If we are going to take the Great Commission seriously, then we need to know how to witness to unbelievers. Evangelism is a skill that we constantly need to develop, so let’s take a look at Paul’s insight on how to be better witnesses:
Conduct yourself with wisdom toward those who are outside, making use of the opportunity. In order to know how it is proper for you to respond to anyone, always let your doctrine be with grace, having been made savory with salt. (Col 4:4-5)
The command to conduct yourself with wisdom is a tall order. Of course, it is good to be wise all the time, but here Paul is referring to our relationship toward those who are outside, that is, those who are outsiders to the Church, meaning unbelievers.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges to wisdom with unbelievers is making use of the opportunity to be a witness. It is usually necessary to establish a positive relationship with someone before he is willing to consider our Gospel presentations, but Christians (myself included) often establish connections and then drop the ball when the opportunity comes to actually explain the Gospel. St. Francis of Assisi coined the adage, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” This is problematic. Words will always be necessary. My friend recently told me of a ministry that digs wells in Africa. Great opportunity! They are meeting people’s needs in a real practical way. But, once the well is dug, they just go home. “We’ll let them learn the Gospel by seeing our loving actions.” In my humble opinion, this is baloney shmaloney. The Gospel is that Jesus Christ gives eternal life to those who believe in Him for it. How do you derive that information out of seeing someone dig a well? You can’t. Perhaps after you dig a well, people may be appreciative and willing to listen to you preach the Gospel – that would be making use of the opportunity.
The Gospel is not our default setting. Don’t forget that you yourself were born an atheist and had ideologies that were in conflict with the Gospel when you first heard it. People are naturally going to have questions and objections, so it is important to know how it is proper for you to respond when these objections come up. In order for us to respond, they must speak, which means we must listen. I repeat: We. Must. Listen. Anyhow, different people may have different questions, so we need to be prepared to respond to anyone. For example, if you are talking with an atheist, he is likely to have different objections than a friend who is a Zen Buddhist. If you don’t know the answer to a specific question, you don’t have to make it up there on the spot. You can say, with grace, that you don’t know off the top of your head, but would be willing to research it. And then research it. Don’t just leave them hanging.
Whether or not you know the right words to say, always let your doctrine be with grace. If you speak truth without grace, you’re just going to turn people away. Paul compares it to making your teaching savory with salt. Biblical truth must be presented well. I have met Christians who actually rejoice when people are turned off by their church. The logic is that the “meat of the Word” is just too much for these spiritual inferiors, and so those who return to church must be extra-holy for being able to endure dry sermons. On the other side of the spectrum is the extreme that is all about the presentation… without actually having anything worth presenting. They have the rock bands and light shows to give you that real special feeling, followed by a short and hip monologue about nothing before playing more emotional music to get you to drop your inhibitions as they pass the money plate around. It’s all seasoning and no meat. It’s like sticking your tongue in a can of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. I love Tony’s, but you’ve got to have it on some meat, fish, vegetables, ice cream, or something, really anything for there to be any purpose. Seriously, though, Tony’s is good on anything!