“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” —Colossians 4:2-6 (NIV)
One of the funnier moments I had in college was when my English prof invited a guest speaker/author into the classroom to talk about his book. It was the end of the semester, and here comes this lawyer to talk about his writing.
He blew everyone’s mind by announcing, “Pay no attention to the audience!” We all chuckled nervously and looked around the room as we remembered our teacher’s constant admonition to “know your audience!”
The prof said, “Max, I’ve been telling them all year to write for their audience.”
Well, Max disagreed.
And our teacher (who was also an author) threw his hands up in the air, laughing.
“Next time, I’m going to be more careful about who I invite in to speak,” he later confided.
Such a dilemma!
How much attention should a writer or a speaker or a Christian (for that matter) pay to their audience? Because let’s face it: we all have one.
Another way to think of it is: we all have a sphere of influence. That could be your immediate family, extended family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, or the guy you talk to in the store. Everyone’s life is intersecting with another’s somewhere.
I have since heard this “audience” question answered in different ways by best-selling authors. And I sometimes puzzle over it myself. Am I talking to primarily women? Men? Christian? Non-Christian? Visually impaired? Who’s out there?
Of course, I want to speak to my supposed audience in a way that engages them; however, I don’t want to be “locked in” to just those I imagine. I have to think, “I’m speaking to whoever God has placed before me at this moment.” God is so much bigger than what I can imagine. What He does with our words…who can fathom?
That’s why the above verse from Colossians is a useful guide in directing our speaking and writing. Our living.
First, we are to be prayerful and watchful. That means we’re in touch with God and alert for His promptings.
Second, God will open the doors He wants open for our message (which is His message).
Third, we are to proclaim it clearly, looking for opportunities, and guarding our speech wisely. People may be outsiders to us, but God wants to draw them in, and He’s using us faulty vessels.
And fourth, know what you’re saying—be convicted. God wants His message to go forth boldly. Have your testimony smoothly set in your mind, so you may know how to answer everyone.
This job of evangelism is not simply for writers or preachers. Scripture makes clear it is the job of every believer to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I (Jesus) commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
I love that Jesus’ great commission ends with a promise of assurance. He is with us on this journey! So regardless of who we perceive our audience to be, if we follow the guidelines traced out in Scripture, we can feel assured and leave the results to Him.