Speaking of Faith: The Engagement Triangle
By Alfonso Espinosa
For decades, the "how to" of sharing the Gospel to friends and family (or even complete strangers) was something that ate at me. I was trained in evangelism (a fancy word for getting the evangel or Good News out to others) at one of our LCMS universities and since then I have studied many approaches for witnessing or sharing the faith, but something was always bugging me.
Now let's face it, even if the ideal way to share Jesus with others was put right in our laps, it would still bug us! We do, after all, struggle with our sinful nature, and that sinner in us not only doesn't want to share the Gospel, but it will run away from a chance to do so every time! I mean, who wants to be rejected or ridiculed, especially in a day and age that exalts both universalism (believing in whatever you want in order to be "saved" or "enlightened" or whatever) and relativism (when anyone's belief is considered as legitimate as the next person's)? In this kind of cultural climate, no wonder even true Christians easily bypass sharing the Gospel!
But we can't settle for running away and/or going along with the popular crowd! The Savior of the world has commanded us and promised to be with us--yes, us--to get His saving Gospel out there to people. Look at 1 Peter 2:9, which isn't narrowly about pastors, but rather all Christians like you!
So, my burning desire has been to communicate an approach to sharing the Gospel that gets the pressure off us and helps us chill so that the saving Gospel can just flow from our mouths. What I came up with is what I call the Engagement Triangle, which is the approach I present in my second book, Faith That Engages the Culture, coming out in January of 2021 (or so) from Concordia Publishing House. You can check out the landing page for this new book here:
Let's Get Started!
First, note the word engagement. I can't begin to tell how important this word is! Right off the bat, we can throw out any idea that sharing the Gospel is about a presentation of some kind, as if we were selling something! No way, no how! What engagement forces us to remember is that witnessing to Christ is not a one-way thing where you have to get your outline just right, memorize the right Bible verses, or prove to the world how brave you can be. All such ideas need to be deleted from that awesome computer you have, called your brain.
Instead, engagement is a real conversation. And the first goal of the conversation is to really and truly love people while actually listening to them and getting to know them. As two people begin to share their thoughts and lives with mutual trust and respect, the Holy Spirit grants the Christian, who loves the person in front of them and who loves the Gospel, the ability to share Jesus. But what does this look like?
The Engagement Triangle is an equilateral triangle. The top point represents Perspective, going down the right side to the bottom right point. This second point represents People, and finally, go across to the bottom left side point that represents Place. We travel around and around this Engagement Triangle throughout our going back and forth in loving conversation.
Perspective is trying to look at an opportunity from God's point of view when it comes to sharing the Gospel. It's summarized in 1 Peter 3:15: "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." Any Christian can begin with this biblical perspective for sharing faith and it is 100% non-intimidating because it doesn't start with your speaking to anyone, but rather starts between you and Jesus Christ. Here, we get back to our Holy Baptism and determine to live in such a way that honors Christ who gave His life for us! We care about what we say and what we do as it shows people that we're not trying to be perfect, but we're serious about our faith even as Jesus is right there listening in (forget getting into arguments; they don't work), and the Holy Spirit will often show openings for the Gospel even before people ask about why we don't freak out like most people while the world is going crazy.
1 Corinthians 9:22b says, "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some." So, as you engage with gentleness and respect, you also make it your goal to get into the shoes, the life, and the way of thinking of the person with whom you're engaging. Do all you can to relate to this person for whom Jesus died and rose! Learn their lingo, feel their pain, share their concerns; talk to them according to where they're at! If possible, cry with them or laugh with them (or both)! Just remember: This isn't a "strategy," because it's about loving people. With this approach, even if the person needs the Law first, you can do it with gentleness while pointing out that holding to what is contrary to God's will blocks us from knowing God's hope, but to confess it is to receive Christ's forgiveness!
What is it about the environment and culture that impacts the way you and the other person think? What can you relate to? What is valuable and important to you? Whatever it is, use those things as connections and bridges for engaging the other person. The great example in Scripture is Acts 17 when Paul spoke to the Athenians at the Areopagus. Dude, Paul even quoted their poets and found common ground not only with their persons but with their place. They were "very religious" and Paul sincerely took hold of that to say, "We have something in common" (even though they didn't know Christ), and then he pointed to their altar dedicated "to the unknown god" and told them about that "unknown god", namely the LORD!
Use the Engagement Triangle to do what most people nowadays don't want to do: really love others. Engage, love, listen, and relate. Make loving the person a great priority, keeping Jesus as holy in your heart, getting into the other person's shoes, using your cultural connections to eventually say: "God loves you! It's true, His Son Jesus Christ proved it in His life lived for you, His saving death for you, and His great resurrection for you and for me!" And remember most of all that you won't do this perfectly but you're living in the light of the forgiveness you have in Christ and you are a beneficiary of His Gifts of Word and Sacrament, which strengthen your faith so that you can pass on the Good News to others!
Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa is the senior pastor at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Irvine, California. He is also a regular breakaway teacher at Higher Things conferences.
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