I’ve been sitting on a plane next to some guy for a couple of hours. And I’ve sent all my usual “Don’t talk to me” signals: book, headphones, minimal eye contact. The usual tools of the traveling introvert. But this time it hasn’t worked. This guy really likes to talk.
Just as the plane is about to land, the conversation turns toward spiritual things. Now I feel a bit guilty for having tried to duck the conversation the whole trip. But still, I recognize the opportunity. A gospel opportunity. I only have about one minute before the plane touches down and everyone starts pulling their stuff together. One minute.
Almost every evangelism training I’ve ever been through has emphasized the importance of being able to share the gospel in one minute or less. The assumption seems to be that this is something every mature Christian should be able to do. And, to be honest, I agree. But with some significant reservations. From the right perspective, the One Minute Gospel can be very helpful. But far too often the One Minute Gospel leads us into a number of critical errors.
Is the One Minute Gospel a helpful tool or a tragic mistake? I think it’s a little of both. But in this post, I’ll focus on the former.
The One Minute Gospel as a Helpful Tool
1. The One Minute Gospel Forces Priorities
Think of someone who is very important to you. Now, how would you describe them in one minute? What would you focus? Are you going to tell me what they look like, where they went to school, what they eat for breakfast, or their favorite TV show? Possibly. Or will you dive into their personality, character, beliefs, commitments, and passions? That would certainly tell me a lot. Or you could take a different approach, focusing on their various relationships: family, co-workers, friends, and others. And that’s just for starters. But you only have one minute. So you have to make some choices.
Unless you want to give me a random list of observations, some important and others trivial, you’ll have to prioritize. What is most important for someone to know about this amazing person? What would leave them with a distorted picture if I left it out? What is an interesting part of who they are, but not as essential for grasping the basic picture?
Engaged seriously, these kinds of questions force you to reflect on what’s most important, either for understanding a person or the gospel. And I think we should recognize that some things have a higher priority when we’re sharing the gospel than others. If I only have one minute, I’m going to talk a lot about Jesus. He’s pretty important. And I’ll necessarily spend less time talking about the church. That’s tragic because I think God’s people are an incredibly important part of the good news about what Jesus accomplished. But I have to prioritize.
The thing to keep in mind here is that it’s easy to prioritize on accident. The one minute gospel only helps in this area if we’ve thought intentionally about what we’re doing. Are we sure that we’re prioritizing the right things? Is it possible that we’ve shuffled something off to the periphery that is actually quite important? (Stay tuned, in my next post, we’ll take a quick look at some of the Bible’s own gospel summaries to see how people like Peter and Paul prioritized.)
2. The One Minute Gospel Aids Comprehension
The degree program that I direct (Western’s Th.M. program) culminates with a thesis and an oral examination. And, as every student approaches that final exam, I tell them all the same thing: be prepared to summarize your thesis quickly and clearly. If you can’t tell me in just a few minutes what you’ve written and why it’s important, it raises some serious questions about how well you understood it in the first place. Of course, you could say more. You can always say more. But one critical test of both clarity and comprehension is whether you can offer some kind of meaningful summary in a relatively brief period of time.
And most of my students comment on how valuable it was to try and distill everything down to just a few sentences. When you do that, you actually come to understand your subject better. You’re forced to consider how the various pieces all fit together, so you can address multiple pieces in one or two quick thoughts. Good summaries lead to good understanding.
I think the same holds true with our gospel summaries. Get me rolling, and I can talk about the gospel for an entire trans-Atlantic flight. And even that wouldn’t say everything that could be said. But there is value is coming up with a good summary. And the value is for me as much as it is for the person I’m talking to. I will understand the gospel better if I’ve really thought through how I would share it quickly.
3. The One Minute Gospel Enables Brevity
And, of course, we can’t leave out the most obvious benefit. There are times when we need to say something about the gospel in a highly compressed way. That guy in the seat next to me probably won’t want to hang out in the terminal after we’ve disembarked. So, if I’m going to say anything, it will have to be quick. A good gospel summary helps me be prepared for quick gospel encounters.
What I find interesting here is the fact that we often talk about the gospel as though this were the normal way that people share the gospel. I don’t know about you, but I rarely find myself sharing the gospel like this. Most of the time I’m giving a one minute gospel summary, it’s to someone who already knows quite a bit about the gospel – either a Christian or a non-Christian that I’ve already talked to quite a bit. For both of them, the summary helps put all the various pieces in place.
But maybe that’s just me. And there have been times when I’ve needed to share the gospel quickly and concisely with someone who may not know much about the gospel at all. And, on those occasions, I’ve been very glad that I had a One Minute Gospel at hand.
So I do think that the One Minute Gospel can be very handy. It’s good for me, and it’s good for the people around me. But next week, we’ll flip the coin and see that the One Minute Gospel has a dark side. I don’t think it’s dark enough to make us stop using it entirely. But it does mean that we’ll need to use it very carefully.
About Marc Cortez
Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.