What unites all Christians everywhere is our joyful agreement that the greatest thing that ever happened on our weary and battered planet is the coming of Jesus to earth – and that the message of the gospel is quite simply the best news ever. So here is my question: if this is so, why do so many Christians struggle to share this breathtakingly glorious good news? How can we believe that there is no greater news in the world but still feel unable or unwilling to tell others?

Though the gospel is as glorious as it ever was, the world has changed dramatically. Today our western culture is increasingly post-truth and post-Christian: not merely not Christian but set against Christianity. Our challenge in the west comes from living in a culture that reflects the distortions of post-modernity: the collapse of absolute truth; the shift from authority to personal preference; the designer religion’ approach of picking and choosing what we believe, cafeteria style; the sexual revolution… the list goes on.

Yet we must never forget, that even as our cultural landscape becomes increasingly secular, secularism does not have the power to erase our human longings for meaning and worth. If anything, it increases them. God has placed in all human beings a hunger for meaning, worth and wholeness that can only be found in Him. Unbelievers don’t know the reason for their longing and wistfulness – but it’s there. This is why I believe our age is the greatest opportunity for Christian witness since the time of Jesus and the apostles.

Yet many Christians today are fearful of sharing their faith and don’t know how to make Jesus known in today’s cultural context, especially with an increasing hostility towards faith. That is why I wrote a new book on evangelism, Stay Salt, to help Christians who feel inadequate, who fear evangelism means memorising a technique to use on a victim, and who forget to focus on God’s power and presence, and worry that it’s really up to their expertise, which they already know they don’t have.


Cultural changes and our witness

In my book, Stay Salt, I tell the story of a lively conversation I had with Sue, who was seated next to me on a flight. As our conversation began, I prayed a quick silent prayer asking the Holy Spirit to guide the conversation. Then I asked Sue questions to learn who she is and to see where we might have common interests. It didn’t take long before we discovered that we both loved to travel and to learn about cultures, which we discussed at length.

Then Sue began sharing some of her views: Listen, if I want to be a man on Monday and a woman on Wednesday, who cares? At the end of the day, gender identity is simply a matter of personal preference.” She went on to say she was a firm believer
in the law of Karma.

Her comments reveal the challenge we face in witnessing to today’s culture. How do we engage in significant conversations with people whose views are so radically different from ours? For starters we need to ask questions. When Sue told me she believed in the essential goodness of human nature, I asked her how she’d describe the state of the world. She said, The world is clearly falling apart. It’s a mess!” I asked, Okay, but how can the world be a mess when it’s filled with good people?”

She paused and then she offered a uniquely American analysis: I believe our problem stems from two sources: people either have addiction issues and need a recovery programme, or they are psychologically wounded and need therapy. Don’t you agree?”

I said, Both of those solutions have helped people. But what if we learn to live in recovery, only to discover that our problem is deeper still? What if our ultimate addiction is to ourselves? What if, at our core, we have a heart problem?” She replied, Yes, but who in the world has the power to heal the heart? Where do you go for rehab of the heart?”

For the first time in the conversation I mentioned God and said, Honestly, I can’t think of anyone or anything but God. In fact, that realisation is what led me from being an agnostic to ultimately becoming a Christian. But that’s a long story.” She said, I want to hear your story,” and we discussed faith for the rest of the flight.

When we landed and were retrieving our luggage she said, Becky, I am embarrassed to say this, but if I emailed you would you write me back?” I said I’d be delighted. We are now having an ongoing email conversation about Christianity. Sue revealed what current research shows: that people today are often open to having a spiritual conversation if we approach them in the right way.

Tips on raising the topic of faith

Something I frequently hear in our evangelism training conferences is: How do we move from a normal’ conversation to a spiritual one? How can we raise the topic of faith naturally?” Let’s return to my conversation with Sue and unpack it briefly.

Pray. When talking to someone, always say a quick silent prayer inviting God to be present and to guide your conversation. Prayer reminds us that God is the great evangelist, not us. Christians often tell me: I can’t witness because I am inadequate and weak.” But when the apostle Paul was frustrated with his weakness (“thorn in the flesh”) and asked the Lord to remove it, the Lord Jesus answered: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” We must learn to celebrate our smallness and rely on the power of the God.

Find common ground. Finding areas we have in common enables us to connect as human beings. When they discover we are a Christian it becomes hard to put us into a box because we’ve already connected authentically.

Ask good questions. Questions are powerful because they aren’t preachy; they reveal we are truly listening, and may cause people to reconsider their views. When I asked Sue how the world could be a mess if people were entirely good, she immediately saw the contradiction without becoming defensive. Questions are not aggressive, even when they gently challenge a worldview.

Agree where you can. We need to affirm what we legitimately can. When Sue said many people struggle with addiction and find help in recovery programmes, I agreed with her. But how can we help people see that the problem is deeper still?

Ask deeper questions but use their terminology, if possible. We often make the mistake of expecting people to come onto our turf, rather than starting from theirs. When I asked Sue, What if our ultimate addiction is to ourselves?” I was expressing the idea of sin but using her language, rather than biblical language that she wouldn’t understand. Later in the conversation I explained more fulsomely what our problem is and why the Bible calls it sin. The point is that we can use biblical terminology, but only after explaining it in everyday language.

Bringing up the gospel is often easier than we think. When I asked Sue, What if our real problem is a problem of the heart?” she responded, Yes, but who on earth has the power to heal the heart? Who offers that kind of rehab?” I could now easily bring up the subject of God and my own experience, because it was natural and organic to our conversation.

Where do we go from here?

We are living in extraordinary times. Christ calls and sends us into our battered world to be signs and agents of His blessed kingdom: through being, doing and telling the gospel. That is why local churches and parachurch ministries must encourage and equip believers in everyday evangelism, and seminaries need to offer evangelism courses to future church leaders.

What we need is a holistic approach to evangelism that is biblically faithful, culturally relevant, Spirit-dependent, and relationally authentic. We need an effective evangelism strategy that offers three things: training in personal evangelism; training in small group evangelism such as a seeker Bible study; and creative ways to do proclamation evangelism. God is the great evangelist who goes before us and who dwells within us and who calls us to be His witnesses. And in God’s strength, we can.