Anyone who has been around the church for any length of time has heard the exhortation written in 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts, revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
What does it mean to be prepared to share the gospel? What does this preparation look like?
What often comes to mind is evangelism training, being equipped, learning specific ways to articulate the story of Jesus, practicing telling our story of faith, and a host of other very valuable and important things. These are essential, but not very surprising.
What is surprising for many followers of Jesus is that there are many aspects of preparation that are often simply missed.
As I train leaders, pastors, and church members all over the globe, I am learning that there are some things we need to do as part of our preparation that goes beyond learning evangelism skills. Here are seven ways to prepare yourself to be a person that God can use to share his good news—and to whom others will actually listen.
1 – Walk closely and intimately with Jesus. It is hard to lead people where we don’t go. If you want to shine the light of Jesus, spend time in the presence of the One who is the light of the world! Sit at his feet. Make time to commune with your Lord. Be so close to Jesus that people who are far from him can see that you have been with the One you love above all others.
2 – Learn to be highly responsive to the Holy Spirit. God is speaking, more than we often recognize. The Spirit of the Living God dwells in you if you are a follower of Jesus, the Messiah. Listen. Ask for guidance. Then respond when the Spirit whispers, calls out loudly, nudges, and directs. Do this in every part of your life so that when he speaks to you about sharing the love and message of Jesus, your heart responds naturally.
3 – Engage in faith-filled and frequent prayer. We are called to the adventure of praying at all times (1 Thess. 5:17). My wife Sherry, the one who has taught me about the beauty and power of prayer, puts it this way, “It is not that we have to pray continually, it is that we get to!” As we speak with our Maker and the lover of our soul, we receive power, vision, wisdom, and leading to share the good news of Jesus. Set aside specific times of prayer, every day…this seems to be a lost art and discipline. In addition, pray spontaneously throughout your day, alone and with others.
4 – Immerse yourself in the Bible and follow what it teaches. The heart of evangelism is rooted in the Word of God. The story of our Savior is chronicled in the pages of the Bible. The pathway for us and those who come to place faith in Jesus is laid out in the pages of the Old and New Testament. We must be people who believe the Bible is true, who read and study it faithfully, and who seek to bend our stubborn hearts and lives to submission under its teaching, even when it is difficult and counter-cultural.
5 – Strive to walk in holiness and repent when you fall into sin. As a new believer, the best gift anyone gave me was my first Bible. I was told, “You are a Christian now so you are supposed to read this.” They added, “This is the Word of God and it is true!” So, I read it. Then I was told that it would be good to memorize big portions. I started with 1 Peter, a powerful and practical book.
When I was memorizing 1 Peter chapter 1, I ran across these words…or, better yet, these words ran across me: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16). I studied the topic of holiness and read a brand-new little book by Jerry Bridges titled, The Pursuit of Holiness. It wrecked me in a beautiful way. I believe one of the best ways we can prepare to share the amazing story of Jesus is by seeking holiness, recognizing where we fall short, and humbly turning from our frailties and rebellions.
6 – Build close and loving friendships with people outside the family of God. This might sound obvious, but you would be staggered to know that many Christians (including and especially pastors) have very few intimate and deep friendships with people who are far from Jesus. It is time for us to spend less time in the church and in Christian circles and more time making new friends with people who need to discover the amazing grace of God.
7 – Get comfortable saying, “I don’t know!” Some people feel the best way to share our faith is being sure we have an answer for everything. Others are convinced they need to have answers that can defeat their non-believing friend and crush them with superior reason. I am a huge fan of reason and do believe we need to be ready to articulate our faith. I am also a great believer in apologetics, and we are wise to learn how to communicate intelligent answers to the questions people are asking.
But, it is also fine to say, “I don’t know” when confronted with a really good question. You might follow up by saying, “Maybe we can study that topic together.” Humility goes a long way. I have been a follower of Jesus for four decades and a pastor for more than three of those decades. There are still lots of things I don’t know, can’t wrap with a bow in a sixty-second response, and am still figuring out myself. When I admit this to people who are asking questions about the Christian faith, it is very disarming. It leads to a conversation rather than a debate or verbal battle.
I spend much of my discretionary time training people how to share their faith. In this process, I help them learn to articulate their personal testimony, share the story of Jesus, have good answers to real and important questions, and all the stuff that is normally part of preparing people to do what I call Organic Outreach.
These are all extremely important. If you will add the seven things listed above, you will be well on your way to being prepared to naturally share your faith.
Kevin Harney is the lead pastor of Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, California, the Founder and Visionary Leader of Organic Outreach Ministries International, and the author of the Organic Outreach trilogy of books and many other books, studies, and articles. He is also a regular contributor to Outreach Magazine.