Talking to non-footballers about football

When was the last time you heard a talk about how to do evangelism? Pretty recently, I would guess. And have you noticed how many books there are on the subject of how to share the gospel? But answer this question, posed by Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “Where in the Bible do we read of Christians being given instruction on how to evangelise?” The answer is: nowhere. Lloyd-Jones went on to ask a further question: “Did the early Christians evangelise?” To this the answer is a resounding “Yes!” They went everywhere spreading the gospel (Ac 8.4). Last question: “Why is it that the early Christians didn’t seem to need help in evangelism, but Christians today obviously do?”

Do you know any keen football fans? How do you know they’re fans? Because they talk about football. After a great game they will rehearse in dizzying detail large sections of the game, analysing the tactics, exulting in the goals scored and lamenting the chances fluffed. And it’s not just football. Isn’t it striking how animated people get when they talk about the virtues of their favourite actor or singer, or the latest X-box game? They ardently profess their devotion openly and unashamedly. They defend them in the face of ridicule and hostility from their peers, sometimes even getting into fights and losing friends because of them. They are full of enthusiasm for these things, and so it is the most natural thing in the world for them to talk about them.

Why then is it so different when it comes to speaking about Jesus Christ? Is he less important than the goals scored in last night’s game? Is the Creator of the universe less interesting than the creatures he made? Obviously not. The problem may be that some of us simply don’t care about Jesus as much as we care about our sports and hobbies.

So what’s the answer? We need to be more excited and passionate about Jesus Christ than about anything else in the world. We must get beyond merely saying that Jesus is supreme in our lives—he really must be so. Peter commands, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” (1 Pet 3.15). In our affections, at the very centre of our person Christ must be enthroned. Jesus, not Leo Messi, is to be King of our hearts.

How do you suppose early Christians started conversations with non-Christians about the gospel? I think it was by starting conversations with non-Christians. I think their lives and thinking were so full of Jesus Christ that they probably couldn’t go more than a few sentences without saying something distinctively Christian. I don’t mean that after a minute or two of discussing the weather they suddenly said, “Are you saved?”, but rather that their beliefs came out in what they said and this provided the opportunity to talk about Jesus.

Let me give a modern day example of what I mean; imagine discussing climate change with a non-Christian friend. Your friend begins by saying, “Isn’t all this talk about the Greenhouse Effect very scary? I read an article saying it could bring about another ice age which could destroy human civilisation.” Now what do you say? You could say, “Yes, it’s very worrying. We should really try to cut down our use of CFCs, greenhouse gases, etc.” The only thing is that an atheist, Muslim, or Buddhist could probably say that. But Christians are to be salt and light—in other words, distinctive and different from the world; surely a Christian with his mind full of Christ could say “Yes, it’s terrible, but if we don’t look after God’s world the way he has told us to then we can’t be surprised when we end up damaging ourselves. God has promised, though, that the world won’t be destroyed by the Greenhouse Effect.” “Where does he say that?”, your friend might ask. You could then explain Gen 8.21-22 to them. Perhaps they might then say something like, “Well that’s a relief—I don’t have to worry after all!” That could open the door to explaining that the world will still be destroyed one day (2 Pet 3.7-13), and how the Day of Judgement is far more terrifying than the Greenhouse Effect.

The conversation may or may not develop along these lines, and there may not be an opportunity to explain the gospel at all, but that is not the point. The point is that we always try to say something distinctively Christian. We should be disturbed if we only ever hear ourselves saying things that any pagan could say.

Ideally, like the first Christians, this should come naturally to us; but to put it bluntly our holiness and spiritual fervour are nowhere near that of the early Christians. This means that we need to work hard to develop this kind of mind-set. One way to do this is to practise ahead of time how you might speak “Christianly” about popular topics of conversation—things you know people are bound to talk about. I was working on a building site at the time of the car crash which killed Diana, Princess of Wales. I knew that on Monday morning the men at work would definitely be talking about it, so I tried to think what I might say about it as a Christian. Then when the subject came up I was prepared. Someone said to me, “Wasn’t it awful about Diana?” I replied, “Yes, it was very sad. But the saddest thing of all is that even though she did so many good things in her lifetime, that isn’t enough to get her into heaven.” The response was incredulous: “Well, if Diana wasn’t good enough for heaven, what hope is there for the rest of us?” That provided the opportunity to explain how we are saved by what God has done in Christ, not by anything we can do ourselves.

Perhaps you would have tried a different tack, but the important thing is to say something Christian. Of course sensitivity to the situation is vital, and there are times when the Christian thing to say is nothing at all (Ecc 3.7b). If it had been a close relative of my workmate who had been killed, what I said would have been utterly inappropriate and offensive. But perhaps I could have said something else distinctively Christians in that case. We need to think hard how to do this. (If you want to read more on this subject, John Chapman has a section dealing with this kind of thing in his excellent book on evangelism Know and Tell the Gospel, ch 10-11.)

Let’s never lose sight of the privilege of evangelism. What a glorious task, to be allowed to be an ambassador of the King of kings. And what a reassurance it is to know that the same Jesus who sends us goes with us and helps us bear witness to him (Mt 28.20).

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