Sam Chan’s Wisdom Tips for Evangelism
If you believe in evangelism (and you probably do), then having gospel conversations with people who are not yet believers is an important skill to develop.
There are a few instructions in the Bible about how to conduct these conversations. Those who have done evangelism training courses will no doubt be familiar with Colossians 4:5-6 and 1 Peter 3:15-16.
But there’s a prior question.
How do you get to have these conversations in the first place?
There isn’t any instruction in the Bible about how to do that. It’s a wisdom question. And a wisdom question we would like to have an answer for, because it’s an area we often feel ill-equipped in.
Enter Sam Chan’s short book, How Do We Talk with Skeptics?
Chan is an evangelist who has thought long and hard about how to have gospel conversations with people in his life. He’s distilled his wisdom into this book.
This is a wisdom book, and some readers will find that frustrating. That is to say, Chan doesn’t try to present a biblical rationale for the advice he’s giving. He just tells you what he thinks is wise advice and what will work. And you can take it or leave it.
If you are looking for a very similar book with a bit more of the background work fleshed out, his book, How to Talk About Jesus (Without Being That Guy), will be more your thing. It’s about twice the length and he gives more of his reasoning. But if you are looking for short, accessible, and practical, then this is the book for you.
So, what’s Chan’s advice? Here’s his 10 tips.
- Be realistic about your conversations. There is the temptation to aim to get the whole gospel message presented in a conversation—that’s not usually possible given the way informal conversation works. Also, once our friends know what we think about a subject, they aren’t likely to change their minds just because we bring it up again. How we live in these situations will end up being as important as what we say.
- Hospitality is important. Go to the effort of inviting people over and make sure you accept their invitations when they invite you.
- Learn how to shift the conversation to a deeper level and gauge whether your conversation partner is comfortable with that. Conversations move deeper as you shift from talking about interests to values, and from values to worldview. We can develop skills in moving conversations along that continuum.
- Grow in active listening. Among other things, this involves reflecting back what a person has said to check we’ve heard them correctly and demonstrate we’re keen to understand what they have to say.
- Cultivate the art of conveying our point of view. Sometimes the Christian worldview will jar significantly in our culture—it’s important to be able to put that view winsomely. Chan uses a couple of techniques: deferring to Jesus’ point of view and explaining it by telling stories from the Bible.For me this chapter is a sudden change of gear. We move from things that are easy to take on board, even obvious, in the first four chapters, to something that will take dedicated training and coaching to improve on. No one is going to master this art just by reading the chapter.
- Learn how to get non-Christians to question their own worldview. This again is high level stuff. Chan’s technique is to ask non-Christians to justify where they got concepts such as freedom and human rights from—concepts secular culture borrows from Christianity in an unattributed fashion. This is both difficult to do well and only useful when talking with non-Christians who have a reasonable level of intellectual sophistication.
- Employ positive apologetics. In my university days, apologetics was always defensive—learning good responses to people’s objections. Chan’s point here is that now we can focus on why people would actually want Christianity to be true. You want to believe in a God of love? Christianity gives a sensible reason why a God of love exists. Nothing else does. In my opinion, this is the most important insight in the book. We need to put in the hard work to be able to converse in this way. I think it is possible to engage in this positive apologetics without it becoming the kind of intellectual exercise that is only applicable to a small portion of the population. It’s about painting the picture of the Christian faith that reveals some of its beauty. One way this can be done is with stories that are engaging for a wide cross-section of the community.
- Use wisdom to commend the gospel. Following Jesus ought to result in a life that works because we live according to the Maker’s instructions. When people see your life is working and want to know why, you can point them to the source of Wisdom.
- If you demonstrate consistent interest in people’s lives then they will begin to see you as something of a chaplain to them. You will have opportunities to pray for them or speak words into difficult moments.In my experience we need to on our guard against the temptation to view the chaplaincy as an end in itself. If you’ve had the opportunity to pray with someone or been there for them to unload their problems to, you mustn’t think the job is done. We need to be watchful for opportunities to take the next step of inviting folk to church or explaining the gospel message.
- Finally, be on the lookout for crisis moments. People are more open when they are desperate. So, when someone is desperate, drop what you are doing and be there for them.
My overall assessment is that this is a useful book. Some of Chan’s advice is the kind of helpful encouragement that is easy to take on board and act on. Other parts of his advice, particularly tips 5-7, are going to take significant effort even for those who are keen and good with words.
But if you believe in evangelism (and you probably do), then having gospel conversations with unbelievers is an important skill to develop.
This article was originally published at the The Gospel Coalition Australia and has been republished with permission
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