Evangelism. There are few words in the English language that have sparked as much fear — in the hearts those on the giving and receiving end — than this common Christian practice. And yet Jesus calls all believers to share the good news.

But what if it didn’t have to be so intimidating?

On today’s episode of the Great Stories Podcast, Charles Morris returns to a conversation he had at Regent College with Dr. John Dickson, a scholar and an author from Australia with a heart to engage unbelievers with God’s Word. In this interview originally recorded in 2015, Dickson shares what he believes is the best kept secret of Christian mission.

If you’ve ever wanted to share your faith with others but have been too intimidated to start, then you’re not going to want to miss this podcast on how you can share the gospel with more than your lips.

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Maybe, to you, evangelism looks like standing out on a street corner or knocking on someone’s door with a gospel tract. So you don’t do it. Because after all, you’re introverted and not as studied in apologetics as you’d like. (Maybe a little bit scared of man? Proverbs 29:25.)

You might be surprised that we’re not here to beat you up about this. In fact, we’re going to tell you that it’s A-OK.

We are all called to share the gospel with words, but some people are specifically called to evangelism—we’re looking at you, pastor and missionary. Others are called to broader gospel-promoting work.

“For Christians in general—as opposed to evangelists in particular—telling the gospel to others (evangelism) could be described as the icing on the cake of mission,” writes John Dickson in The Best Kept-Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips. “It is certainly the most conspicuous part, and, once tasted, it will often be the sweetest part too, but for the typical Christian it is not the bulk of the task. It is not where most of our opportunities to promote Christ to others will be found.”

Instead of standing on the street corner or standing in front of a stranger’s door, more effective gospel-promoting work often looks like standing in your own kitchen. Often, the best precursor to actual evangelism is simply inviting people into your home, your life. Eventually, you get to that icing on the cake, as Dickson puts it, talking about your favorite thing in the world: Jesus.

Most of our everyday opportunities to promote Christ can be found in the realm of hospitality. Being hospitable, as opposed to being entertaining, means that even though you’re a homebody, you open the door when your neighbor drops off your mail and you invite her in for tea. It means that when your teenage daughter brings over a friend, you graciously serve that friend dinner—even though you hadn’t made enough for five. That kind of hospitality opens up further opportunities. When your other neighbor has to take her husband to the emergency room, she asks you to watch her children.

This hospitality says, “Come in and see my mess, be a part of my mess, and know that you are safe to share your mess as well.”

When people see your real life, they will want to know where your joy comes from, where your freedom to repent and be changed comes from.

This hospitality says, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8).

Let’s win people over to something better: real truth, beauty, love, and joy. Even better if you’re doing it over grilled cheese sandwiches while your toddler throws a tantrum.

About the Author

Lindsey M. Roberts spent years writing exclusively for secular journalism, including such outlets as The Washington Post, Architect, and Gray magazine, before she first tried to write about Jesus. She’s thrilled to explore in words how everything from cleaning the kitchen three times a day to delighting in the maritime history of Nantucket is an opportunity to meet and glorify God. Lindsey lives with her husband, a pastor and U.S. Army Reserve chaplain, and two children in Wisconsin.

As we near the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, many of us may be thinking more about our Muslim neighbors and how we can share with them the love of Jesus. For a little help, we turned to Rev. Mateen Elass, a man who was raised in a Muslim environment in Saudi Arabia. Today, he is a board member of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, a think tank that monitors and reports on issues affecting the Christian church, as well as the senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, Okla. It was while he attended Stanford University for his B.A. that he began exploring other religions and found Jesus Christ. Elass is the author of The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammed (eChristian, 2010).
How important is it to start with hospitality when wanting to befriend and witness to Muslims?
Hospitality is an important first step when we desire to befriend and witness to anyone. It is the primary form of love for strangers, and demonstrates that those we wish to befriend are loved by God and have value in God’s eyes whether they respond to the gospel or not. Hospitality is especially important when interacting with visitors from other countries, for at least two reasons: often in their home culture, hospitality is a deeply held value—natives are expected to treat foreigners with kindness and generosity. When individuals with this value come to the U.S., they feel marginalized or unworthy because Americans are not extending hospitality to them; secondly, many foreigners are lonely and very interested in fitting in with American culture—they yearn for the opportunity to become friends with Americans.
Add to this the fact that for Muslims, love for those outside Islam, particularly those traditionally seen as enemies, is an alien thought not taught by the Quran and religious tradition. For Muslim immigrants, the experience of love from Christians in the name of Christ does not easily mesh with their beliefs and expectations, but it impacts their heart tremendously. Simple acts of kindness and care from Christians often cause Muslims to wonder why they are receiving such love from enemies, and the Holy Spirit uses this cognitive dissonance to break through longstanding barriers that Islam has erected against the message of the gospel.
What should a Christian do if a Muslim moves next door?
The same thing, I would hope, that he or she would do when anyone new moves next door: take the initiative to meet and greet them. Bring him or her a welcome gift—something simple and inexpensive. As you begin to build a relationship, invite the individual or family over to your home for tea and dessert, which less formal than a dinner, to begin with. Be careful until you have gotten to know your neighbors well to speak male to male and female to female. If your neighbor is a woman and you are a man, bring a woman with you so you can befriend her together. Equally important, if you are a woman and your new neighbor is a man, your individual attempts to befriend him may be misunderstood, so be sure to include another man when you meet your Muslim neighbor.
If we want to bring them a meal, what are the food considerations we should follow?
Everyone loves to receive homemade foods of good quality! If you create a dish, make sure it has been made without lard or other pig-products (anything to do with pigs is forbidden for Muslims to eat), and assure them that the food is halal. If you have any doubts, you can pick up from a large supermarket or a special deli food items that are labeled as halal or kosher. You are safest to avoid meat dishes as most orthodox Muslims pass up even permissible meats that have not been slaughtered by proper ritual with the name of Allah being pronounced over the animal as it is killed. Likewise, Islam prohibits the use of intoxicants, so the gift of wine or some other alcoholic beverage would result in an awkward scene.
What’s the biggest no-no that we should avoid when welcoming our Muslim neighbors?
Aside from crossing gender barriers or bringing a forbidden food item as a welcome gift, I would say the biggest no-no would be treating your Muslim neighbor as if he or she were an alien from outer space. Remember that Muslims are human beings just like you; they have the same physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs that every other human being has. They love their children and yearn to grow and develop as everyone else does. Many are eager to learn better what it means to be an American, and are grateful for the privileges and freedoms this nation affords. Though there will no doubt be things mysterious to you about Muslim practices and ethnic identities, do not view your Muslim neighbor as a laboratory specimen or zoo exhibit, but rather as a fellow human being to be love and befriended in Christ’s name.
Once we start the initial conversation, what’s a good way to continue the relationship?
Consistency of contact is the first thing that comes to my mind. Many Muslims will consider it an anomaly that an American Christian would show them any positive attention, and will wonder if your motives are pure, or if you have ulterior motives. This is natural, but will be dispelled by the consistency of your friendly interactions. Friendships are often nurtured over food, and you can’t go wrong inviting your new friend into your family life over tea or coffee. It is a great honor to be welcomed into your home; your new friend will no doubt quickly want to return the favor.
What one thing would you like to tell Christians when it comes to showing Muslims hospitality?
Do not be afraid. God has not given us a spirit of fear. Ask Christ to fill you with love for Muslims; trust that His love will break down barriers. Remember that love is the one force that conquers all other powers. Muslims are trained to view life and relationships in terms of dominance and control—who has the power and who doesn’t, and what steps are needed to flip the power into one’s control. Sacrificial love does not fit into their system of thought very well. As such, it is this biblical love—agape love—that in the end, captures the hearts and minds of those Muslims who turn to Christ. Persist in showing your Muslim friends a love that refuses to quit pursuing their best interests.