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Identify Common Ground, Based on God's Word and Authority
(Conversational Evangelism: Second Type of Conversation)
Bible study on evangelism, conversational evangelism.

In our series on Conversational Evangelism, we're investigating four types of conversations we have with people when talking about God and His church.

So far in this series, we've talked about the first type of conversation: Learn about people and their religion. The second type of conversation is to identify common ground so we're equipped to share the gospel with them.

Two Ways to Establish Common Ground
Paul shows us that establishing common ground culturally and doctrinally is important.

Paul, in Jerusalem (Acts 22:1-5), established common ground on a cultural basis. He began his defense before the Jews, speaking in the Hebrew dialect, establishing common ground between himself and the Jews. This showed the people he could culturally relate to them, and they could relate to him.

Paul, making his defense before Agrippa (Acts 26:2-3, 26-27), established common ground based on doctrine. Paul acknowledged that Agrippa was expert in all customs and questions among the Jews, and that he believed the Prophets.

Benefits of Establishing Common Ground
When we establish common ground, we build relationships with people and become a positive influence in their life. For example, Jesus was a friend of sinners, spending time with them to teach them (Lk. 7:33-35; Matt. 9:9-13). Like Jesus, we must build relationships with people who aren't Christians, to reach them with the gospel.

When we establish common ground, we build credibility with people and become a religious influence in their lives. For example, Paul established common ground with the Galatians, both as a Jew and a sinner (Gal. 1:11-24). When we establish common ground, telling people about our journey from a life of sin to a life of godliness, we become a credible witness of the power of God that works through the gospel.

When we establish common ground, we have opportunities to commend people for the things they're doing right. As Paul began his message on Mars Hill, he established common ground upon the fact that they were religious in all respects (Acts 17:22-23). Often, to get someone to listen to the truth of the gospel, we must establish common ground based on things they're doing right, and not limit our discussions to things they're doing wrong.

Paul's Example of Establishing Common Ground
Paul did everything he could to establish common ground with people, and have an opportunity to teach them the gospel. When he lived around Jews, he lived like a Jew. When he lived around Gentiles, he lived like a Gentile. He made himself a slave to all men, becoming all things to all men, so he could "by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:22).

Simply put, Paul bent over backwards to establish common ground and teach the gospel.

As you think about yourself, can you say that you make yourself a slave to all men, becoming all things to all men, so you can save some?

Present-day Examples of Establishing Common Ground
We can establish common ground based on religious living. If someone goes to church, reads the Bible, or prays, we have common ground upon which to talk about God.

We can establish common ground based on moral standards. If someone believes in chastity, raising children to believe in God, not abusing drugs, or not using tobacco, we have common ground to talk about God.

We can establish common ground based on doctrine. If someone believes in God, Jesus, that God created the world, that prayer is effective, that there is absolute truth, that there will be judgment, or that there is heaven and hell, we have common ground to talk about God.

We can establish common ground based on the example of our lives, that all have sinned and can be saved. When we share the story of our life as a Christian, we show people the power of gospel as it performs it work in those who believe.

Establish Precedent: God's Word is Absolute Truth
While working to establish common ground, you have the opportunity to establish the Biblical precedent you'll use to teach the gospel.

Two examples of the Biblical precedent you can establish in conversation are:

  • We agree on an issue based on God's word (Jn. 17:17).
  • Everything we do must be authorized by God's word (Col. 3:17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Some phrases you can use to establish these principles are:

  • I believe it, because it's in the Bible.
  • I don't believe it, because it's not in the Bible.
  • I believe something different, because Jesus said something different.
  • God tells us what to do; He doesn't always tell us what not to do.
  • If we disagree, one of us may be right or both of us may be wrong, but both of us can't be right.

Continue to Learn Their Vocabulary
While establishing common ground, you can continue to learn their vocabulary -- common ground requires a common vocabulary. Some frequently misunderstood terms we take for granted are: believe, repent, confession, baptism. We should never assume someone understands what we're saying, especially when using religious words and phrases.

How do we learn another person's vocabulary? We ask questions to make sure they understand our language, and we understand their language.

Too often we spin our wheels, trying to communicate with people, saying one thing while the listener thinks we're saying something different. When we don't take time to establish common ground by establishing a common vocabulary, we usually fail because we're not understood.

What's Your Attitude?
If we have Paul's attitude, we'll do everything we can to establish common ground with people, so we can win them to Christ with the gospel.

What was Paul's attitude?

  • Though I'm free from all men, I make myself a slave to all, so I may win more.
  • I have become all things to all men, so I may by all means save some.
  • I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

What's your attitude?