Evangelism Lessons from Chris Pratt

Evangelism Lessons from Chris Pratt

On Monday evening, June 18, 2018, actor Chris Pratt was awarded the Generation Award at the MTV Movie & TV Award ceremony. His acceptance speech has created quite the buzz in all forms of media, social and otherwise.

Pratt took the opportunity to share what he entitled “Nine Rules from Chris Pratt, Generation Award Winner.” He proceeded to count down these rules, mixing his trademark absurd humor with some profound statements of a spiritual nature. Here is a link to his Nine Rules so you can read them for yourself.

Almost immediately, armchair analysts and theologians began dissecting his speech, carefully turning over every word to speculate on what he meant. I’ve heard and read from both those who applaud his advice for turning attention to God, our brokenness, and the need for grace as well as those who complain that his speech was either not explicit enough about the gospel, or a false gospel altogether.

I saw a few Facebook posts about the event on my feed, but didn’t click on it at first. Then I did and listened for myself. I honestly felt pretty encouraged by what Mr. Pratt said. Now, I don’t know with absolute certainty that Chris is a believer, though a piece in Relevant Magazine in 2017 reports that he did have some sort of faith experience. However, from his Nine Rules I see some wisdom concerning speaking the gospel to others.

Use Your Platform
Chris Pratt has one of the most visible platforms from which to speak in the world–the entertainment industry. He could use that platform to say anything he wanted, and he chose in this moment to offer some truth.

You and I have platforms, too. It may not be as visible and public as being an A-list Hollywood actor, but we have them. We all have circles and realms of influence in which we can choose to either dabble around in small talk or speak the gospel in compelling ways. Are you using the platform God has provided you to declare and demonstrate the good news of Jesus?

Know Your Audience
Chris knew exactly who he was speaking to. He understands the way they think and what they believe. That’s why–if his intent was truly to share gospel truth–he said what he said the way he said it.

For those complaining he wasn’t explicit enough, if he was more explicit and detailed in talking about Jesus and our brokenness, his audience would have tuned him out pretty quickly and labeled him as some sort of evangelical quirk (maybe even a closet Trump supporter). He would likely have lost his audience among his peers overnight. Pratt’s creatively worded rules were presented in such a way that he managed to get across some strong gospel points without alienating those he was speaking to. His technique leaves the door open for some of his entertainment colleagues to approach him later and ask questions about what he meant, and then he would have opportunity to share more detail.

Lesson: communicate gospel truth in a way your audience can understand, but in such a way that you don’t unnecessarily turn them off and close the door for any future conversations about Jesus. We have to earn the right to speak into someone’s life, and we must learn to give the good news in ways that it actually sounds like good news.

Trust the Holy Spirit
If Mr. Pratt’s intent was to speak some gospel to his audience, then hopefully he understands that he can trust God to continue working in the hearts of those who heard his speech.

Too often we try to do all of the heavy lifting in evangelizing, thinking we have to “set the hook and reel them in” on the first cast. Or, we dump the whole gospel package on someone in our first encounter to seal the deal. We try to do the Holy Spirit’s job.

We have to learn to trust the Holy Spirit to do what only he can do once we have spoken gospel truth to someone. People choose to follow Jesus, not because of your detailed, persuasive, and impassioned presentation of the gospel, but because the Holy Spirit convicts them of their need for Jesus and he convinces them that choosing to follow Jesus is the absolute best choice to make.

Will some of those who heard Chris Pratt’s Nine Rules eventually decide to follow Jesus? Will Chris Pratt be a growing effective influencer for Jesus in Hollywood? I pray so on both accounts. Meanwhile, I learned some pretty profound lessons about sharing the good news.


The Missional Approach to Personal Evangelism

The Missional Approach to Personal Evangelism

Did you ever have any personal evangelism training?

Programs like Evangelism Explosion were widely used in many churches back in the day. Christian Witness Training (CWT) was another.

What I got from much of this programmed training was a little inspiration, but even more frustration. Most of the training that was around gave you one methodology no matter how you were wired personally or how you were uniquely gifted. Many who went through such training felt a sense of guilt over not being able to effectively share their faith using the methods they were taught.

It felt as though there were only two options. Either you were gifted so that such personal evangelism was comfortable for you, or you were guilted into presenting the gospel in ways that were very unnatural for you. If that was the case, you believed the approach you were given in the training was the only way to do it, and you pretty much gave up trying to share the good news at all. Frustrating!

But what if you can bear witness to the good news of Jesus in everyday life in ways that are very normal for you and come very naturally? I've previously written about various ways that you can speak the gospel, so read that post as well. Here are some ideas and actions that I think will help you develop a missional approach to your personal evangelism.

The gospel is good news!
Let me rephrase that…the gospel is the greatest news ever in the history of eternity! And good news needs to be announced. That's what evangelism is, the announcing of good news. When something good happens to you, you can't help but share it. If Jesus giving you a new life, forgiving sin, and filling you with his Spirit for everyday life isn't good news, I don't know what is. Let the gospel captivate you every day in a fresh way. If you're overwhelmed with the grace of the gospel, you will more naturally share it with someone else.

Share the good news out of grace, not guilt.
Sure, we have an obligation to share the gospel with others, but obligation alone is not the proper motivation. You get to share this good news! If your reason for sharing is because you get to do so instead of because you ought to, or have to share, it makes all the difference. Speaking the gospel to someone else is a privilege, something you get to do because of God's grace.

Relationship is the context for effective sharing.
Evangelism approaches that emphasize witnessing to people you don't know or barely know are intimidating for most Christians. Some can do it with little problem, but it freaks the rest of us out. If you have built a trusting relationship with a person, you have earned the right to speak into their lives. I find it's far more effective and more likely to produce lasting results if I share the gospel within the context of relationship. There is built-in opportunity to continue the conversation later. In relationship, the other person can see the gospel at work in your own life. They have the chance to ask questions of you. I think it's better than the "hit and run" technique, or just tossing a gospel grenade into someone's lap.

Stay alert for "gospel pathways."
Gospel pathways are natural opportunities that arise in the course of everyday life where you can speak the gospel into someone's life. Sharing your faith does not require an appointment. You don't have to schedule a time for spiritual conversation with someone. It can happen while you're working on a project together, sitting at lunch, or riding together to a ballgame. The person mentions an issue of concern, a problem, or a question they have. That may be God's opening for you to say something about how the gospel is good news for them in that moment.

So, to sum it up…
1) Let the gospel captivate your heart,
2) Share the good news because you get to,
3) Build trusting relationships, and share the gospel within that context,
4) Watch and listen for natural opportunities to speak the gospel.

So take heart! You can share the good news just being who God designed you to be in the way that comes natural to you. Now you just need to be intentional about it.

What struggles have you faced in sharing your faith with someone? What has helped you to overcome fear or guilt in your witnessing attempts?

Starting a Gospel Conversation

Starting a Gospel Conversation

Talking about Jesus doesn’t have to be weird.

In fact, talking about Jesus should be as natural and normal as talking about your family or your favorite sport or hobby.

Gospel conversations don’t have to be awkward one-off encounters that much evangelism training is geared toward. And turning a normal conversation in a gospel direction does not have to stress you out.

Here are a couple things to help you begin a gospel conversation.

Be freshly overwhelmed by the gospel. Take some time to meditate on the beauty and mystery of what God has done for you through Jesus. You’re forgiven and made a new creation. You’re filled with Holy Spirit power to live this new life. You are a child of the King, part of a kingdom family, the object of God’s mercy…WOW!

When you worship around the truths of the gospel, you find you are freshly overwhelmed by it. It really is good news, and you have no trouble sharing good news with someone else you know who needs to hear it.

Ask for deeper love and compassion for people. People are always on the heart of God. Ask him to put those people around you on your heart. See them from God’s perspective. Even those who are difficult will look different to you because your heart is softened toward them because of God’s love. Your posture toward them will be more open. That helps them to be more open to you.

Ask for opportunities. Ha, here’s where we stumble. You may get your heart ready to speak the good news, but you never ask God for opportunities. Why? Because you know God will give you one. And when it comes, you freeze or fail to seize it.

But ask anyway. God has a way of surprising you with fresh opportunities to speak the gospel. It may not be the occasion you imagined. It may not even be the person you were thinking of. But once you’ve asked for the opportunity, watch for it.

Ask for awareness of God’s work. God is always working around you. Ask the Spirit to make you sensitive to his work. Much of the time, it’s the opportunity you were asking for. It may not be dramatic. In fact it may seem pretty mundane. Remember, God does some of his very best work in the ordinary and the mundane. So when you see God’s work going on, join him!

Ask Questions
Public space questions. Asking good questions is an excellent way to engage others in conversation. Public space questions would be asking things like what sort of work they do, where they live, and how long they’ve been in the area. This would be general information that you could likely discover from other sources, that’s why I refer to these as public space questions. Their answers can lead to the next level…

Personal space questions. You can ask about their family, their background, education, hometown, preferences in restaurants, movies, etc. This would be information of a more personal nature learned directly from the individual. People generally enjoy talking about themselves and things they love, so listen carefully to their answers.

Intimate space questions. This level of questions may take some time to get to. You would ask more intimate questions only after having developed a relationship with this person. They know things about you and a measure of trust and credibility has emerged. These questions may relate to personal beliefs, viewpoints and perspectives about heavier matters. An example might be, “So how did you come to believe that for yourself?”

What to listen for in their answers…

  • Overlap or common experiences: maybe you have a similar experience
  • Areas of pain: hurt, regrets, missed opportunities
  • Areas of pride: family, accomplishments, work, skills

Their answers can provide gospel pathways into their lives (means by which you can speak the gospel into their lives).

Gospel conversations can happen every day. Get your heart postured around the gospel and toward people, ask God to set up the opportunities, then take them by asking good questions. Start up a gospel conversation today!

Bible Study and the Missional Community

Bible Study and the Missional Community

A common question raised by people unfamiliar with missional community living is, So, when do you guys do Bible study?

An MC gathering may consist of a meal and conversation around the table, sharing life stories, praying for one another, a kids movie night, serving in the neighborhood, and yes, studying the Bible. 

A first-timer showing up to an MC gathering that doesn’t happen to include a Bible study may feel duped. I thought I was coming to a small group for Bible study. They assumed Bible study was going to be the focus of every gathering.

Make no mistake, the Word is central to MC life, and it permeates and guides everything the MC is does. However, an in-depth Bible study for Christians every time they gather is not what MC’s are about.

It would be helpful to define what a missional community, or MC, is for the benefit of readers not familiar with the term. An MC is a group of people who radically reorient their lives around the gospel and then live as a family sent on mission together in the everyday. It’s not your typical small group, it’s not a Bible study group, or support group. It’s gospel-centered family, in community, and on mission. And they do study the Bible.

The difference is, Bible study is not done simply for the sake of studying the Bible. It’s done with purpose. There are enough Bible studies going on to take up every evening of your week, not to mention those on Sundays. And I know people who will attend every one if possible. The result is some pretty smart Christians. That’s about it. They don’t have time to obey what they’ve been learning, because they’re attending all those Bible studies, or they see Bible study itself as the ultimate goal and measure of spiritual maturity.

The study of the Bible must always be connected to missional engagement. The Bible is a book to be lived out and obeyed. Bible study must either result in missional engagement, or it must be the result of missional engagement. Let’s unpack those ideas.

Bible study will result in missional engagement.
When we study the Bible with the intent of living out what we learn, our study will transform us. The Bible is not just for our information, it is for our transformation. Approach the study of scripture with the view that God is speaking to us and telling us what’s on his heart. Now, what are we going to do about it?

The Bible is not just for our information, it’s for our transformation

Our study should lead us to answering these questions: What is God saying, and what do we do about itIs there something we need to believe? Is there something we need to do? Is there something we need to know? Is there something we need to stop? 

Your study of the Bible should result in missional engagement.

Bible study will be the result of missional engagement
As your MC is living on mission together, sometimes questions are raised. Sometimes you’ll encounter challenges. What can we do to deal with this circumstance? How do we answer this question? Your life of missional engagement should drive you back to the Word of God to find answers, solutions, encouragement, and motivation. An MC on mission is going to run into situations and needs that require some time together in Bible study.

So, you see, the Bible is central to the life of an MC. Just because it’s not the prominent feature at every single gathering does not mean Bible study takes a backseat. If anything, it’s far more important in the MC setting than in the typical small group setting.

Missional: What It Is and What It Ain’t

Missional: What It Is and What It Ain’t

If you’ve read any of my blog, you’ve encountered the word missional.

I admit, I’ve been writing under the assumption that most of you are familiar with the term, so I’ve not invested many sentences in defining or describing it. However, this post begins with the assumption that you’ve never heard the word missional before and have no clue what it involves. 

In some circles, missional is code for unscriptural ecclesiology. Images of Rob Bell and emergent church theology flash into the minds of others. To others it’s just some new-fangled fad for hipsters who don’t like the way church is supposed to be done. But true missional is none of the above.

You can Google all sorts of definitions of missional, but the one that I’ve settled on is this: Missional is living as people who have been sent by Jesus to make disciples; it’s a reorientation of every area of life around the mission of making disciples.

You might be thinking, “Duh, I know as a believer I should be trying to make disciples. So what’s different about “being missional?”

The key distinctive in missional is in the idea of reorienting every area of your life around making disciples. That means that the mission of disciplemaking is not some add-on to everything else you’re doing. It’s not some optional extracurricular activity you schedule into your week. Missional means your life is centered around living as one who is sent by Jesus into everyday routines and rhythms to bring the good news of Jesus to bear on every relationship and circumstance. Check out this video of Paul Tripp talking about this view of mission. It can mean shifting some things around in your life so you can more intentionally be on mission, or it may just mean doing what you’re already doing, but with gospel intentionality.

Some Christians and churches think they’re being missional when they actually are not. You can’t just tack on the adjective missional to “church,” “small group,” “ministry,” or any other related word and presto!, you’re missional. If you’re doing what you’ve been doing with a tweak here and there and labeling it as missional, you’re still not missional.

A church sending a group to serve at a homeless shelter once a month is a great thing, but it’s not missional.

A small group leading a worship service in an assisted living once a quarter is lovely, but it’s not missional.

A church sending a team for a summer mission trip to Central America for ten days is awesome…but it’s still not missional.

Missional happens in the everyday, not in the every-once-in-awhile. 

Now, if that church group reorients their lives to serving the homeless as part of their normal weekly rhythms, even some of them daring to relocate closer to where the homeless are, some members providing skills training, others leading a regular worship gathering, making prayer and gospel conversations a regular occurrence with the homeless, then that would be a missional thing.

Maybe that small group could adopt some of the assisted living residents who have no local family as grandparents. They could participate in weekly activities at the facility and volunteer on a regular basis. They could build relationships with the staff, particularly the caregiving staff (aides) in the facility and bless them by praying for them and showing appreciation for their work. The small group could coordinate with the facility to plan special events through the year. All this plus do a regular worship service for the residents. This is missional.

The group that takes the occasional annual mission trip could find a local migrant population they can begin to love on. Some in the group could attempt to learn their language. Host some events like a dinner where people make their favorite dishes from their home country. Provide resources to help them find jobs, help in getting a place to live, or filling out paperwork. Those with kids could meet parents in a park and have conversation while their kids play. Sounds missional to me.

Are you getting the idea? Do you see the distinction between just doing a ministry activity and living missionally? Missional living requires a reorientation, sometimes a radical reorientation, to join God on his mission among a people to make disciples. At the very least, missional is doing what you normally do, but with gospel intentionality. It is seeing all of your life as mission. 

Another distinction that shows up in missional living is the frequency of contact and depth of relationship that occurs. It’s going from once a month, once a quarter, or once a year to practically everyday. It may not literally be every day, but it will work out to being more than once a week. Your lives and those you’re pouring into are rubbing together, being weaved together. Relationships become more like family. This happens not only with the people you’re loving and serving with the gospel, but with one another as you serve on mission together. And it’s a beautiful thing.

So, think about something you’re doing now as an act of ministry. How can you turn that from an occasional action into a missional lifestyle? What changes, if any, might you need to make in order to create margin (extra time/resources) so it can happen? How would you need to reorient your life in order to join God in his mission to that group of people, that neighborhood, that school, that population/segment of society? Now, the big question. Will you?

Speaking the Gospel

Speaking the Gospel

Do you speak gospel?

What, you mean like, do I speak French?

Well, yeah, kinda like that. Speaking the gospel does have some similarities to speaking a language. 

Speaking the gospel has to do with communicating with others in terms of the good news of God’s work through Jesus on our behalf. It has to do with pushing everything you say through the grid of the gospel. It means the good news of Jesus is so pervasive and saturating in your life, that it infuses your normal daily conversation very naturally. Believers must become much more fluent in speaking the gospel to ourselves, one another, and to the world.

So, here are several ways that we can speak the gospel…

Laying out the complete message of salvation. Typically, this is what is referred to as sharing or presenting the gospel. It entails making the case of our sinfulness, our need for a savior, what God did through Jesus, and then inviting the person to respond. This is how many believers were trained to speak the gospel, or witness, win souls, evangelize, or other such related terminology. And, in some circles, this method is perceived as the only real way to share the gospel. A pitfall is that many believers experience guilt, because they feel inadequate to share the gospel this way, so they leave it to the “professionals.” Thankfully, this is not the only way to speak the gospel.

Giving counsel and correction to a fellow believer. Many are under the impression that the gospel is primarily or only for conversion of unbelievers to faith in Jesus. The gospel is for believers, too. For some reason, we think the gospel has more to do with our eternal destination than with our temporal situation. We never move past our need for the good news being applied to our lives on a daily basis. When a fellow believer is describing a problem they’re dealing with, you need to be able to apply the gospel, not give them advice or your opinion, concerning the issue. If a fellow believer is complaining or griping about something, you can lovingly confront them with the gospel, by reminding them that Jesus is sufficient to handle it, and that they need to look to Jesus rather than the source of their complaint for right belief and behavior.

Giving God credit. When people compliment you or applaud your behavior, it’s so easy to just take the credit. You say something like, “Well, that’s just how I was raised,” or “I just think people should be nice and do what’s right.” Instead, deflect the praise and applause and point to God and his grace as the sole reason you did what you did. If someone compliments you on your generous spirit in helping someone else, you could say something like, “Look, God has been so generous to me in giving me forgiveness and providing so amazingly for my every need, I just want to share that generosity with others.” Simple, no fuss, God gets the credit, and you’ve spoken gospel truth into an opportunity.

Giving an explanation for why you behave the way you do or respond the way you do. When people ask you how you can react the way you do to adverse or challenging circumstances, you need to instinctively point to Jesus. This is being ready with an answer when someone asks you for the reason for your hope. You speak the gospel by explaining how Jesus has changed your heart or mind about things. You speak the gospel by clarifying that your hope, trust, and dependence are centered in Jesus.

Preaching the gospel to yourself. You need to be able to remind yourself of the truth of the good news daily. When you hit an obstacle in your day and you react in the flesh, you must be able to stop and say to yourself, “Now hold on. What am I not believing about the gospel in this moment? What truth about God am I forgetting or refusing to acknowledge right now? What is true about me because of Jesus, and I’m failing to live up to that truth right now?” The Holy Spirit is so faithful to call you out when you react in a way that is not in line with the gospel. You have to be postured so you can readily hear the Spirit, repent of wrong responses, and then believe gospel truth afresh.

Every opportunity to speak the gospel is not going to be a full blown presentation leading to an invitation to follow Jesus. Because we’ve been programmed to present the gospel this way, we can easily overlook all the other opportunities to speak the gospel. The chance to fully present the gospel in a long conversation comes along only every once in awhile. But those other opportunities are popping up every single day! 

So learn to speak the gospel into every situation. If you are faithful to do this, it can more easily lead to a longer conversation about the good news of Jesus. 

A Relevant Gospel

A Relevant Gospel

What is your definition of the gospel? How would you describe the gospel to someone asking what it is? Think through your answer before reading on.

Most who are familiar with the term may include ideas like the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in their description. Some would add that the gospel means forgiveness of sin, being made right with God, and having an eternal home in heaven with God. Others would include the concepts of being given the gift of eternal life, being made righteous, being made a new creation. Still more would say something about the Holy Spirit taking up residence in the new believer.

Put all those things together, and you have a good description of the gospel. And if that is everything the gospel is, that’s an awesome thing. But that’s not all there is to the gospel. There is more. So, so much more.

Think of the gospel like a gift. It is a gift, an act of grace from God, no question. But I mean think of it maybe as a birthday gift. Imagine receiving that one thing that your heart has most desired. You are elated beyond words. You feel as though you couldn’t be any happier or ever want anything else. Your desire has been more than satisfied. But you’re not done with the gift-receiving yet.

You receive something else. Maybe it was on your gift wish list, but a little further down. But you find yourself astounded at having received it. You didn’t specifically ask for it, but got it anyway, and you are more thrilled with the gift than you expected. But you’re still not done.

Someone gives you another gift, maybe later, that wasn’t even on your list. And it’s an amazing and thoughtful gift. You think, how could I have not known about how awesome this gift is? I didn’t even know that I would ever need or desire such a gift.” It’s like the giver anticipated what you would need or desire and gave it ahead of your need or desire. And you’re still not done…

That’s how the gospel works. You receive forgiveness of sin, removal of guilt, a right standing with God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the assurance of heaven when you first open the gift of the gospel. But then God keeps giving. And giving. And it keeps getting better and better. 

You see, people typically think of the gospel as good news for dealing with their past sin and for securing their future hope. And the gospel has done exactly that, praise be to our God! But they miss the good news that the gospel is for their present. It’s good news for your everyday here in the present. This is why the good news is so good! The gospel provides me everything I need for the everyday struggles, strifes, and stresses. 

It gives me answers for the questions I face, 
Solutions for the problems that arise, 
It gives me reason for praise, 
Gives me comfort, 
Fills me with confidence, 
Changes my perspective, 
Tenderizes my heart, 
Reminds me who God is, 
Reminds me who I am and whose I am,
Establishes my witness for Jesus,
Gives me something worth speaking into someone’s life,
And the power to speak it.

The problem is that too many followers of Jesus are not seeing the gospel as relevant for the day to day stuff. They know their past and future are handled, but they live as though they figure it’s up to them to do their best with the time between.

Listen, if the gospel is powerful enough to break you free from your past, don’t you think it’s powerful enough to enable you to live in the present? If the gospel is so reaching in its scope that it secures your eternal future, why would you not rely on it for life today? Or don’t you know that by the gospel, eternal life has already begun for you? The gospel tells us Jesus has saved us, that he will save us, but also that he is saving us. 

Every single day of your life you get to live in the light of this good, good news. His mercies are new each day. This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it! Today is the day of salvation. 

The gospel is relevant to whatever is going on in your life today, right now. It may be a lovely thing, it may be a horrific thing, it may be a depressing thing, or it may be a routine thing. Whatever it is, ask the Holy Spirit to show you how the gospel speaks to that thing today. Ask him to help you see how the good news of Jesus addresses this moment, this day.