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I confess to experiencing a rush of enthusiasm when I received the request to provide an article on the use of “questions in evangelism” for Tabletalk. Why? The answer is simple. The year 1969 was significant for me. I became a Christian, I married Cindy, and we found our church home. The pastor had returned from an Evangelism Explosion training clinic and began to equip us to share the gospel using the now-famous EE questions. As a new Christian up to that point, I eagerly shared the gospel with anyone, at any time, and in any place. In my exuberance, I was ineffective and at best awkward. So learning to use the EE questions was extraordinarily helpful.

After my call to the gospel ministry, my appreciation for the use of questions in evangelism and multiple ministry settings grew and has become a focal point in life and ministry. In my formative years, I was blessed with multiple mentors, all of whom were uniquely skilled at using questions. Interestingly, Ligonier Ministries and Tabletalk originated from the heart, life, and ministry of one of those mentors, R.C. Sproul, who was a premier practitioner of questions. While reading Stephen Nichols’ biography of R.C., I found myself in full agreement as he described the Columbo years of his ministry. How many talks, debates, conversations, and classroom experiences were sharpened by his penetrating questions?

Another mentor and friend of Ligonier, Sinclair Ferguson, displays the same ability with his unique, understated Scottish wit. The list of examples could lengthen, and we would have to include the clear illustration of the value of using questions that we find in the ministries of the Apostles. The preeminent example, however, is Christ and His skillful use of questions in ministry. Search the Gospels and note how many times that He uses questions even in response to questions.

Questions lengthen and deepen dialogue, which requires patience.

For almost fifty years, the thoughtful use and development of questions in evangelism has captured my attention. One of the consequences has been the development of what I call “cultivation questions for evangelism.” As many know, Socrates developed a teaching method relying on questions to communicate foundational maxims for life. Our Savior and those whom He trained took this method to another level for addressing the issues of truth and eternity.

Thoughtful questions, rightly communicated, produce inevitable blessings:

  • Questions create an environment conducive to respectful dialogue.
  • Questions reveal not only the heart but what is on the heart.
  • Questions can effectively expose error and clarify truth.
  • Questions allow conversations to be maintained through difficult moments of disagreement and debate.
  • Questions lengthen and deepen dialogue, which requires patience.
some cultivating questions
  1. A Permission Cultivation Question: To transition a meaningful conversation to spiritual and eternal matters, I love to ask, “Do you have a moment for me to ask you a couple of questions?” This communicates respect for people and their time, as well as a desire to hear their opinions. As we know, everyone has an opinion and believes that you deserve to hear it.
  2. A Transition Cultivation Question: When I get on an airplane, I often pray for what I call “controlled turbulence”—just enough to shake the bins and get the attention of my seatmate. After the Lord answers my prayer, I ask, “Do you think there is a heaven?” Interestingly, no one has ever said no. Some have said they are atheists, but they still said yes. Why? Because they know in their hearts that there is something yet to come, and in that moment, they affirm the truth in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “God has put eternity into man’s heart.”
  3. A Diagnostic Cultivation Question: After asking if someone believes that there is a heaven and the person says yes, I ask, “How do you think you get there?” No matter how long the pause, I never supply an answer. When the person does answer, I repeat it so that it is on record and clarified.
  4. An Opportunity Cultivation Question: “Would you allow me to share with you a verse in the Bible that tells us how and why we can go to heaven? It is my favorite verse and contains my favorite word in the Bible: but. ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ ” (Rom. 6:23). I then share the gospel of Christ—sin’s wages and God’s gift.
  5. A Clarification Cultivation Question: “Do you understand what I have said?” This question can and often does open up expanded and beneficial dialogue.
  6. A Commitment Cultivation Question: I’ve worked hard on this question and have been using this version for more than thirty years. “Is there any reason that you should not receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior right now?” Notice that I don’t use the word accept. In the gospel presentation, I clarify that we do not accept Jesus, but through Jesus we are accepted. Specifically, we are accepted by God’s grace in Christ when we receive Him by faith and repentance. I used to ask, “Would you like to become a Christian?” If the person said no, we were at a dead end. But if he or she said yes, I could continue the conversation with my next questions.
  7. An Exploration Cultivation Question: “Would you please share with me your reason for not receiving the gift of eternal life through Christ?” Needless to say, interesting conversations follow this question.

These questions are prayerfully designed to lead men and women to ask the “Job question.” “How can a man be in the right before God?” (Job 9:2). I long for them to hear how they can be “right before God” and how God will reside “right within them.” There are two things we will not do in heaven: sin or evangelize. So by God’s grace, let’s prepare for heaven by sinning less and evangelizing more. Consider using questions to bring Christ and the gospel answer to sinners and by God’s glorious grace to bring sinners to Christ.

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