3 Ways to Share Jesus with Skeptics
November and December herald times of celebration. We dress up our homes (i.e., we decorate), we gather friends and family (i.e., we celebrate), we indulge in seasonal dishes (i.e., we masticate), and we tell stories (i.e., we . . . storicate? Just go with it). As we join together around the table, we want to make the most of the time.
Our thoughts naturally turn to loved ones this time of year, and our prayer requests often go something like this: “My brother is lost, and he’ll be visiting with us over Thanksgiving. Please pray that God will open a door for me to talk about Jesus.” Or “Please pray for my friend. She’s coming to church for the first time, and she’ll be hearing the Good News of Christmas.”
We want to enjoy good conversation over a holiday meal. We want to relax with our loved ones. And if we happen to share our table with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, we want to be ready to talk about Him in an engaging way. So how should you broach the subject of Christ with someone who usually resists this sort of talk? Wisely.
As you discover opportunities to talk about Jesus this holiday season, here are three approaches you would do well to remember:
- Don’t make the conversation a sales pitch.
- Talk about what you love.
- Remember that stories stick.
1. Don’t Make the Conversation a Sales Pitch
I used to work retail at a clothing store, where they paid me to talk to people. You’ve seen these people: They wait around to start a conversation that will quickly turn into a sales pitch. Everyone on both ends of the conversation hates it. We hate it because it feels manipulative and insincere, and someone is being coerced into making a choice they would rather make on their own and in their own time. In this culture we’re inundated with sales pitches. As a result, the person with whom you’re hoping to have an eternity-changing conversation is often more than ready to dismiss your pitch. So don’t “pitch” the gospel to them. Just share what you have tasted and seen. To put it another way, don’t be the restaurant that tries to rope people in with specials and gimmicks. Instead, be the satisfied customer who tells her neighbor about the great diner around the corner.
One way you can keep from sounding like a salesperson is to not rush a decision. The buying decisions that drive sales require us to commit and invest emotionally and often lead to some level of buyer’s remorse. If this is true of someone purchasing a $500 appliance, how much more are we asking of someone to commit to an whole new worldview?
You’ll also notice that salespeople often try to bury us under an avalanche of features and benefits. The danger of this approach when trying to convince someone to become a Christian is that it positions that person as a consumer who may or may not be interested in the available features. A relationship with Jesus certainly has benefits, but the best reasons to come to Him run much deeper. So when you’re talking with people about why they should know Christ, talk about the greatness of Jesus rather than just listing the bonuses that come with knowing Him.
As Donald Johnson wrote in his book How to Talk to a Skeptic, Christ is not a product and so Christians “should not be consumers, and evangelists should not be salespeople. To misunderstand this is incredibly dangerous, because the stakes are so high.”
2. Talk About What You Love
This will come more naturally than you may think. You may have been trained to share your “testimony,” or provide an account of how you became a Christian. I would encourage you to expand your definition of a testimony to include what God has done in your life and what He’s doing right now.
Here’s why: People want to hear the gospel from the standpoint of personal experience. If you could talk to a family who’s just returned from the same vacation you’re currently planning, wouldn’t you? If you came across a host of negative reviews of a local restaurant, would you still take your family to eat there this weekend? You probably would factor this user feedback into your plans. When you tell someone about your relationship with God in terms of how you’re getting to know Him better and how good He has been to you, you’re giving Him a positive review. In a world that makes decisions based on ratings of one to five stars, this sort of testimony can make a real difference.
3. Remember that Stories Stick
C. S. Lewis is quoted as saying that reason is the organ of truth, and imagination the organ of meaning. Reason is one way we know what is true, but when we imagine what something can mean to our lives, we see how it matters. Stories have an amazing capacity to help us digest, process, and retain a truth long after it’s been presented to us. After hearing a sermon, for instance, most people remember the illustrations better than facts and figures and theological points because people are made to engage with stories.
Should you find yourself in a conversation about Jesus, make sure you communicate all the essential parts of the gospel, but do so in a way that includes you and the listener in the story. For instance, you could quote Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and you would be sharing a valuable truth. But then follow it up with a good analogy, a story from Scripture, or an illustration from your own life. It might go something like this:
I went on a retreat recently that really changed the way I think about God. We talked about what it means to trust Jesus, and I realized that although I’ve been a Christian for several years, I still tend to think that God only accepts me because I teach Sunday school and keep my nose clean. I realized at this retreat that when I pray, I might pray with confidence if I felt I’d been obedient and serving a lot at church. But if I had sinned recently, I would feel as if I had to double up on good behavior before God would listen to me again. I think all of us can fall into this trap of worrying about how we stand with God, even though Jesus already paid the full price for all my sins on the cross. Thankfully, Jesus died for that sort of thinking too.
This account weaves good doctrine with humility and a story in a way that may stick with someone longer than doctrine alone might do. Don’t get me wrong. I love strong biblical teaching, but I’m struck by how much better I understand and retain it when I can relate it to my own story and the whole redemptive story of God’s creation. In fact, we at Apologia we believe in story so strongly that we’ve created a free ministry resource to help you minister to friends and family this holiday season.
Resources to Help You Share
- Mary Remembers. This is an audio recording of s a dramatic monologue from author/speaker Rachael Carman. Delivered in a conversational style, this 17-minute presentation presents the birth of Jesus through the eyes of his mother, Mary, to reveal the wonder, humility, and ordinariness found in the birth of our Savior. The full audio includes a short “What Should I Do Now?” lesson from the author and an original song by musician Anne MacCallum.
- The iWitness series. The iWitness series is a way of presenting scholarly material in a fun and visually rich way for people who are interested in the answers but are turned off by scholarly books. Each book is designed as stack of documents the reader has to make sense of as if they’re doing their own investigation. It’s a logical trail, but the reader is asked to think through the information. Hopefully, these books will answer a lot of the most common questions they get challenged on as Christians, or even have themselves.
- I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek argue, however, that Christianity is not only more reasonable than all other belief systems, but is indeed more rational than unbelief itself. With conviction and clear thinking, Geisler and Turek guide readers through some of the traditional, tested arguments for the existence of a creator God. They move into an examination of the source of morality and the reliability of the New Testament accounts concerning Jesus.
If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy Your Christmas Schedule – Flustered or Flexible?
About the author: Kyle McManamy is a college pastor in North Carolina.