One-On-One with Matt Mikalatos on Good News for a Change
Ed: You start your new evangelism book, Good News for a Change, by suggesting we’ve forgotten that gospel means “good news.” Why is that?
Matt: Once when I was in college, a complete stranger knocked on my dorm room door. As he stood in the hallway, his first words were, “You need to stop smoking pot, stop sleeping with your girlfriend, and come to Jesus.” It took me ten minutes to convince him I had never smoked weed and that my girlfriend lived eight hours away. Finally, I said, “I’m already a Christian.” He threw his arms around me and shouted, “Brother!”
Sometimes, we’re afraid to talk about Jesus because we’re thinking of it like that . . . I have to tell my friends a laundry list of their sins, and then say, “Come to Jesus.” We know our friends won’t like it because that way of talking about the gospel makes it easy to miss the good news.
Ed: Let’s talk about that fear for a moment. I wrote recently about how fear keeps pastors from doing evangelism. Why do you think fear is so prevalent in our attitudes toward evangelism?
Matt: Partly, I think, it’s because too often our motivation in evangelism is obligation. We’ve been told that the guy next to us on the plane will go to hell because we fail to bring up Jesus, so we think, It’s now or never and rush past relationship and straight to, “Will you go to heaven if this plane crashes?” Which, yes, works sometimes because of the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.
But we think of this kind of conversation as ‘normal evangelism’ instead of an exception. We’ve internalized these ideas that (a) No one wants to hear the gospel, so this will be a hard conversation, and (b) I guess I have to do this to be a good Christian.
Ed: The subtitle to your book is How to Talk to Anyone about Jesus. Really? Anyone?
Matt: Everyone likes good news. If gospel really means “good news,” we shouldn’t be surprised that most people will be delighted to talk about it. I’ve shared Christ with Satanists, atheists, Buddhists, and many more, and most of them have said, “I really enjoyed this. I want to talk about this some more.”
The key question I ask myself is, What is good news for this person? Which is to say, there are a lot of life topics to choose from when we start talking to others about Jesus, so I ask myself what will be most interesting, most compelling to the individual I’m talking with. That creates a different sort of conversation than “I have these six things I need to explain to you.”
Ed: But there is a core gospel people need to believe to become followers of Jesus, right?
Matt: Absolutely. But here’s an example. I met this kid at a Christian conference who came because his sister dragged him along. I asked him how it was going, and he told me he wasn’t a Christian and that the conference was creeping him out. For instance, after hearing the worship song with the phrase “consume me from the inside out,” he said, “What, you want God to eat your guts? It’s so gross.”
He went on to ask, “Why do Christians hate sheep? You’re always singing about slaying them, about taking baths in their blood. It’s weird and it’s gross. I don’t understand.”
So I talked with him (in simple terms) about the Jewish sacrificial system. I told him, “Since Jesus died, the sheep don’t have to die.” His response was, “Wow! That’s really good news!” This is not where I would usually start my explanation of the good news, but for this kid, it was fitting, and then we moved on to other great things about Jesus.
It’s like that for everyone. In my experience, for instance, most millennials find God’s plan to do away with injustice in today’s world more compelling than talking about heaven. Starting with their personal good news about Jesus leads us to the universal good news.
Ed: There are a lot of evangelism books out there. Why should I pick up this one?
Matt: Good News for a Change isn’t a program or a presentation style. I’m not going to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. If you’re doing evangelism at all, you’re doing a good job.
This book is about increasing our participation with the Holy Spirit in telling people the good news. It addresses the question, “How do we do more than present truth (which is great!) and help people understand truth in a way that is compelling, interesting, and enjoyable?”
There are discussion questions and exercises at the end of each chapter to help you step into the ideas set out in every chapter. I’ve been going through it with a book club, and we’re having a great time . . . and finding new passion to talk to people about Jesus.
Ed: Any final words?
Matt: Years ago I was in Costa Rica with a friend, and we ended up talking at length with a college student about Jesus. We did a traditional evangelistic presentation, complete with a tract (). Afterward, I asked her, “What do you think about all this?” She said, “Every night I pray, ‘God, if you are real, reveal yourself to me.’ I believe you are the answer to my prayers.”
There are people in your life who are desperately searching for our loving God. Let’s go out and be an answer to their prayers.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.