I found my summer evangelism class important on several counts. First, it means I am almost done with my graduate classwork. That’s important for a guy whose life for a long time has been delineated into two compartments: work and homework. I’m ready to get some of my life back. Second—and far less selfish—evangelism is an important subject for God, sinners, the church, my friends, the world, and the redemptive future of millions of human beings. Admittedly, the second reason is a tad more important than the first.
My class professor, Randy Newman, wrote the bestselling Questioning Evangelism, our textbook for the course. He gave an assignment—pair up with someone in the class and practice sharing the gospel with him or her for about a minute and a half.
Maybe I was a few cups of coffee behind. Or maybe my blood sugar was low because I hadn’t yet eaten that large Dagwood sandwich and chips. At any rate, I looked at my partner (his name was Dave) and drew a blank.
Please understand that I’ve taught gospel workshops since the late eighties. I’ve written books, workbooks, and materials.
I’ve coached people word-for-word in presenting the gospel.
I’ve visited campuses and jousted with some of the best minds I’ve ever met.
I’ve had spirited debates with Muslims and Jews about Jesus.
My mind raced through some familiar possibilities—popular gospel presentations I’d used in the past, like the Four Spiritual Laws, the Way of the Master, the Romans Road. In my late-morning addled state, all of them mixed together. I ended up with Rocky Road. If I was running headlong into this quagmire, a seasoned minister in a seminary safe house, my guess was that Joe Christian was running into the same thing at work, except probably worse. Somebody asks him, “So, what do you believe about God?” Joe isn’t used to hearing that question at the office. Somebody could get reported to Human Resources over it. Shocked, he opens his mouth…and nothing comes out. The worst feeling ever comes from getting sixty seconds of air time to share your faith, only to find a vacuum.
One solution might lie in just letting the Spirit give you something to say on the spot. It sounds like that’s the way it works in Matthew chapter 10, where the Father will give us words to say. The problem is, that promise was given to believers when they’re being interrogated by persecutors, not when they’re having coffee with friends…or when they’re practicing the gospel on buddies in evangelism class.
Peter tells us, “Always be prepared with a defense” (1 Pet. 3:15). I need to have the gospel close by me, ready to go at a moment’s notice. Regardless of what technique you use to remember it, the gospel must be a first aid kit we can keep in our shirt pocket, especially when our game is off. The apostles went through a traumatic experience of being arrested. For the better part of the night they probably anticipated martyrdom. But then an angel freed them and told them, “Speak to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5:20). Suddenly, they were on the spot again, maybe after thinking they were about to retire from the game altogether! Note: the angel didn’t tell them to get busy with works or service or being good examples. He charged them to use words.
You may find yourself in a similar situation, called upon to explain what you believe, standing in front of an awesome wide open door. You’ll wish it could have happened when you were in a better state—Now is not the time! I’m hungry/angry/tempted/tired. Please let this happen later, when I’ve had my Snicker’s. But it won’t. It’s happening now.
That day in class, John 3:16 came to my rescue, imprinted as it is, on my heart. As long as I remember that verse, I will always have a gospel message ready to go. And so I trotted it out a little at a time, phrase by phrase, in order, because the order of the verse is the order of the message:
There is a God and He loves everybody.
He proved that love by sending His only Son, Jesus, who died for us on the cross.
If we believe in His Son, God will save us from perishing in the sins we’ve committed.
If we believe in His Son, God will give us eternal life.
I wobbled my way through the presentation. My gospel partner gave me a nod of approval.
I had spoken the words of life…without needing another cup of coffee.