Mack Stiles: Basic Principles for Sharing the Gospel
I’m almost finished the big pile of books I received last year at Together for the Gospel. This little volume by J. Mack Stiles is one of them and it’s outstanding in many respects. I appreciate the way in which he ties evangelism tightly to the local church and its ordinary ministry. He wants churches to foster a culture of evangelism. What he means is that evangelism is not something we tack on to the church (like a program), but it needs to be at the core of everything we do and everything we are as believers gathered in a church. Evangelism doesn’t necessarily mean changing what we do, but changing the attitudes with which we do it. The church should encourage believers to be compassionate and intentional with the lost that God has already placed in their lives and praying for him to bring more in their lives.
As we have these relationships with the lost, we pray for opportunities to share the gospel. Stiles has a helpful set of basic principles to use in spiritual conversations with people:
- Give yourself grace when you share your faith. I’ve noticed that I often fear evangelism because there are so many ways to go wrong. I can flub the message. I can keep silent when I need to speak. I can say things that later I think were stupid. But it’s good to remind yourself that even your mistakes can help you become a better ambassador.
- Meet people where they are.
- Look for open doors. A culture of evangelism is helpful here. When church members share about the open doors they have seen around them, other members might hear opportunities with which to get involved.
- Be compassionate and maintain a tender heart toward others. Be careful to remember that you are a sinner. Humility commends the gospel.
- Remember that we have the answers to life’s biggest questions. That’s something you can offer. When the reality of life pierces through the superficial barriers that keep people from God, that’s where you can shine the light of the gospel. Don’t hide it under a basket.
- Focus on people’s separation from God, not on being morally upright.
- Be intentional in your conversation. Plan out what you will say. This helps you to say things that are helpful, and not say things that are awkward or offensive.
- Acknowledge what we know and what we don’t. Kim’s phrase, ‘a sin-sick world,’ acknowledges the truth we see around us. The Christian does well in that environment because he or she knows how it got that way. I also find it helpful to tell people that I don’t always know the whys of what God does, but that I trust him as the one who makes sense in a broken world.
- It’s good (though not required) to ask permission to share the message of the gospel.
- Ask lots of questions. Be a good listener.
- Finally, if you anticipate a certain issue in a person’s life, it’s good to be acquainted with it by reading a book or talking with someone who knows about the issue. (Stiles, Evangelism, 104-105)