Recently I had the chance to talk with a friend about evangelism. He'd been struggling with feeling like he was called to evangelize but didn't know how to go about. We talked about where the pressure was coming from, probed the opportunities around him, and generally had a good chat. As is sometimes the case, I found myself organizing my own thoughts about evangelism more clearly because someone put me on the spot for my opinion. Later that night I took the time to write down some of the points we discussed. Perhaps you'll find it helpful.
Knowledge Is KeyIf you want to be successful in a journey, it helps to know the landscape. You should have a really clear picture of what you believe first and foremost. Be rock solid about your beliefs and be able to explain succinctly and with conviction just why you believe those things. You should know your scripture and hopefully the theology behind your particular religion. Whatever specific ideology you subscribe to, learn the unique aspects and how to explain them. The more you know, the easier the conversation can flow. There's nothing work than confusing someone or losing a window for open exchange because you weren't prepared.
Keep It Simple and RealMy belief system comes down to two things: sin and grace. Being able to clearly discuss this is way more important than being able to wax philosophic on the doctrine of predestination or the timelessness of salvation. A conversation about your beliefs is no place for technical terms and hair-splitting. After all, if it doesn't apply to the the real world, it's waste of time. To make sure it is really applicable, use real words, real examples, and your real life.
Express EmpathyEveryone has a past, a current situation, and stress points. These factors are often the reasons there is a door open for the conversation in the first place. Before you jump right in, make sure you understand what is coloring their current thinking. When speaking about sin and grace I find it helpful to remember that I am only saved by grace without which I have and am nothing. I'm not any better because of the knowledge I am sharing, I am just vessel to be used so that someone else can share the grace I do not deserve. Be sensitive to the person, their situation, and the motivations for the conversation.
Stay The CourseIn conversations of such deeply personal nature as our beliefs it is easy to get side-tracked and off topic. It is easy to make things subjective and about opinion instead of absolutes and principles. Keep to the central concern and don't wander into specifics of doctrine or denominational differences. Failing to acknowledge the absolutes in your belief system as absolutes is disrespectful to both parties and can eat away at our ability to enforce them in our own lives as well as the conversation. Sticking to clear references and scriptures, and being able to quote concrete writings was covered in the first point but is critical to this point as well. Don't shy away from acknowledging your own short-comings but keep the conversation on track.
Put The Person FirstWhen it comes down to it, whether you can plant a seed or not, there is a real person in the conversation who can probably use your support, encouragement and maybe more. If it isn't going anywhere or is met with hostility, just back off. Never be afraid to leave it for another time, and try not to let your zeal to communicate get in the way of opportunities to serve. The prize is for serving others, not wearing them down.
Hopefully as you read this, something stuck out that will challenge your own walk. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.