Last month, we had the privilege to take our Student Leadership team on a retreat to Lake Tahoe. It was a wonderful time of relaxation, brainstorming, and challenges to build relationships for Kingdom purposes. With the backdrop of snow-capped mountains and a crystal blue lake, it was encouraging to watch these students dive deeper into God’s word and be challenged to share their faith.
The main focus of our weekend was the book Just Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels, which deals with the subject of evangelism. In the book we read several stories from Mr. Hybels about personal encounters with friends, neighbors and in some case, perfect strangers, and his efforts to talk to them about what it means to have a relationship with Jesus. One of the main premises of the book is that we should be looking to build friendships and start conversations with people so that we might have the opportunity to present the gospel.
I want to share with you one of the principles that we learned from the book and hopefully encourage you to look at everyone you come into contact with as a potential brother or sister in Christ. The principle comes from chapter 3, titled, “Living in 3-D.” This refers to three stages of getting to know people and they all start with, you guessed it, the letter “D.”
The first step that we all need to learn to take is to develop friendships. For some people this is a simple task, while for others, the thought of talking to someone you don’t know is enough to send you into hiding for the rest of the year. Regardless of how easy the prospect of making friends is, it becomes a different endeavor when we throw in the extra task of sharing the gospel. But here’s the wrinkle: developing friendships for the purpose of sharing the gospel shouldn’t look any different than any other attempt to make friends. What that means, is that we shouldn’t see the people in our lives as projects, or things to be fixed. We should see them as friends, opportunities to extend love and grace just as Christ showed us. And if we are truly walking with Jesus, we won’t help but be able to talk about Him as part of our regular conversations. That doesn’t necessarily mean that every conversation is going to be a gospel presentation, but if we truly love Jesus, we won’t be able to help talking about Him.
It can take months, or even years, before that friend comes into a relationship with Jesus (if they ever do at all). If we love people, we will recognize that the return is worth the investment. Are we willing to look a friend in the eye and say, “I don’t want to go to heaven without you?” Let us love people like eternity is as stake, because it is.
The second “D” we need to practice is discovering stories. We all have a story. It’s who we are, what we have done, our identity. If we are in Christ, our story is centered around Jesus. We should see our life in two stages, before Jesus and after Jesus. We should see a difference in those two stages of our life. And we should be able to tell people our story, and according to Hybel’s book, we should be able to do that in under two minutes.
But before we start telling our story to others, we need to listen to those around us and learn their story. We need to find out who they are, what interests them, what struggles they might be having. By doing so, we might find ways that our story could help bring them to faith in Christ. We need to listen for ways that our story might relate to them and show them how Jesus could change their life and we need to be ready to share that with them.
Which leads to the final “D” in this process, discerning next steps. We may start sharing with someone how Jesus changed our life, or we may simply be trying to invite them to church, and they respond negatively to the notion of church or Jesus. It may be time to back off. It may be time to find a different approach. We need to be sensitive to the situation. Is this a relationship where, Lord willing, you will have another opportunity? Then take your time. Don’t push them away. Of course, if this is a likely one-time conversation, you might need to seize this opportunity as you might likely not have another one.
We should also be sensitive to the person’s story. As we have listened and maybe have developed a friendship with someone, we may be able to discern that certain people need a more direct approach, while others may require some more finesse. People respond differently when it comes to talking about Jesus.
All of these steps must be covered in prayer. We must be in tune to the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit. We should pray for opportunities t talk to our friends about Jesus. We should also pray for new friends to share Jesus with, or even conversations with complete strangers.
God has chosen to use us as instruments to tell people about His grace. We should not take that responsibility lightly. Don’t be discouraged because you may not be seeing many turn to faith in Christ. You may be a landmark on that person's road to Jesus. Any attempt to share Jesus is a successful regardless of the outcome, because of our obedience to Christ’s command. Let us begin to take those first steps and learn to walk across the room because people matter to God.
Soli deo gloria,