Engaging people’s hearts the way Jesus did

Part 1 of an interview with Randy Newman,
Author of Questioning Evangelism
When it comes to evangelism, do you feel pressured to know all the answers? What if you didn’t have to worry about having all the right answers but instead knew the right questions to ask in return? In Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did (Second Edition) (Kregel Publications), author Randy Newman asks readers to look at evangelism in a different way. After all, Jesus asked questions; why don’t we?

Q: Why is it better to ask questions than to give answers when it comes to evangelism? What are some of the first questions you use to get a conversation started?

What does a question do that an answer doesn’t? (Yes, I know. I just answered your question with a question on purpose.) Doesn’t a question make you think and participate in the answering process? Doesn’t a question sometimes expose hidden or less-than-sincere motives? Don’t questions take away some of the anger?

The easiest first questions are ones that clarify. “What do you mean by . . . ?,” “Are you saying . . . ?,” or  “Why, of all the possible questions you could ask, do you ask that question?” Of course, sooner or later, you have to do more than just ask questions. At some point, the questioning gets annoying, but some carefully chosen questions can pave the way for more productive conversations than just announcing an answer.

Q: Tell us about how you came to start using this method in your own outreach.

It was born out of frustration. Just answering questions wasn’t working. I needed to try engaging with people instead of just preaching at them. I saw enough success to keep going, develop the technique and experiment with new questions. It also prompted me to study how Jesus used questions and answered questions with questions. If He used this technique, I figured it was a better model than the ones we often look to for insights about evangelism. The most common approach I had seen was taken more from the business world than the Bible. We approached evangelism the way sales people approached their trade. The gospel is not a product, and evangelism is not a sales pitch.

Q: Many times we get frustrated when someone answers a question with a question. How can we use the questioning method in a way that doesn’t turn off the person we are talking to?

A lot of it has to start from within. We need genuine concern for people, not just insight in how to win arguments. Praying and asking God to give us love for people is essential. It’s not automatic or something we can well up from within us. We need wisdom from God about how to engage with people as whole persons — intellectually, emotionally and socially.  

Q: How should a reader approach and use Questioning Evangelism?

Ideally I would hope people would read it in a small group and discuss it chapter by chapter. In particular, I think it would be most helpful if people could discuss how they could formulate questions to try out on non-Christians they know. In fact, I hope readers will discuss it over the course of a few months while trying out some of the approaches from the book in real-life conversations between meetings. As people share successes, failures and frustrations, they can brainstorm ways to improve and pray for God to bless their efforts.

Q: What are the most difficult questions Christians need to be able to answer or at least have a response to? How can they prepare to respond to those questions?

The three biggest questions, in my opinion, are the ones about exclusivity (Why do you think Jesus is the only way?), suffering (How can you believe in a God who allows so much evil in the world?) and sexuality (Why are Christians stuck in the 18th century?). Without repeating everything I wrote in the book, I think the single best approach to preparing is to become fluent with such phrases as, “I don’t have a simple answer to your question, but I would like to discuss it. Would you?”

Q: The first edition of Questioning Evangelism has been a perennial best-seller since its release more than a decade ago. What has been updated in this second edition?

The biggest change had to be made because of how our culture has moved strongly in favor of homosexuality. Fourteen years ago I wrote a chapter on how we witness to homosexuals, and some people may have thought that was odd. Back then, few people brought up the issue of homosexuality in the context of an evangelistic conversation. Today, however, people raise the question often, and it’s absolutely essential to address it. I updated the chapter extensively and suggested some helpful resources developed in the past few years.

Learn more about Questioning Evangelism at www.connectionpoints.us. Randy Newman is also on Twitter (@RandyDNewman).