have shared Jesus does not decide on the spot to trust in Him, then they have failed. But that’s wrong. There is no “failure” in sharing Jesus. As long as we have faithfully told someone about Jesus, we have been a success, regardless of how the other has responded. What a relief! When we think that we must win someone to Christ, we are under tremendous pressure and then feel defeated when someone rejects Him. We might be tempted to quit sharing Jesus. Or we might become so pushy that we turn people off. But when we realize that we can do nothing to save someone, that only God can do that, it takes all the pressure off.
Don’t get me wrong: every time we share Jesus with someone, our objective should be to win that person to Christ then and there. At the same time, however, we must realize that it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we sow; sometimes we water; sometimes we harvest.
Even Jesus met rejection when He ministered to people face to face. Do we really think we will never see rejection when we tell others about Him? Our reaction when someone chooses not to respond to Jesus’ invitation should be to say, “God bless you,” and then to pray for their eventual salvation. We don’t need to be discouraged, because we realize that the seeds we have planted might yet bear fruit.
It’s all about Jesus. The kingdom belongs to Him. He will usher people in when and how He chooses.
The Greatest Challenge
I could go on giving communication tips, but I think the ones I have included above cover most of the common areas of difficulty. Certainly, as you have discovered an area where you could improve, it should energize you, not discourage you. Now you can get better at sharing the Lord of the universe with those who need to know Him!
Have you ever been to the lighting section of one of those vast home supply stores? How many different lampshades did you see there? There are dark ones, light ones, formal ones, funky ones; all different colors, sizes, and shapes. Believe it or not, there are people who spend their entire careers coming up with lampshades to appeal to every possible taste among the lampshade-buying public.
The prospect before us is something like designing different lampshades. Throughout the course of our “career” of sharing Jesus, we may need to learn to share Jesus with people of many different cultures, religions, social statuses, education levels, and so on. But we’re not just selling something to diffuse the light from a light bulb; we are sharing the chance to know the Son of God and Savior!
After a lifetime of sharing Jesus, we should be much better at it than when we started. But whether we are or not, that shouldn’t keep us from doing what we can now. We don’t have to worry that we aren’t as good at it now as we will be in, say, twenty years’ time. Although we have a lifetime of learning ahead of us, we can start where we are. God will bless and use us where we are this year, next year, and for the rest of our lives.
Questions to Consider
• How would you rate your ability to communicate
about Jesus effectively with the people you
• Look back through the list of communication
tips. Which two or three do you want to work on