We continue our sermon series on evangelism by looking at what we might say to someone with whom we’d like to share our faith. It’s not as scary as you think, I promise!
SCRIPTURE – Romans 10:11-17
As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
Me, An Evangelist?!? Sermon Series
3 – I Don’t Know What to Say!
August 22, 2010
Paul tells us that those who bring the good news have beautiful feet. I want to have beautiful feet. I know that you want to have beautiful feet, too. I want us to share the good news of Jesus in such a way that Crestwood Christian Church becomes known as the church of the beautiful feet. I see a major marketing blitz here. We could make posters of our feet, maybe offer free pedicures to visitors or a special heeling service. This is all about saving soles! I tell ya, this foot idea has legs. We could go toe-to-toe with anybody.
If you remember, the first week in our sermon series we talked about what it takes to be an evangelist, and we came up with only one requirement: be yourself. Last week, we created an impact list of people we could pray for and hopefully help develop a relationship with God. That list could be made up of people we know, people we used to know, people we’d like to know, and even people we don’t know yet.
But what do we say? When we have the chance to tell someone about God or the church or our faith, how do we do that? Where do we start? I believe this is a major stumbling block for a lot of people. They know someone they’d like to invite to church, but they just don’t know how to get to that point in the conversation. What’s the right vocabulary to use? How do you bring up the subject without sounding like a fanatical cult member? And what if that person asks a question we can’t answer? “Sure, I’ll come to your church…if you can name the twelve disciples” or “How does your church interpret the book of Revelation?” What do we do then? Sometimes our fear of what might – or might not – happen keeps us from exercising our beautiful feet and sharing our faith.
But Paul says that our worry should not be about what will happen if we talk to the person, but what could happen if we don’t talk to them. He asks, “How can these people have a relationship with God if they don’t believe? And how can they believe in someone they haven’t heard about it? And how can they hear about God without someone telling them?” It’s not our responsibility to convert someone or make them have faith. Remember, evangelism has a 100% success rate, because all we’re called to do is share what we know. Then it’s up to God. But what we know is so glorious, so life-changing, that we should be compelled to share it, because there are people we know who need to hear it.
Before we start doing any talking, there’s something else we must do first. When I taught public speaking, the very first lecture I gave each semester wasn’t on how to write a speech or delivery or anything like that. It was on listening. Listening is crucial if you want to be heard, because people are more willing to listen to you when you’ve first listened to them. We want people to know we care about them, we are interested in them. When’s the last time someone sat down and really listened to you? How did that make you feel? Listening to someone is often the greatest gift we can give them.
It’s also important to listen first because what we hear may help us understand the person better and learn more about their faith journey. There are a lot of people out there who have left the church for a number of reasons. My friend Kevin, who I mentioned last week, is one of those. He had a bad church experience earlier in life, and hasn’t been back to church since. Before anyone like Kevin will step foot in another church, they need to be able to tell that story and share those feelings. Only after they’ve done that will they be open to giving church another chance and make a new start. We are not only called to be God’s hands and feet; we are called to be God’s ears, listening compassionately to each other.
We may get other helpful clues from listening first, and those clues may help us tailor our invitation. For example, if you notice that a new couple in the neighborhood has young children, you may want to mention Sunday School or youth groups to them. If you know a person who lives alone, you can tell them about the great sense of community we share here. If a person talks about their lack of church experience or the doubts they have, you can share with them how we’re informal and laidback and welcoming. If they look malnourished, tell them we have donuts and ice cream socials! Listening first will greatly enhance what you say later.
Once we listen, then we can begin thinking and praying about what we might say. We won’t all say the same thing. Evangelism isn’t about spouting the party line. That’s a pet peeve I have about telemarketers: “Good evening Mr….Wilkerson, I am excited to tell you that you have been selected out of thousands of applicants to receive a glorious, fun-filled trip to Jamaica just for you…” Wow, how can I turn that down when you make it sound so exciting? Every person they talk to gets the same cold and impersonal spiel, spoken with zero passion or interest.
So this morning, I’m not going to hand you a script and say, “Now, march your beautiful feet on out of here and read this to everyone you see.” That won’t
work. The message you share with others must be sincere, honest, personal, and from the heart. So the real answer to the question: “What do I say?” is this: you tell your story.
I know you have a story. We all have stories about how we came to know Christ, about how we were invited and welcomed into a church family, this church family. We all have stories about what God has done in our lives. I said in the first sermon in this series that people looking for a church want something real. Nothing is more real, or more powerful, than telling our story, because your story is God’s story.
You might say, “But isn’t the Bible God’s story?” Yes, it is. But do you think God stopped working when the last book of the Bible was written? Of course not! God is still working today, and you are living proof of that. Your story is one example of God’s saving, healing, and powerful work on this earth. Evangelism is witnessing to what we know through our faith and experience, it’s sharing the good news as we have heard and lived it. People don’t want doctrine and dogma; they want authenticity and practical evidence that God is real and at work. Your story is the best evidence.
How would you answer these questions: Why do you come to church? What difference has church made in your life? What has God done in your life to make you the person you are? What is God still doing? What’s one thing you would miss if you didn’t go to church? What’s one time in your life when God felt very real to you? If you can answer those questions, you are telling your story, and I guarantee you it’s a powerful one. I’ve had several people tell me what a difference God has made in their lives through Crestwood Christian Church. Yes! That’s your story! Don’t just tell me, I work here. God has already changed my life through this congregation and I love you for that. Tell your neighbors, your friends, you family, you co-workers. Tell everyone who needs to hear about hope and grace and changed lives.
This may sound involved, but it’s really not. In fact, we have a biblical model for one way of telling our stories. It’s near the beginning of John’s gospel. Jesus comes across Phillip and says, “Follow me,” which Phillip does. He’s so excited that he runs to tell Nathanael all about it, and he says to him, “Nate, I’ve found him, the one Moses talked about, the one who will change our lives!” And Nathanael says skeptically, “Are you sure?” And Phillip says, “Come and see.”
“Come and see.” That’s a great way to start and invitation, and sometimes it’s all you have to say. “I love my church, it has made a difference in my life, I believe it can make a difference in yours. Come and see.” You don’t have to invite them to worship. It could be to a Sunday School class or a fellowship event or a children’s activity. “Come and see.”
Now, we have to be prepared for a couple things: first, a person may already have a church home, to which we say “Hallelujah!” As I have said, this is not a competition. Another thing we have to be ready for is no response. And that’s just fine. “No” is perfectly acceptable. Jesus told his disciples, “If someone says no, move on to the next one.” How many times did you say “No” to church before you said “Yes?” The time may not be right for them; they may not be at the right place in their lives. We can still pray for them, and trust that God will continue to work on their hearts through us or through others.
The response we can pray for is that the person you’re talking with will, at some point in your relationship, follow up your statements with the magic words: “Your church seems to be really important to you. Why is that?” Ah, music to an evangelist’s ears! And then you just do what comes naturally, you tell your story.
There are no scripts I can give you today, no magic words that will bring people to church. But you don’t need my words; you already have your own. You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. You have a story to tell, a story about love and forgiveness and finding a home. You are because this place means something to you. Why is that? Go and tell your story.