21 Evangelism Lessons for the 21st Century – Lesson 8
Lesson 7 from my research was “There’s far more to evangelism than just providing answers to questions.” Lesson 8 explores why that is so. In some instances, the question asked is not the real question. There may be more substantive or more pressing questions behind the one that comes out of someone’s mouth. In fact, I think we would be wise to assume that is often the case.
Lesson 8 – Unasked questions may be more important than asked ones.
My conversation with Lawrence illustrates this point. Lawrence was a very intelligent, double major in his senior year at an academically rigorous university. He had left behind any interest in or respect for religion after graduating from high school. The faith of his mother was superstitious, weird, anti-intellectual nonsense that no thinking person should consider for more than a passing moment. Or so he said.
During his sophomore year he was invited to an event sponsored by a Christian organization on campus. Some intelligent guy was going to field questions from the audience – questions that had anything to do with God, religion, or faith. Lawrence decided to go for three reasons: 1) The girl who invited him was good looking. 2) There was going to be pizza. 3) He was sure he could stump the speaker.
After a short presentation by the speaker, Lawrence asked, “What about aliens?” The speaker asked for a bit of elaboration. Lawrence explained, “Doesn’t it destroy your whole religion if there are aliens on other planets? I mean, how do they get to know God where they are?”
The speaker probably could have attacked Lawrence for his lack of sincerity or offered an answer about God providing other revelations besides the Bible for other planets. He chose instead to say, “I really don’t know much about aliens. I’m sorry. I’m not the best one to talk about aliens.” But then he wisely added, “What I do know is that God gave our planet the Bible and I think you might want to go to the 6 week Bible study of the Gospel of Mark that we’re starting next week.”
Lawrence decided to do just that, albeit with his attitude of “I can outsmart anyone” firmly in place.
When I asked him if there were any major questions he had during that 6 week process, he thought for a minute and then said, “Yeah. You remember that story where Jesus cast the demons into the pigs? Whatsupwiththat?”
I laughed and he did too. I followed up with, “Did you ask the Bible study leader that question?”
“Yeah, I did. The first thing he said was, ‘I’m not sure.’”
I interrupted. “Was that bad that he said that?”
“No. Not at all. In fact, I thought it showed some humility. I liked that.”
“Ok,” I said. “Did he ever offer an answer?”
“Yes. He said, ‘First, I think the story teaches us not to mess with demons. They must be pretty evil beings and we shouldn’t just laugh them off. The second thing is – There must be a big difference between being a pig and being a person.”
I thought that was a pretty good answer – not award winning or tremendously compelling but not bad. I asked Lawrence if that was satisfying to him.
“Yeah. Actually, it was. But you have to remember my background. I grew up going to a church where they told me not to ask questions. ‘Just believe in Jesus and you won’t have any more questions’ was kind of what they told me. And I always thought that was stupid. But when this guy answered my question about the pigs, I figured, there probably are answers to a lot of my questions and it’s not bad to ask them.”
I was intrigued. I asked him if he then asked some of those other questions and he said he didn’t. It was enough to know that some people respected his questions and there probably are answers for whenever he wanted to get around to asking them.
Two things stand out to me: The respect for the question and the respect for the questioner. To be sure, some questions are insincere and we should identify them as such. But in a lot of cases, we would be wise to:
- Treat the questioner kindly, regardless of the depth or sincerity of the question.
- Admit when we don’t know the answer. Offering to think further or do research to find answers shows respect as well as humility.
- Consider that offering an answer to the stated question may indirectly provide answers to many other questions or set people free to explore topics they’ve long neglected.
All this requires discernment, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s leading, concern for people, and careful listening. Evangelism involves far more than conveying the content of the gospel, providing answers, and asking for decisions. It is at least all of those. But it’s also a lot more.