Spotlight Interview with Don Everts: The Reluctant WitnessAugust 22, 2019
It’s time to get honest about the state of our witness as Christians. When was the last time you had a spiritual conversation with someone? How about a conversation you would characterize as distinctively Christian? Are you satisfied with that as a person commissioned by Christ to extend the knowledge of the good news of God’s redemptive presence, plan and personal offer of total transformation for a world dying in the dark? I’m not. One of the guys who helps me see myself accurately and then offers me the talking points I need to unleash the conversational apologist hiding from the world is Don Everts. He joined me for a candid conversation about The Reluctant Witness (his newest book) which is based on the Barna research done with Lutheran Hour Ministries on the Spiritual Conversations we’re not having today. Don is a pastor at Bonhomme Presbyterian Church in St Louis and is the author of several books including Jesus with Dirty Feet, I Once Was Lost, and Breaking the Huddle. He’s also a trainer for AlphaUSA.
Carmen LaBerge: Some months ago we talked about the Barna Research released in a report on how Christians approach spiritual conversations in the digital age. We talked about it here on the show now, we’re going to talk with Don Everts about his book on that subject. And so there’s a reason we’re doing this, and it’s because most of us do not accurately see ourselves in terms of our own witness for Christ. Like how many spiritual conversations we’re actually engaging in and how beautiful we are in the midst of that. Are we communicating the Gospel, the actual Gospel in all of its beauty and truth in the way we’re walking it out into the world? And so that conversation is the one I’m going to have right now with Don Everts. Many of you might know him as a writer for Lutheran Hour. I know him as one of the pastors of Bonham Presbyterian church in the St Louis area. He is the author of many books. He’s great at getting Christians off the sidelines and into the spiritual conversations of the day. I’m thrilled to have him here today. Don Everts, welcome to mornings with Carmen.
Don Everts: Well, thanks. Great to be with your Carmen.
Carmen LaBerge: It’s great to have you. I would love to start with this question of whether, or not we see ourselves accurately in the mirror in terms of who we are as willing, or reluctant, or excited, or delighted witnesses for Jesus Christ. What do we know from the research?
Don Everts: Yeah. So the research did hold up a mirror to us and it told us a few things. Three quarters of all Christians in the United States have nine or fewer spiritual conversations a year. So that’s like about one every month and a half or less. And that’s not an evangelistic conversation. That’s a conversation with anyone, Christian or not, about your faith. The cat’s got our tongue. We’re just not talking about our faith and what you talk about in terms of our self-perception, it turns out when you dig into the research, like, why are we so quiet? Why are we not talking about our faith as much? There are a number of reasons for that and we can get into a lot of those, Carmen, but a big one is how we see ourselves. 25 years ago when people were asked, “Do you agree that it is the responsibility of every Christian to be a witness and share Jesus with others?”
Don Everts: 25 years ago, 89% of all Christians in our country said, “Yes, I, I agree. Of course, that’s part of what it means to be a Christian.” Today, the number has gone down to 67%. And so a huge drop in the number of people who say, “Yes, it’s part of my responsibility.” And on the converse of that, Carmen, 25 years ago when people were asked, “Do you agree or disagree that it is the role of the church to convert people to faith?” 25 years ago, very few Christians said, “Well, yeah, I agree because no, that’s my responsibility.” And now more Christians say, “It’s the job of the church. It’s not my job as an individual Christian.” So how we perceive ourselves has a big role in whether, or not we’re talking about Jesus. When you look at the quarter of all Christians who are having lots of spiritual conversations today, the odds of them perceiving themselves as a witness that, that’s part of their identity in Jesus is really, really high. And so how we perceive ourselves, how we understand ourselves directly affects, it would seem how often we talk about our faith.
Carmen LaBerge: So Don, I’m one of those people who if a day goes by without having a spiritual conversation, I feel like I have probably missed a divine appointment. And so it is hard for me to even imagine that there are Christians who are passionately in love with Jesus, who are kingdom minded, who actually think that it’s irrelevant. It’s the most relevant thing in all of life that people would know God. There’s nothing more important going on than God. And yet would not be sharing that with other people.
Don Everts: Yeah.
Carmen LaBerge: Like why would I be withholding the most precious gift I’ve ever received? And why would I assume that other people are going to come to a saving knowledge of who Jesus is and what God is doing in all of human history in this giant redemptive arc of the Gospel, why would I assume that they’re going to find out about it in some way different than the way I found out about it, which was personal? Like most people come by faith because of a personal interaction with another Christian. Why would I assume that the next generation is somehow going to be different?
Don Everts: Yep. Well you wouldn’t, but there’s something going wrong, right? There’s something in people that is making them more quiet. You’re by nature an eager conversationalist, and there are a lot of people out there… That the average Christian experience is people who are reluctant to have conversations. Now why would that be, in light of what you just said, right? Which is all true. So there are a few reasons that make people quiet. One of those is what people have seen happen in the name of evangelism, and they’ve seen people out of anger or argumentation or in a disrespectful way, talk about Jesus. And if people grow up thinking that’s what it means to share the faith, either I’m mean to people and I awkwardly forced Jesus into conversations or I don’t, right? And that’s a false choice and we know that.
Don Everts: But some of how people have seen people talk about Jesus has made Christians hold their tongue. A big one these days that the research showed us is fear. And so when people were asked, “Why don’t you have more spiritual conversations?” There were a number of reasons, but the top reason was fear, that people are afraid that it will cause tension, or an argument in their relationship and they’re not willing to do that. Now is that really the truth? Will it always create tension or argument? No. Does having attention in a conversation ruin the spiritual conversation? Actually the research says no. It tells us that the majority of all people, Christians and non-Christians are actually glad they had their most recent spiritual conversation.
Don Everts: The dominant emotions people experience in spiritual conversations, are peace, joy and laughter. And if there’s tension in the conversation or not, actually the research tells us does not move the needle on whether, or not someone was glad they had that conversation. So it doesn’t ruin everything. Even if there is some tension, all that being set aside, there is a perception Carmen, there is this fear of offense that Christians have that they feel if I bring up my faith, it is going to be this tension, argumentative, awkward, uncomfortable thing that could affect my relationship now.
Carmen LaBerge: So, okay Don, so we have to take a quick break, but when we come back, I’d love to equip our listeners today and again, we’re talking with Don Everts. We’re talking about his latest book, which is The Reluctant Witness Discovering the Delight of Spiritual Conversations. Let’s move people from fear to delight in the next segment. Like how do I become a person who delights in spiritual conversations? Because, there’s some really positive research out there about how open people are to spiritual conversations. And so we really need not fear. That’s up next here with Don Everts on mornings with Carmen.
Carmen LaBerge: I’m talking with Don Everts about Reluctant Witness. He is sometimes reluctant to call himself an evangelist, but he certainly is. He’s a writer for Lutheran Hour Ministries. He’s an associate pastor at Bonham Presbyterian Church in St Louis, Missouri. He’s a speaker and a trainer for Alpha and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He’s got lots of books. If you’ve never read Jesus With Dirty Feet, or you’ve never read, I once was Lost. Those are awesome. I also love Breaking the Huddle. If you’re looking for something in terms of your church and getting sort of out of the way you’ve always done things and into a new way of doing them. Those are all great. His latest book is The Reluctant Witness. That’s the one we’re talking about today. Discovering the delight of spiritual conversations. So Don, move us from like this reluctant fear that we have into this place of delight.
Don Everts: Wonderful. So one thing that is really important for people to understand that and the research made this so clear is we are so afraid of offending people. We are so afraid to have spiritual conversations because we think things like a spiritual conversations only happen in special times and special places with special, preferably ordained people. We think spiritual conversations are serious and sober things that we have to give the right answer, otherwise we will jeopardize someone’s eternity. And here’s the reality, those are all myths that we have about spiritual conversations that just are not true. And the research bashes those myths. It tells us that people love having spiritual conversations. They enjoy having spiritual conversations. They would rather have a spiritual conversation. Non-Christians preferred conversation partner is not a religious professional like me. They’re preferred person to talk to about these things is a friend, someone, someone that they already know that is already in their life, in their everyday life.
Don Everts: The Gospel wants to be shared in the warm light of friendship. And people don’t want gurus who have the right answer. The research tells us this. They want someone like more like an awkward Sherpa than a guru at the top of the mountain. They want someone to walk alongside them and handle their questions with dignity. Part of it is just helping people get over this stigma we have about spiritual conversations, and then being equipped. Folks don’t feel equipped like they did 25 years ago to share about their faith. And so to gain some tools, so here’s one little example, Carmen. Most people tend to have kind of a binary assumption about the faith, right? You’re either not a Christian or you’re a Christian, and we know that, that’s true, but people tend to think, well, evangelism is, I got to do whatever I can to make them flip that switch.
Don Everts: And so I’ve got to argue them across the line or whatever. What the eager conversationalists teach us. And these are the quarter of all Christians who are having a blast. Carmen, they’re like you, they’re having lots of spiritual conversations, and they’re loving it and they’re fruitful. One of the things that they teach us is adapt to the person that they’re talking to. To not assume that every non-Christian is the same. And that you have some kind of memorized speech, that you kind of blather at them. Rather, they adapt to where their conversation partner is. And so if their conversation partner is unreceptive to the faith, they don’t try to force it. They try to gain a hearing and build trust. If they are receptive to the faith, they try to give good news and share stories about what Jesus has done in their life.
Don Everts: And if they’re actively seeking, then they help guide them to faith, right? They explore their questions with them, they clarify the gospel. And so that ability, this is I think what Paul called us to in Colossians four he said, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders making the most use of the time.” And then he said, “But always be gracious and figure out how to answer each person.” Now that’s fun, right? Being gracious, noticing those divine moments and figuring out how to meet someone where they are rather than saying, whenever you can burp up some pre-memorized stuff about Jesus. That doesn’t sound fun, but meeting people where they are. Trying to help them take that next step towards Jesus. If they’re distrustful, build some trust, chat with them, relate with them to try to gain a hearing.
Don Everts: That is what we’re about, and trying to help Christians lay down this false task that they’ve picked up that is this spiritual conversations are somehow onerous things and they’re not. People really enjoy them and especially Peter put it this way, “Always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that’s within you.” When we all tend to remember that, but then he says, “But do it with gentleness and respect.” And we tend to forget that. I think that’s why the cat’s got our tongue because we want to do things gently and respectfully, but somewhere we picked up this false test that evangelism is somehow argumentative or mean, or whatever.
Carmen LaBerge: One of the ways that I frame it is that many of us were trained or raised or reared or have exposure to apologetics that is strictly propositional. And propositional apologetics is not conversational. It’s not narrative. It’s not relational. And so, I feel like we’re living in a day in time when each one of us sort of needs to be retrained, trained again or a new equipped again, for the kind of apologetics, for the kind of the tilling of the cultural soil that exists today, not the soil that existed 25 or 30 years ago. I mean, the culture has changed. People are different. I mean, they’re all unique. I don’t know, somebody said it this way, “You can’t step in the same river twice,” right? Because the river has changed and you have changed and you just can’t do that. There is no script, but there is this real relationship that I have with God that’s restored through Jesus Christ, by grace, in which I walk by faith with the spirit. Like that’s an ongoing relationship. And really what I’m trying to do as a Christian is press that up against the life of a nonbeliever or a skeptic or a person who has lost faith and say, “All right, mine’s still real. Like this is real.”
Don Everts: Yeah.
Carmen LaBerge: And just say, because people love that authenticity.
Don Everts: They do. And you’re exactly right Carmen, that, that the game has changed. In the modern era people were asking the question, “Does your Gospel make logical, rational sense?” And so that’s what gave birth to apologetics, because we answered, “Here’s how the faith makes logical, rational sense.” But today people are asking the question, “Does your Gospel work in life?” And what you’re saying is “Let’s learn how to answer that question.” Because if your neighbor is saying, “Does your gospel work in your everyday life?” And our answer is “Yes, it makes logical, rational sense.” Well then we’re not talking. We’re not meeting people where they are and we can get better trained to do what you said, Carmen, to be able to say, “Yes, it works in real life. Here’s something Jesus has done in my life lately.” That’s what we got to get better at these days and be trained in how to do that and be thoughtful about here’s a difference Jesus is making in my life that actually answers the questions that people are asking. People care just as much about truth today. They just ascribe veracity. They decide if something is true or not based on different data points and we need to adapt to that.
Carmen LaBerge: Absolutely. All right I love this conversation. I hope we get to continue at Don Everts, where do you want people to find you online? Because it’s clearly not Twitter.
Don Everts: Sorry, I am on Facebook, but, you know, they can see some of the stuff that I’m up to these days. I’m working for Lutheran hour, if they go to lhm.org/conversations.
Carmen LaBerge: Alright. LH.
Don Everts: A lot of my stuff to equip people to have conversations.
Carmen LaBerge: I love that. Alright. Lhm.org/conversations. That’s where you’re going to find Don Everts Reluctant Witness. You can find everywhere books are sold. Thank you so much for the conversation today. We’ll be right back.
[If you want to be further equipped for the conversations of the day, check out Carmen’s book, Speak the Truth: How to bring God back into every conversation. If you want a FREE copy, make a donation of any size to partner with Carmen at The Reconnect and we’ll send you a copy of Carmen’s book!]