This past Thursday, I was honored to participate in a debate about the resurrection of Jesus, on the campus of Rogers State University (watch on our FB page). Though it was my first campus debate ever, I thought the discussion went well. Here are some of the lessons I learned from the debate that I think can help with evangelism.
Nerves, Nerves, Nerves.
When I accepted the debate at Rogers State 6 months ago, it felt like a massive weight on my shoulders. “What if” syndrome set in. What is “what if” syndrome, you ask? Well, it is when we are so overwhelmed by all the “what if” questions, we paralyze ourselves from acting. Here are the “What ifs” that ran through my mind:
- What if I fail?
- What if someone loses their faith because I did a horrible job?
- What if my opponent asks a question I’ve never heard before?
- What if I didn’t prepare well enough?
- What if I can’t answer every possible question asked?
- What if I get stumped during Q&A?
- What if I fail God?
- What if I embarrass The Daily Apologist and the team?
- What if I fumble through my opening statement?
- What if I get stage fright?
While most may not have participated in a college debate, these types of questions run through the minds of so many, resulting in paralysis from over-analysis. The result is a fear of conversing about Jesus.
The reason for the nerves? My perspective was way off! Some of my closest friends told me “God has been good at being God…. for, like, forever!” I was worried about my performance—not realizing that if I fell flat on my face, God was still God. What a relief to know that the whole Christian enterprise did not hinge on my debate performance. Nathan Liddell, a team member at The Daily Apologist, told me, “either way this goes, remember, this is a learning experience.” With a newfound perspective, one that was less self-centered and more God-centered, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.
Remember, the entirety of Christianity, God’s existence, the resurrection, does not solely depend on the ability of Christians to answer every question. With this in mind, it frees us from the bonds of “performance evangelism” and opens the door for us to merely be…us.
Proper Preparation Matters
Three weeks before the debate, the team at The Daily Apologist put in roughly 200 hours of research and mock debating to get me ready. Even with the proper perspective, preparation is critical. Much like a debate, evangelism involves preparedness. Notice some practical applications for evangelism that also apply in a formal discussion:
- The topic is preset. No one comes to a debate, not knowing the debate subject. The same should be true for your formal arrangements with people. While we cannot anticipate when random conversations will happen, we can do an excellent job of framing the conversation with those who have decided to meet us for coffee.
- Know the case you are presenting. Now that you’ve set the time, date, and topic, what case are you presenting? Do you know the objections to your case? Do you know the evidence for your case? Do you have a “working knowledge” of the facts? These are all important in evangelism.
- Know the person on the other end. My opponent showed his hand before the debate. In surveying and conversing with him before the discussion, I realized that he had never gone on record in stating whether or not he believed that Jesus was a person of history. Therefore, in my opening statement, I pressed him on his position because either way, my case was strengthened. Likewise, in evangelism, if we don’t know the person on the other end of the conversation, we won’t ask the right questions but will miss the target completely.
- Maintaining our Christianity is key. One of the things about the debate I’m proud of is the fact that I never lost my cool or my Christianity. Debates and evangelism are about showing people Christ in what we say and how we say it.
My time at Roger State was fun and, I believe, productive. Whether it is debate or evangelism, we will all get nervous. However, with the proper perspective and good preparation, we can make a case for Christianity confidently and convincingly.
 And this wasn’t the full extent of our preparation! A big thank you goes out to the team and their families for their desire and time in helping me.