When it comes to evangelism, Ben Francis and Chris Duffett know a thing or two. Ben (BMS Associate Team Leader for India) and his team at Big Life Ministries have planted over 13,000 churches in India in the last 15 years. Chris Duffett, a former president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, is a full-time evangelist and BMS supported partner worker in the UK, known for his innovative approach to engaging others with the gospel message.
Ben and Chris are good friends. In this exclusive interview for Engage, we got them to chat about evangelism, to give us their top tips on how to share the gospel and to give us their thoughts on what is holding many of us back from telling others about Jesus.
There are two classic approaches to evangelism – tell people they’re sinners and need to repent, or telling them how much God loves them. Which approach works best?
Chris: The approach that I have taken for years and years has been to affirm how people are made in God’s image – their gifts, abilities, who they are, experiences they’ve had and perhaps spiritual experiences – to make sense of those things and reveal Jesus in their lives. I tend to start by talking about how much God knows them and loves them. As I get to know people, there is going to be a time when I talk about repentance and turning to knowing God. Nine times out of ten, I ask God for words of knowledge for people to let them know he knows them.
Ben: Often I find people are broken when they find out that God loves them in spite of who they are, rather than being accused of doing something wrong. Repentance comes so naturally to them – we don’t need to tell them that. All we need to tell them is that we are never beyond the love of God. People always respond to this.
Chris: I agree. John Drane writes in his book Celebrity Culture that people already know how rubbish they are. It’s our job to affirm the God-given gifts within people that enable them to be awakened to who they are and that they are known by God.
I think that is the biggie for me. People do not know that they are known by God. And when you reveal to people that they are known, that there is someone far greater than themselves who knows about them, they’re blown away.
Do you have any tips for street evangelism?
Ben: There are tons of ways to do it. You can stop people with a survey form and ask them about their career. You can take free bowls of food on a tray. People come and they start asking, “Why is it for free?” and then you start talking. I’ve been with Chris offering free hugs and putting out an old sofa in the street where people come to talk about themselves. But in all of this, you need a mindset that says, “I will do whatever it takes to love this person, to make him or her feel loved, to make him or her feel that God loves them.” When we are prepared to love people, then we see people responding.
Chris: Yeah, I agree with that. I use a lot of vehicles: the creative arts, drama, music in pubs. But without love for people, they are just a noisy clanging cymbal – it doesn’t connect with people. If you don’t give a monkeys about people, they know that. I agree wholeheartedly with what Ben is saying. Without love, it’s just a waste of time.
You’re both confident when meeting and speaking to people. An introvert may be quite daunted to go out on the streets, to be so open and loving. Can they do street evangelism, or is it just for a certain kind of person?
Chris: I work with Ian, week in and week out. He’s an introvert: the idea of evangelism and going out there terrifies him, but every week he will faithfully turn up to Wetherspoons on a Friday morning and he will have a sign that says ‘I will listen’. He is the most phenomenal listener. And that’s what he does.
Ben: I think that introverts should start from their circle of influence and use what God has given them. Introverts don’t normally go out and talk to everybody, but they do talk to some people. So who is in the circle of influence that you have of your friends, neighbours or family members? You start with them.
God can use anybody. What an introvert needs to do is what he or she is comfortable with and give that over to the Lord. Maybe your gift is listening, maybe your gift is playing music. So, go out and play. There are many other gifts that God has given to people. It is just knowing that and using it.
Chris: The message I give to others working on the streets is, “Don’t do what I do: do what you do.”
How important is follow-up?
Ben: Our entire movement is based on meeting people where they are. We take a person who has come to the Lord and start a small fellowship group in his or her house or a place where they feel comfortable. When people invite you to come to their homes, they are not only confident to tell you what they are feeling, but they are also confident to bring their friends and family. As you start to disciple them, they start sharing with others while you are there and that is one of the most exciting things I’ve seen. People don’t come to church, but become an agent of the truth themselves for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Are you saying that they don’t need to attend church?
Ben: Let the person develop and grow. And then one day, when the church does a celebration service, we all go there – but not straight away.
Chris: It works incredibly well – I’ve seen it with my own eyes what Ben does in people’s homes. Somehow, in a UK Baptist context, we have made a very holy cow out of what makes church. I think the challenge is for us to say we will allow church to grow, with the Lord Jesus being the head of the Church, within people’s homes, rather than them having to come to our services. I think that is the biggest challenge to growth and people coming to know the Lord.
When someone becomes a Christian, is it important to train them in evangelism or wait until they understand the faith a bit more?
Chris: I find, when people do become Christians, you don’t need to train them in evangelism. Sometimes the way they do that is in language you wouldn’t expect. Sometimes it is very colourful language. I’ve seen a young man, who had just given his life to Jesus, explain what it felt like using his old language of swearing excitedly, but people connected with it and they got it.
One of the most amazing examples of someone coming to faith was on the streets. I was approached by a complete stranger who that night had planned to end her life. And she just knew that she needed to talk to me. God saved her, literally saved her, and she is the most exuberant, natural evangelist, but she has only been a Christian for a little while. All of her family have heard what God has done in her life. If I said to her, “No, Jo, you’re not to tell anyone until you learn the proper theology and the lingo, her family would have missed out.”
Ben: It’s important when someone becomes saved, that they are given the opportunity to go out and share it with others, rather than sitting them down in church and saying – “you’ve got to learn all these things” – because of that excitement, just pure joy, of telling others what Jesus did for them.
What are the main reasons Christians give you for not sharing their faith?
Ben: Sometimes they think: “If I go and share my faith and they don’t respond, it will look bad for me.” Getting a response from the gospel is not about you and me. The response is given to the Lord because he came for them, he died for them, he rose again and he is coming back for them. Why should I feel bad? Their response to the gospel is not because of me – it is because of the Lord.
Chris: Firstly: “What if I get it wrong?” People are fearful that they will get something wrong, that they might not give the proper gospel. Secondly, people think: “What will they say? Will they laugh? I am going to get embarrassed here.” The third, and I think the greatest reason, is that a lot of UK churches can’t be bothered. I think Christians have forgotten the power of the good news. There is this real apathy and this sense of, “Well, it’s good news for me, but it won’t be good news for someone else. I’ll let someone else do it, I’ll let the Bens of this world, ‘the professionals’ get on with it. I can’t be bothered.”
Seeing people saved and knowing your salvation almost seems to be a forgotten phrase, a forgotten word. It is almost as if we’ve enjoyed being saved as Church in the UK, we’ve reaped the benefits of that, but we are not willing to pass it on. My prayer for the Church is that we will become excited again that we are saved people and that others need saving too.
Ben Francis and Chris Duffett were speaking to Chris Hall