The Golden Rule of Evangelism: Evangelize the Same Way You Want to Be Evangelized

I’m a classic example of a loud introvert. I do a lot of up front public speaking, and I’m great for funny stories at parties. But I need a lot of quiet time alone to recharge and recover from any face-to-face time with people.

A few years ago, I sat down for a two-to-three-hour flight on my way to give a talk to hundreds of people on how to tell their friends about Jesus. I needed some alone time on the plane to recharge for this event. But before I could put on my headphones (which is the international symbol for “please do not talk to me”), the man next to me asked whether I was traveling for business or pleasure.

“Business,” I replied.

He probed, “Oh, what sort of business?”

“I’m in Christian ministry,” I replied. “I’m going to give a talk about Jesus from the Bible.” Then, to break the stunned silence that followed, I asked, “Do you have a faith?”

The man replied, “When I was a teenager in South Africa, I checked out Christianity. That’s when I found out it was a front for hate crimes against gay people.”

I anxiously started sorting through the countless responses that popped into my head. Which answer should I give? Where should I go from here?

This situation happens to me all the time. The issue is that talking about what you do for work is classic small-talk material. But when your answer is that you work full-time in Christian ministry, you drag the conversation from the interests and small-talk layer to the worldviews layer way before you and the person you are talking with are ready for it.

It’s tempting to ask something like, “How blue has the sky been lately?” to bring the conversation back into the safe territory of small talk. But I’ve learned that asking a question like, “Do you have a faith?” is a good test to see whether they’re comfortable with staying in the worldviews layer.

Then, no matter how they reply, I respond with, “Wow! Tell me more.” I ask questions to invite them to keep sharing. And then I listen.

This technique reflects the Golden Rule of evangelism that Elmer John Thiessen explores in The Scandal of Evangelism: Evangelize the same way that you want to be evangelized.19 Probably the most important way we can do this is by listening to the other person talk first.

Chan, Sam, and Ed Stetzer. 2020. How to Talk about Jesus (without Being That Guy): Personal Evangelism in a Skeptical World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Check out our Bible Study on Sam Chan’s book How to Talk About Jesus. It is on Amazon as well as part of the Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.