Is there anything more exciting than seeing that a friend comes to Jesus? It is an incredible experience and something marking. I want to share some principles that have been helpful to me and after that follow some practical advices. There are no formulas, there are no steps to follow, but I hope that there are some things which connect with you.
The story in John 3 about Jesus and Nicodemus is quite known. Jesus is interacting with a leader, a member of the ruling Jewish counsel. This is a theologian, someone who knows Scripture deeply. Jesus says these profound words: “Unless you are born again…”. We are familiar with the language, right? For me, the image of birth is helpful to understand the process of leading a friend to Christ.
Three principles of the new birth
1. Who is the one giving birth?
It is God. Is this fact not reassuring us that we are a part of what God is doing in giving birth?
2. What is our role in it if God gives a new birth?
God is the one giving birth, and we get to play midwives. A midwife is someone who partners with God in what He is doing in a life.
3. What is the right timing of the birth?
Babies can be born at the right time, but it happens as well that they come too soon or too late. That is not helpful for them. In the process of leading a friend to Christ, we journey together and learn about the conversations the Holy Spirit is having with our friend. We need to listen and discern when the time is ready for him or her to make a decision.
In evangelism it is helpful to watch out for green lights, yellow rights and red lights. Observe the body language of a person during a conversation. If the person shuts down completely when you start to talk about faith, that might be a red light. If the person asks questions, that is a clear green light. Maybe you have an opportunity to invite your friend to an Alpha course or to your church. If the response is positive is that a hugh green light. The more green lights you discern, you might start an open conversation about what God is doing in the life of your friend.
a. Too late
Maybe you have a friend who comes to your church or seekers Bible study. This friend has shown so much interest and simply has not received an invitation, a simple question: “Would you like to become a follower of Jesus?”.
b. Too soon
Premature babies need much more care. I wanted to suggest that, from my experience, also invite someone to follow Jesus to soon is not healthy. Honor the time when the person is ready.
c. The right moment
Ask yourself the question if your friend has a full understanding of the Gospel. Can your friend articulate in his or her own words what the Gospel is? When your friend is ready, he or she starts to see that what God has been doing in his or her life: “Now I know that fifteen years ago… in that situation…”. Your friend starts to connect the dots of a longer conversation that the Holy Spirit is having throughout his or her life. The most important indication of a healthy birth is how publicly your friend goes about it just the days after the decision. Does this friend share a testimony with friends of other participants of the Alpha course?
Two practical advices
1. How to invite a person to follow Jesus?
John Stott uses the language of double listening. What he means to say is listening to the Word of God and to the world. I like the term double listening specifically for the process of the new birth. In that process we are listening both to the person and to the Holy Spirit. It is a discernment process to see if they are ready.
I will share some examples how we do it in Rome. As we having seekers Bible studies, my husband and I pray for one person to be ready. At some point in our series, we pause and share the Gospel fully again, so that they understand it more clearly. Beforehand we say that we want to explain the Gospel and that it ends with an invitation to follow Jesus: “In the next weeks, you have an invitation. Jesus is inviting you to follow Him”. On our turn, we invite people one-to-one to come to our house to respond to His invitation. We do not want to get people by surprise, but are transparent during the journey, so that they know what is going on.
We invite first the person who has shown the most green lights so far. We organise a special evening and just have a dinner together with this person. That evening we truly listen and ask: “How has your experience been so far?”. We listen to the person and to the Holy Spirit. We look for signs to learn where this person is in his or her journey with God. We try to discern the green, yellow and red lights. As we listen and we think the person is ready, we just ask the question: “Would you like to become a follower of Jesus?”. We leave the question hanging. It sounds so simple, but it is the most important question we can ask. Don’t disturb the silence, let them respond for themselves. Just sit, breathe and listen!
2. How to pray with the person?
Normally, I open the Bible in Romans 10:9 and explain how someone can become a follower of Jesus: “If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the death, you are saved”. Basically, it a declaration of a covenant. During the prayer of salvation, a sealing of a covenant happens, with others witnessing what this person declares to God.
Just before starting the prayer, we like to have a time of silence to mark the holy space that we are entering into. We invite the person to pray and to declare the rock foundations of Christianity. They can repeat a simple prayer or do it in their own words, like: “Jesus I believe that you came, I believe that You died on the cross and that You raised again. I declare you as Lord and Savior of my life”.
After the prayer we ask the person just to share something personal to God. That is the most beautiful moment.
Then we ask the person how he or she feels about it. Almost every time we hear them say like: “Oh, I am peaceful, I am released”. That they express their feelings is beautiful to hear. Then we celebrate, because someone was lost and is found! We mark that moment, because it is something to look back on it.
The content of this article is based on the webinar “Leading a friend to Christ” with Sarah Breuel, director of Revive Europe and the Evangelism Training Coordinator for IFES Europe.