Who Did Christ Come To Save?
Jesus hung out with the “bad people”—and was criticized for it by the “good people”:
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’” (Luke 15:1-2).
This was not an isolated incident in the gospels: the message of Jesus was consistently received by the sinners, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the poor, and the sick. And it was consistently rejected by the religious people of the day, the rich, and the ones with much to lose.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him (Matt 21:31-32).
How to Find Those Who Are Seeking God
Not everyone is open to the message of Jesus, but the point is that you don’t know who is and isn’t. Assumption is a danger because things are not always as they seem. You never know where anyone else is really at spiritually until you get to know them. A key principle to evangelism is to treat everyone as if they are open.
From a coaching perspective, evangelism starts with observing them, listen to them, pray for them, discern where God may be at work in them, engage with them to the degree they are willing. Do all of this to the best of your ability. They can walk away if they want; they can engage if they want. The choice is theirs; do not make it for them.
Jesus had many conversations with people throughout his ministry: the woman at well (John 4), Nicodemus (John 3), the rich young ruler (Mark 10), the man healed of demon possession (Mark 5). Each engaged with him and was free to make their own choice about following him.
Look For Where God is Already at Work
Contemporary people, like many from certain past eras, lean more heavily on experiential learning. As such, we need to start with their story… start with what God has already been doing in their lives so far. When we see where God is at work, then we can join him there. Our starting point is not sharing the gospel. Our starting point is living the gospel and then sensing the leading of the Holy Spirit.
It’s a posture on evangelism with much more openness than Christians have historically shown. It recognizes that coming to faith is a much longer journey than jumping straight into a conversion conversation. Today, as in the past, the emphasis is not on cognitive knowing (the Enlightenment), but on experiencing the power of God and his work in our lives.
So as you go through life, engage with those around you and look to see where God may be actively at work in their lives. Use coaching skills like listening, discerning, and asking good questions to draw out the spiritual nature God has placed within them. Listen to their experiences, their values, their priorities, their hopes for the future. All of these things can uncover ways in which God is at work.
Questions to Help You Find Spiritual Seekers
- Where do you feel a pull or a tugging to explore more?
- When have you run across things you cannot explain?
- When is a time you felt the presence of God or a higher power?
- What beliefs or values do you think God may have placed within you?
- Where do you sense God at work in your life?
- What life experiences have shaped your ideas of God?
- Who have you known whose faith and way of life you have truly respected?
Or you could even lead with a general open invitation: “I would be very interested in learning more about your spiritual journey,” and see where that takes you.
Choose the question you ask based on timing and a sense of discernment as you are in conversation with others. Listen to the Holy Spirit to discover what you might ask to help draw out ways God may be at work in someone’s life. The goal of evangelism is discipleship. The path of discipleship starts before coming to faith; one must make a considered decision to follow Jesus and explore faith more fully.
8 Tips to Keep Evangelism Sensitive to Both God and Those Who are Seeking God
- Pray. Ask for the Spirit of God to be at work within them, that he might speak to them in ways you cannot.
- Inquire. Ask about what they believe and what they think, even if it is different from your own beliefs.
- Listen. Pay attention to where they are and what questions they are currently asking.
- Open. Remain non-defensive and interested in their perspectives and ideas.
- Seek. Look for ways God may be at work.
- Obey. Follow the guidance and promptings of the Holy Spirit.
- Invite. Welcome people to join you on a journey of discovery and exploratory conversations about God and spirituality.
- Establish: Connect those who want to move forward along the path of following Jesus into the faith and into a faith community.
If you are interested in learning more about the concept of using coaching skills with evangelism, I highly recommend Colin Noyes’ book, Making Disciples in a Postmodern Era: Reviewing and Contextualizing Historical Discipleship. He posits that to meet the significant cultural changes of the postmodern era, we need to review how discipleship has been done in past historical eras and learn what we can.