I am sitting in my man cave having a pretty deep conversation with my neighbor who lives a few houses down. He is 20 years older, a different ethnicity and not Christian at all. In fact, he is Buddhist. We are having a great conversation about life, struggles, and, yes, even God, Jesus and Buddha.
But he is not that open to Jesus and I find my self at a crossroads.
Do I keep pressing—asking better questions, finding new angles—or do I ease off and trust God that it will come back around another day?
I want my neighbors to know Jesus so badly! I am sure you do to, and if you are anything like me then you find yourself in a constant tension between being silent with the gospel and too pushy. How are we supposed to know how to navigate this tension with the people we love and have relationship with every day?
In my book Beyond Awkward: When Talking About Jesus Is Outside Your Comfort Zone, I get into this tension heavily. Here is an excerpt from my book on the topic as we look at the story in Acts 8 with Philip and the Ethiopian:
So, what is the difference between being pushy and being bold? The following steps help us differentiate the two.
Step 1: Break the ice.
“Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked” (Acts 8:30). It is never pushy to discern the moment or ask great questions. This point is often contested in my seminars, but Philip was not being pushy when he overheard the Ethiopian reading Scripture and asked a question.
When God sends us on our way as a witness and sets up an encounter, we have to size up the moment. We have to check the spiritual temperature and see if the person we are going to engage is curious or not. It may be awkward or uncomfortable to ask someone a question out of the blue, but it is not pushy. It is bold. Think about it as a continuum (see fig. 11.1). A bold person will ask a question to break the ice. A pushy person asks a question to start a conversation that he or she intends to dominate. A timid person perceives someone’s openness but avoids engaging him or her.
Timid |——————–Patient/Bold———————-| Pushy
Step 2: Test the curiosity level.
“‘How can I,’ [the Ethiopian] said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to sit with him” (Acts 8:31).
Both bold people and pushy people break the ice and gauge interest, but pushy people reveal themselves in this next step.
How Do I Avoid Being Pushy With the Gospel?
When we ask a question or start a conversation, the important factor is how the seeker responds. The seeker will reveal whether he or she is open and curious or closed and skeptical. This makes all the difference.
Bold people move forward when the door opens and close the conversation down when the door is closed. They don’t force a conversation on someone.
Pushy people move forward even when the door seems closed. As one of my mentors says, “Boldness without discernment is just muscle.” When we feel like it is now or never or that we don’t have the luxury to discern the openness of the person, we are being pushy. Bold people are more than happy to move forward if the door is open, but don’t feel the need to push.
Two brothers I work with, Kurt Thiel and Larry Thiel, compare the conversation to a train ride. They assume that the conversation (train) is going all the way to the gospel (destination). Kurt and Larry never stop the conversation (train) unless the person they are talking to wants off. They are bold and go all the way to the gospel as the seeker keeps inviting them deeper.
But they are also patient. If the person wants off the train and out of the conversation, they willingly shut down the dialogue. Patience means waiting on God’s timing once we break the ice and the person is not open.
Obviously, in Acts 8 Philip is being bold when he asks the icebreaking question and then moves into the chariot when the Ethiopian responds favorably and invites Philip in.