BY MEREDITH DAY
iLLUSTRATIONS BY MARK HERRON
Pop Quiz:You toss your briefcase in the overhead
compartment and settle in next to the window, hoping no one has been assigned
the seat between you and the kid occupying the aisle, who has slipped on his
headphones and is drumming to the beat on his tray table. Youre just about to
settle in, hoping for some peace and quiet, when a harried man with an even
bigger briefcase than yours trips over the kid and collapses into the seat next
to you. Youre tired and almost cranky, but because youre always looking for
ways to be on mission, you rack your brain for a way to start a
conversation that could lead to talking about your faith. What do you do?
A. Lean over and introduce yourself right after he hangs up
from a cell phone conversation with his wife, who has been talking so loud that
you can hear her, and in which he kept saying, Uh-huh. . . yeah. . . of course
Im listening and which ended by his whispering tightly, Well talk about it when
I get home.
B. After he puts on his earphones for the in-flight movie,
you lean over and lift one earpiece to ask him where he goes to church.
C. As he reaches up to turn off his overhead light and
signals to the flight attendant to ask for a pillow, you tap him on the
shoulder and ask him if he knows where hes going if your plane crashes.
Of course, you already know the answer. None of the above is the most
opportune time to share the gospel. But isnt it always the right time to share
our faith? If we are on mission Christians, looking for every opportunity to
share Christ, how can there possibly be a wrong time?
Paul challenges us to preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of
season, correct, rebuke and encourage (2 Timothy 4:2). But thats not the
end of the verse. He adds with great patience and careful instruction.
The patience in our approach to sharing the gospel and the carefulness with
which we present our faith are often related to our timing. How do we balance a
constant willingness and readiness to share the gospel with sensitivity to our
hearers? What first must be in place in order for the time to be right to share
Messing Up: Part 1
Speaking too soon
Kathy visited her friends Sunday school class as a somewhat wary spiritual
seeker. During class introductions, the teacher, Chris, asked Kathy where she
went to church. When she stumbled over the answer, he began to present the
gospel to her in front of the entire class. Kathy left terribly embarrassed,
and her on mission friend felt Chris approach was a definite set back to her
attempt to share the gospel with Kathy.
How do we minister to those like Kathy, who have been hurt by the words of a
well-meaning Christian? And how do we repair relationships damaged when we
speak too soon?
Be sensitive to the persons past. We all know nonbelievers like Kathy who
have had negative experiences with Christians and church. Instead of
immediately forging ahead with your own testimony, be willing to discuss their
experiences. Your sensitive answers to their questions can help them understand
Christs patience and acceptance.
Dont let your mistakes throw you off course. Its easy when we mess up to be
discouraged from trying again. If you speak too soon, continue to respond to
the person in love, even if they push away from the relationship. Your
acceptance of them in light of their rejection of your faith will speak volumes
about the love Christ has brought into your life.
Keep it relationship-centered. If people know you are truly concerned about
them, you will have opportunities to share the gospel, even if you began by
speaking too soon. Investing in their life grants you the right to share in
their experiences, learn more about them and gain new opportunities to share
I love the Olympics. Winter or summer, from ice skating to track and field,
whether or not my team is ahead in the medal count, I watch it all, especially
the in-depth stories about the athletes and how they made it to the ultimate
Several years ago I watched a profile of an athlete who moved from his home
and relocated to the site of the Olympics several months before the Games. He
was from a low-lying area and knew that in order to be successful in
competition, he would have to train in the high altitude of the Olympic city.
Now, years later, I cant remember his name, his event or whether he won, but I
am still awed by his dedication. In the field of the best athletes in the
world, victory wasnt a surety, but he was devoted to his cause, willing to do
everything he could to improve his chances.
The right time for sharing the gospel comes when we have a commitment to
reaching others for Christ. If we possess a growing dedication to the cause of
Christ, we will be sensitive and open to opportunities to share the gospel.
Through each days ups and downs, our primary focus must be reaching others for
Him. That sounds like a tall order in an age when the priority is all about me.
How do we develop and maintain a devotion to sharing the message of Jesus?
First, we must understand the reason for our dedication. In his speaking
series For the Glory, Louie Giglio challenges Christians to develop a
perspective of sharing the gospel toward the glory of God. Beyond any
recognition we might receive, even beyond concern for the people we reach, we
should be sharing the gospel because God receives glory and worship when people
turn to Him.
To be dedicated to the cause of Christ, we must cultivate a life led by the
Holy Spirit. If we are following the Spirits guidance in our everyday walk with
Christ, we will grow more and more dedicated to His heartbeat: that the world
might know Jesus Christ. We will not be able to contain what Christ has done
for us, as when Peter and John in Acts 4:20 could not stop speaking about what
they had seen and heard.
Living a life led by the Holy Spirit means throwing off the things that
hinder our journey with Christ. Paul writes of objects made for noble purposes
and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be
an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared
to do any good work (2 Timothy 2:21).
Developing a dedication to the cause of Christ also includes cultivating the
discipline of prayer. A friend told me about a woman in his church who prayed
every day that her husband would come to know Christ. After several years, he
finally accepted the gospel. While visiting her home one day, my friend noticed
two small marks in the floor of the room where she prayedindications of where
she had been on her knees, praying for her husband. When our prayers for
nonbelievers are fervent and continual, we will develop a dedication to sharing
the gospel that allows us to know when the time is right.
If we are dedicated to sharing Christ, listening to the Holy Spirit and praying
for nonbelievers, the next step in finding the right time to share the gospel
is developing relationships with the people around us. Thomas Hammond, director
of direct evangelism at the North American Mission Board, says Christians often
try to go deeper than weve earned the right to go. Outreach techniques such as
street ministry and event evangelism can be effective tools for sharing the
gospel. But our postmodern culture is growing more and more
relationship-driven. The right time to share the gospel is often within a
trusting, growing friendship.
Steve and Susan are dedicated Christians, leaders in their church and
involved in a close circle of Christian couples. Recently, while waiting for a
table at a restaurant, they ran into Jeff and Heather, whose daughter plays
basketball with their daughter.
When Jeff and Heather were seated, they invited Steve and Susan to eat with
them. Susan says she knew they should have accepted, but Steve had just
returned from a trip, and Jeff and Heather were only acquaintances. Knowing
that Jeff and Heather werent Christians and worried that they wouldnt have
anything to talk about, Steve and Susan politely declined. Now, the couple sees
that the dinner could have been an opportunity to begin a relationship with
Jeff and Heather.
Building relationships with nonbelievers always requires a sacrifice from
Christians. We are often called to give of our time and comfort in order to
reach out to those who dont know Christ. Its so easy to stay within our
circles, but if we step outside our usual boundaries, God can bring people and
opportunities into our lives to fulfill His purpose of bringing people to
Thomas Hammond describes the principle of building relationships with
nonbelievers as putting good memories into the files. He says everyone has an
accumulation of responses
to Christians, church, etc. By being willing to invest in the lives of
non-believers, on mission Christians put good memories into the files
of non-Christians, eventually earning the right to share their faith with
Thomas says Christians must learn to become valuable to lost people. He
gives the example of mowing his neighbors yard. By showing kindness to his
neighbor, Thomas becomes a valuable friend and eventually will be able to
transfer what is valuable to HimChristto his neighbor. By building a
relationship that reflects Gods love, we continue on the path to find the right
time to share the gospel.
A Biblical Lesson in Listening
(John 4:7-45)Jesus conversation with the Samaritan
woman at the well in John 4 is a perfect example of what we should listen for
in our evangelistic encounters in order to know the right time to share the
gospel. John tells us that Jews had no dealings with Samaritans (v. 9), yet
Jesus established a relationship with her in order that she might know the
Truth. He created an opportunity by introducing the concept of living water.
When we reach the point of verbally sharing our faith, our timing is often
related to the questions we hear. Imagine a modern-day woman at the well.
Perhaps its someone who is living with a man without the benefits of marriage.
Or maybe shes someone who has had a string of affairs without any sort of
commitment. How would Jesus approach her today?
She said: How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a
Samaritan woman? (verse 9)
Todays translation: Why do you act like this? What makes you different?
The Samaritan woman was drawn to the difference she saw in Jesus. When we
are committed to the call of Christ to share Him and are led by the Holy
Spirit, others will notice the difference in us and ask why.
She said: Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where
then do you get that living water? (verse 11)
Todays translation: How have you come to this point in your life?
When he reached out to her, Jesus built a relational bridge to the Samaritan
woman. Even though society forbade it, His friendship was irresistible because
of what He offered.
She said: I have no husband. (verse 17)
Todays translation: You dont know what Ive done. God cant possibly forgive
After He reached out to her, Jesus was able to reveal the power of the
living water by telling the woman that she could receive it no matter what her
past held. Because He began a relationship with her, Jesus knew what she really
needed and was able to introduce her to the Living Water.
Creating OpportunitiesFinding the right time to share the gospel
cant end with a commitment to share and a willingness to build relationships
with nonbelievers. At some point, we must begin to create and anticipate
opportunities to share Christ verballywith our own words.
Mary was my first close friend who claimed a different faith from mine.
Before I knew her, the people around me could be divided into two categories:
Christians and people who claimed no interest in God. Mary presented a new
category. She believed she had found the truth in her faith. Through our
friendship, we were able to talk about our spiritual beliefs, but she was wary
of learning too much about Christianity. During the two years I knew her, I
never invited her to my church or any other Christian event, because I worried
that our friendship would suffer. I was so intent on building a relationship in
hopes of sharing the gospel that I never created an opportunity to do just
In their book Becoming a Contagious Christian, Bill Hybels and Mark
Mittelberg give a formula for maximum evangelistic influence. An on
mission Christian must live a life visibly impacted by Christ and be
willing to form relationships with nonbelievers. But thats not the end of the
formula. Its not enough to merely have high potency and close proximity; weve
got to get the next step in the formula if we want to maximize our spiritual
impact on others. . . .Weve got to talk about our faith, putting spiritual
concepts into plain everyday words.
Creating opportunities doesnt mean that we have to plan community-wide
outreach events for our friends. It can be as simple as asking questions or
starting a spiritual discussion. The most important thing is that weve earned
the right to start talking. When we have shown our dedication to Christ and
have built relationships, the time is right to create opportunities to share
Messing Up: Part 2
Missing an opportunityNancy knows she is not debt-free because
of shrewd accounting or penny pinching. Several years ago, God touched her life
in a miraculous way, removing her debt through circumstances inexplicable in
human terms. Nancy promised God that she would never tell her story without
crediting Him for the outcome.
At a recent family gathering, Nancy was talking to some relatives when the
subject of her financial struggle came up. She started in on her story when
asked but didnt include all the details about Gods part in the situation. She
felt she didnt have enough time to complete the story and was in a crowded
setting that didnt feel right for sharing a personal story about Gods
redemption. She wished she had either delayed beginning the story until her
listeners could be less distracted and more attentive or followed up with more
How do we develop a willingness to say something when we know we should? And
how do we make up for lost opportunities?
Pray for opportunity. When we align our desires with Gods desire for the
nations to know Him, we will be willing and ready to take action when the time
Be sensitive to all aspects of timing. Nancy says she chose the wrong time
and environment to share her story. Because of time constraints and the crowded
room, she didnt feel comfortable telling the complete story of Gods work in her
life. When we are mindful of our surroundings and of our audience, we are
better prepared to share when the time is right.
Admit it when weve missed a chance. The hardest part of getting evangelistic
timing right is realizing we may have missed an opportunity. By learning from
our experiences in sharing the gospel, God can use our mistakes to make us more
passionate about sharing his love.
Gauging your listeners readinessSo youve developed a commitment
to sharing Christ, youre building relationships toward that goal and youre
creating opportunities to verbally share the gospel. Just when youre ready to
start talking, guess what your next step is: start listening. The most
difficult part of knowing when the time is right to share the gospel is knowing
what to say and when to say it, and keeping your ears open and your heart ready
may be the key.
Dont you love it when someone remembers something you mentioned in a passing
conversation? Or when a friend surprises you with a gift you once said you
liked? We love to be listened to, and even more, we love for people to respond
to what we say. The final step in finding the right time is gauging your
listeners readiness to hear the gospel.
Weve all heard the statistics about how little we actually listen during a
conversation. Most of the time, we dont hear what the other person is saying
for trying to decide what well say next. But any evangelistic encounter
requires that we listen and interpret what we hear. And listening involves more
than words. Here are tips on how to gauge readiness from what we see and
1. Watch for body language. Sometimes the most important
messages are seen, not heard. I met Elijah on a mission trip. He lived in the
area where my group was re-roofing a house, and he came by to borrow some of
I spoke with him several times, and by the end of the week, I knew him well
enough to invite him to our final worship service. Afterward, a member of our
group began to ask Elijah about his spiritual journey. In every conversation we
had that week he was open and friendly. But when we started asking the hard
questions, he looked down at his feet, crossed his arms and communicated only
by shaking or nodding his head. Elijahs body language told us that the crowded
worship center was not the right place to talk about the gospel with him. We
changed the subject and later talked to Elijah about Jesus outside the worship
center in a quieter environment where he was more comfortable.
2. Listen for key phrases and questions. Each evangelistic
encounter offers a different set of circumstances and a different set of
personalities. But there are some key phrases that can lead on mission
Christians into a verbal presentation of the gospel. For example, any comment
about the difference in a Christ-ians life can lead to a discussion of the
gospel. The same is true if someone is seeking advice for resolving a difficult
problem or situation in his or her life. We know our postmodern culture is
relationship-driven. People want to know how Christ can affect their entire
lives. By listening for certain key phrases, we may gain an opportunity to lead
someone to a relationship with Christ. Following are a few phrases and
questions to listen for:
You seem to handle everything so well. How do you do that?
What makes the difference in your life?
You hold some views that arent so popular right now. Why do you stand by
Why are you so interested in me? What makes you care about someone you dont
know that well?
Pop Quiz #2:Imagine youre back on that airplane, just
as tired, just as cranky, but still wanting to be on mission. When is the right
time to share the gospel?
a. When you feel the Holy Spirit nudging you to introduce yourself. Maybe
this is the opportunity youve been praying for.
b. During a conversation about his family in which he expresses concern for
c. After he mentions he used to attend church regularly.
Youre right! All of the above choices are appropriate times to share the
gospel because you are dedicated, building a relationship, listening for
opportunities and gauging your listeners readiness for what you say. When we
are committed to Christs call to share Him, sacrificing everything to reach
those in need, preparing for opportunities to verbally share and being
sensitive to our hearers, He will make sure we know when the time is right.
Meredith Day is a writer living in Columbus, Missouri.
Resources for developing a commitment to the call of Christ and
seeking His timing in our faith presentationsThe NET,
North American Mission Board, 2000. This evangelism-training tool focuses on a
conversational approach to sharing the gospel. Incorporating your personal
story of Gods work in your life with principles from Scripture, The
NET includes sessions on identifying the lost, the importance of prayer in
evangelism, and commitment follow-up. The NET helps Christians learn
to tell their own stories, so that when the right time comes, they are ready to
share how Christs love has affected their lives.
HeartCall: The Call to Prayer, North American Mission Board, 1998.
This compilation of devotionals encourages spiritual growth through prayer for
nonbelievers. HeartCall challenges women to develop a real desire to share the
love of Christ.
Going Global, Passion Conferences. This three-CD set of messages by
dynamic speaker Louie Giglio focuses on evangelism for the sole purpose of
gathering worshipers for Gods glory. The messages challenge listeners to
develop a passion for supporting and practicing evangelism and a willingness to
go wherever God calls.
Evangelism Made Slightly Less Difficult: How to Interest People Who
Arent Interested by Nick Pollard, InterVarsity Press, 1997. Pollard
discusses ways to share your faith with four basic types of people: people who
arent interested; people who want to know more about Jesus; people with
spiritual questions; and people who are ready to accept Him. This book includes
valuable evangelistic how-tos and how-not-tos as it examines the different
needs of nonbelievers.
Sharing Christ When You Feel You Cant by Daniel Owens, Crossway
Books, 1997. Owens presents a step-by-step approach for evangelism to friends
and family, from getting motivated, to developing relationships, to sharing
Can We Talk? Sharing Your Faith in a Pre-Christian World by Robert
G. Tuttle Jr., Abingdon Press, 1999. Tuttle examines ways to effectively
communicate the gospel, including how to start conversations, answer difficult
questions and adapt your approach to your audience.
Becoming a Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg,
Zondervan Publishing House, 1994. Hybels and Mittelberg present a formula for
modern-day evangelism. This book explains how the high potency of Christs
power, close proximity to nonbelievers and clear communication of the gospel
are combined to produce maximum impact on our culture.
Direct non-Christians to hereshope.net or thegoodnews.org, North American Mission Board. These websites
feature screen-by-screen presentations of the gospel. Theyre a great resource
for Web users seeking ways to start conversations about Christ.
Resources are available at your local LifeWay Christian Book Store. North
American Mission Board resources also can be ordered by calling
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC