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I am sitting in my man cave having a pretty deep conversation with my neighbor who lives a few houses down. He is 20 years older, a different ethnicity and not Christian at all. In fact, he is Buddhist. We are having a great conversation about life, struggles, and, yes, even God, Jesus and Buddha.
But he is not that open to Jesus and I find my self at a crossroads.
Do I keep pressing—asking better questions, finding new angles—or do I ease off and trust God that it will come back around another day?
I want my neighbors to know Jesus so badly! I am sure you do to, and if you are anything like me then you find yourself in a constant tension between being silent with the gospel and too pushy. How are we supposed to know how to navigate this tension with the people we love and have relationship with every day?
In my book Beyond Awkward: When Talking About Jesus Is Outside Your Comfort Zone, I get into this tension heavily. Here is an excerpt from my book on the topic as we look at the story in Acts 8 with Philip and the Ethiopian:
So, what is the difference between being pushy and being bold? The following steps help us differentiate the two.
Step 1: Break the ice.
“Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked” (Acts 8:30). It is never pushy to discern the moment or ask great questions. This point is often contested in my seminars, but Philip was not being pushy when he overheard the Ethiopian reading Scripture and asked a question.
When God sends us on our way as a witness and sets up an encounter, we have to size up the moment. We have to check the spiritual temperature and see if the person we are going to engage is curious or not. It may be awkward or uncomfortable to ask someone a question out of the blue, but it is not pushy. It is bold. Think about it as a continuum (see fig. 11.1). A bold person will ask a question to break the ice. A pushy person asks a question to start a conversation that he or she intends to dominate. A timid person perceives someone’s openness but avoids engaging him or her.
Timid |——————–Patient/Bold———————-| Pushy
Step 2: Test the curiosity level.
“‘How can I,’ [the Ethiopian] said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to sit with him” (Acts 8:31).
Both bold people and pushy people break the ice and gauge interest, but pushy people reveal themselves in this next step.
How Do I Avoid Being Pushy With the Gospel?
When we ask a question or start a conversation, the important factor is how the seeker responds. The seeker will reveal whether he or she is open and curious or closed and skeptical. This makes all the difference.
Bold people move forward when the door opens and close the conversation down when the door is closed. They don’t force a conversation on someone.
Pushy people move forward even when the door seems closed. As one of my mentors says, “Boldness without discernment is just muscle.” When we feel like it is now or never or that we don’t have the luxury to discern the openness of the person, we are being pushy. Bold people are more than happy to move forward if the door is open, but don’t feel the need to push.
Two brothers I work with, Kurt Thiel and Larry Thiel, compare the conversation to a train ride. They assume that the conversation (train) is going all the way to the gospel (destination). Kurt and Larry never stop the conversation (train) unless the person they are talking to wants off. They are bold and go all the way to the gospel as the seeker keeps inviting them deeper.
But they are also patient. If the person wants off the train and out of the conversation, they willingly shut down the dialogue. Patience means waiting on God’s timing once we break the ice and the person is not open.
Obviously, in Acts 8 Philip is being bold when he asks the icebreaking question and then moves into the chariot when the Ethiopian responds favorably and invites Philip in.
Here are 10 signs you may be going to a great local church:
1. It is lead by a team of godly leaders, not a Lone Ranger pastor who gathers Tonto-type leaders around him to say “Yes, Kemo Sabe” to his each and every idea (Titus 1:5-9).
4. It, like the early church, is integrated, fully representing the demographic of the community in which it resides (Ephesians 2:11-21). By the way, my buddy Derwin Gray has got a lot of great material (blogs, sermons, etc.) on this particular point.
5. Love, demonstrating itself in friendliness, generosity, internal/external care programs and community involvement dominates the atmosphere (1 Corinthians 13:1-8).
6. Most likely there is a thriving small group program where members truly can have great biblical conversations, share struggles and pray with/for each other (James 5:16).
10. Intercessory prayer fuels everything. It’s the engine, not the caboose, of how the church rolls from top to bottom (1 Timothy 2:1-8).
These are 10 signs you may be going to a great church. What are some other signs?
©2014 Dare 2 Share. www.dare2share.org. Used by permission.
Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are Really Leaving You
Being on the other side of the Exodus sucks, don’t it?
I see the panic on your face, Church.
I know the internal terror as you see the statistics and hear the stories and scan the exit polls.
I see you desperately scrambling to do damage control for the fence-sitters, and manufacture passion from the shrinking faithful, and I want to help you.
You may think you know why people are leaving you, but I’m not sure you do.
You think it’s because “the culture” is so lost, so perverse, so beyond help that they are all walking away.
You believe that they’ve turned a deaf ear to the voice of God; chasing money, and sex, and material things.
You think that the gays and the Muslims and the Atheists and the pop stars have so screwed up the morality of the world that everyone is abandoning faith in droves.
But those aren’t the reasons people are leaving you.
They aren’t the problem, Church.
You are the problem.
Let me elaborate in five ways …
1. Your Sunday productions have worn thin.
The stage, and the lights, and the bands, and the video screens, have all just become white noise to those really seeking to encounter God. They’re ear and eye candy for an hour, but they have so little relevance in people’s daily lives that more and more of them are taking a pass.
Yeah, the songs are cool and the show is great, but ultimately Sunday morning isn’t really making a difference on Tuesday afternoon or Thursday evening, when people are wrestling with the awkward, messy, painful stuff in the trenches of life; the places where rock shows don’t help.
We can be entertained anywhere. Until you can give us something more than a Christian-themed performance piece—something that allows us space and breath and conversation and relationship—many of us are going to sleep in and stay away.
2. You speak in a foreign tongue.
Church, you talk and talk and talk, but you do so using a dead language. You’re holding onto dusty words that have no resonance in people’s ears, not realizing that just saying those words louder isn’t the answer. All the religious buzzwords that used to work 20 years ago no longer do.
This spiritualized insider-language may give you some comfort in an outside world that is changing, but that stuff’s just lazy religious shorthand, and it keeps regular people at a distance. They need you to speak in a language that they can understand. There’s a message there worth sharing, but it’s hard to hear above your verbal pyrotechnics.
People don’t need to be dazzled with big, churchy words and about eschatological frameworks and theological systems. Talk to them plainly about love, and joy, and forgiveness, and death, and peace, and God, and they’ll be all ears. Keep up the church-speak, and you’ll be talking to an empty room soon.
3. Your vision can’t see past your building.
The coffee bar, the cushy couches, the high-tech lights, the funky Children’s wing and the uber-cool Teen Center are all top-notch … and costly. In fact, most of your time, money and energy seems to be about luring people to where you are instead of reaching people where they already are.
Rather than simply stepping out into the neighborhoods around you and partnering with the amazing things already happening, and the beautiful stuff God is already doing, you seem content to franchise out your particular brand of Jesus-stuff, and wait for the sinful world to beat down your door.
Your greatest mission field is just a few miles, (or a few feet) off your campus and you don’t even realize it. You wanna reach the people you’re missing?
Leave the building.
4. You choose lousy battles.
We know you like to fight, Church. That’s obvious.
When you want to, you can go to war with the best of them. The problem is, your battles are too darn small. Fast food protests, hobby store outrage and duck-calling Reality TV show campaigns may manufacture some urgency and Twitter activity on the inside for the already-convinced, but they’re paper tigers to people out here with bloody boots on the ground.
Every day we see a world suffocated by poverty, and racism, and violence, and bigotry, and hunger; and in the face of that stuff, you get awfully, frighteningly quiet. We wish you were as courageous in those fights, because then we’d feel like coming alongside you; then we’d feel like going to war with you.
Church, we need you to stop being warmongers with the trivial and pacifists in the face of the terrible.