Since Becky Pippert came to know Jesus as a teen, she has dedicated her life to helping others come to know God. Her ministry began by joining InterVarsity staff ministering to students on college campuses in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. After five years of serving those students, she felt called to write a book about her experience and to encourage other Christians to share their faith and spread the Gospel.
The resulting book, Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World: Evangelism as a Way of Life, was published in 1999. The book offers encouragement and practical ways for Christians to be “salt” for others, to make evangelism a natural part of their lives, and to fulfill the calling given to us by Jesus.
In a recent crossover episode for Indigitous CoffeeTalks and PULSE, we met with Becky to talk about her career in missions, her approach to personal ministry, and how we can be salt to those around us.
“When I wrote Out of the Saltshaker, there was an attitude towards evangelism I was wanting to correct,” Becky says. “I was motivated out of love and I was concerned that I was seeing it done so badly.”
To Becky, a lot of the evangelism that was being practiced seemed impersonal. It treated someone who doesn’t know Jesus as a commodity or a goal. So Christians approached them with pre-scripted presentations and discipleship was often an afterthought.
“For many Christians in the States, evangelism was seen as formulaic, memorized, a technique. The premise was, ‘how can we reach the most people in the shortest amount of time, preach and leave so we don’t get contaminated,’” Becky says.
A better way to evangelize
Becky had come to know Jesus out of love. To her, those evangelism approaches were not only ineffective, but they didn’t accurately portray the kind of relationship with God that she wanted to share. There had to be a better way.
She thought she saw a better model in Scripture, especially from how Jesus Himself did ministry. “He had such compassion and love for people. He really listened. He didn’t go in and preach first. He listened. He established relationships. People were not ‘evangelistic projects.’ He had respect. He sought to understand what they were looking for and He wasn’t in a hurry. He took time for people. He asked questions,” Becky says. “And people began to experience the love of God and feel the love of God because they felt heard and understood by Jesus.”
Becky also took note of how Jesus adapted the Gospel message based on His audience. “He never shared the Gospel in the same way. The metaphors, the language He uses was very dependent upon the person He was speaking to.”
How to be salt to other people
In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” At that time, salt was used as both a preservative and as a flavor enhancer. As Christians, we’re called to be kept unspoiled by the sin of the world. That means being intentional about our own walk with God, growing in our relationship with Him, and doing our part in the ongoing process of sanctification.
But salt also had that other use. Being salt also means being a positive influence for those around us. “If salt stays in the saltshaker, then it’s just a nice table ornament,” Becky writes in Stay Salt.
But how can we get out of the saltshaker and be salt for other people? Well, Becky wrote an entire book about that, so one first step might be to read it.
Cultural challenges to evangelism
Becky stresses the importance of personal evangelism that takes into account the person you’re talking to and their culture. But all cultures come with certain challenges for sharing the Gospel. What those challenges are depends on the culture. Becky, as an American, spoke about some of the cultural challenges that are common in the western world.
To address the challenges facing a Western culture, Becky wrote a new book, Stay Salt: The World Has Changed: Our Message Must Not, which came out in 2020.
One such challenge, according to Becky, is the shift away from having an objective truth. Instead, belief in moral relativism and pluralism dominate. “There’s a designer religion approach that almost picks cafeteria-style a little bit of karma here, a little bit of something else, a little secularism there,” Becky says.
Cultural influencers have also changed, according to Becky. The media, universities, and Hollywood movies today often portray Christianity in a negative way. That makes our faith seem less appealing while also causing misunderstanding about what it really means to follow Jesus.
Whatever your culture, Becky suggests identifying what challenges that culture has, what its misunderstandings about Christianity are, and what deep needs the people have. “God has placed in all human beings a hunger for meaning and worth, identity, security, and peace that can only be found in God through Christ,” Becky says. “Unbelievers don’t know — they might not even know they’re unbelievers — but there’s a longing and wistfulness that hasn’t been met.”
Secondly, Becky suggests looking at how Jesus did personal evangelism, which was very personal and highly relational. He knew the people He ministered to, He knew their stories, and He genuinely cared for them.
Aspects of biblical personal evangelism
Out of the Saltshaker goes into detail about Becky’s approach to personal evangelism. When asked for a few key aspects to it, Becky provides three.
A good personal evangelism approach is:
Visual: Writers are taught to “show, don’t tell” in their writing. In evangelism, we can say “show, don’t just tell.” Telling is important — that’s the next aspect — but without showing the love of Jesus, your words might seem hollow. People care more about what we think and believe when they know that we care about them. “You display the love. You share the love,” Becky says. “If unbelievers don’t see the love of Jesus, we’re not going to get anywhere.”
Verbal: Actions speak louder than words, but words are still needed. Sometimes people take the visual aspect of evangelism too far and think it’s all that’s needed. It’s important to demonstrate the Gospel in action, but you also have to be able to explain it. Not everyone knows about Jesus, what it means to follow Him, and how it would change their life. You have to be able to communicate that. “We communicate the truth through the Gospel and through our testimony,” Becky says.
“Testimony” is a bit of a loaded term, but it really just means sharing the story of how Jesus has changed your life. In a recent episode of Indigitous PULSE, Karl Udy shared how to share a personal testimony in a natural, engaging way.
Invitational: Showing the Gospel and explaining the Gospel are two important steps. The final step is giving the person an opportunity to accept the Gospel. You must share in a way that invites the person to take that next step. “We invite people at the right time to respond to Jesus’ call to surrender their lives,” Becky says.
What if I feel inadequate?
A lot of Christians don’t share their faith because they don’t think they’re gifted evangelists, as if only people who are particularly skilled in that area should take part in it. But this isn’t surgery or carpentry. You can, and should, do it even if you’re not skilled.
“Jesus commands and calls every Christian from every culture from every nation and he never mentions gifts or personality types,” Becky says. “I don’t think a lot of people do have the gift of the evangelist, but we’re all called to be witnesses. And we’re called to enter this broken world as agents and bearers of the Good News of the Gospel.”
Introverts often think of themselves as ill-equipped for evangelism. They think it’s best suited for outgoing people who love to strike up conversations with strangers. But that’s not the case. First of all, the people with whom you’ll have the greatest impact are the people you already know, not strangers. Secondly, introverts might actually be uniquely suited for it. “Actually, introverts are really good at witnessing because often they’re very good listeners. If they can learn how to ask questions and genuinely care for people, that is the beginning,” Becky says.
The number one reason people give Becky for not wanting to share their faith is inadequacy. Either because they’re not good conversationalists, because they’re not well-versed in theology, or because they’re aware of their own sin, everyone notices their shortcomings.
“Well, of course you’re inadequate,” Becky says. “I’m inadequate. We’re all inadequate, but who dwells within us? The greatest evangelist there ever was, Jesus Christ, and He helps us through the Spirit.”
We often feel like we’re not good enough in one way or another to be an evangelist, but the Bible is full of stories of God using people who were inadequate. He uses the weak and the flawed to fulfill His purposes.
Making evangelism personal
In her books, Becky stresses the importance of evangelism being personal, rather than a pre-scripted presentation. God made each person differently, with different interests, passions, beliefs, and backgrounds, so it’s important to share the Gospel in a way that’s consistent with both our own character and with that of the person with whom we’re sharing.
In Out of the Saltshaker, Becky shares about the time she spent in Spain when she was a college student. She had only been a Christian for three years, but she formed friendships with a few fellow students from the U.K who were not Christian. In the course of her friendship, Becky talked about her faith often. A mentor, Ruth, then encouraged her to start a Bible study and invite all of them. Becky didn’t think anyone would want to come to a Bible study, but she begrudgingly invited them. “To my absolute horror, I invited them and they all said yes,” Becky says.
She had never led a Bible study before, let alone one with non-Christians. But in obedience she planned a study of Luke and wrote out some discussion questions. When it came time for the Bible study, Becky hoped that Martin wouldn’t show up. Though they were friends, she describes Martin as having been “the most hostile non-Christian I’d ever met.”
But on the day of the Bible study, everyone came, including Martin. They all studied Luke together and everyone asked great questions. Becky relied on the Lord to move people and was surprised that they seemed as interested in Jesus as she had been before she came to faith. Then Ruth challenged Becky to pick the person who she thinks is most open to accepting Jesus, getting coffee with that person, and giving them an opportunity to accept Christ.
Again, Becky thought she was too young and inexperienced to lead someone to Christ, but she obeyed. Well, sort of. Instead of inviting the person who was most likely to come to Christ, she picked the least: Martin. When they got together for coffee, Becky expressed her hope that someday Martin would have a relationship with Jesus.
“Every time I’m alone, my thoughts keep turning to God, and for an atheist, that can be rather unsettling,” Martin said.
Becky didn’t take the hint. She again said that she hopes someday, years from now, he comes to accept Christ.
“Becky, you don’t understand,” Martin said. He pounded the table as he spoke. “I want to become a Christian now.”
But again Becky resisted. She said they couldn’t do that because she didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t remember what Ruth had said. But Martin was determined, so he recommended that they just take turns praying together. And in the end, he accepted Christ.
To say that Becky’s evangelism was unpolished and that she was inadequate as an evangelist would be an understatement. If anything, she was trying not to bring Martin to the point of a decision. But God was still working through her and was still working in Martin’s heart.
“God can use you just the way you are, even the most unlikely,” Becky says.
You don’t have to be a skilled evangelist to make an impact. After all, you can’t change anyone’s heart, anyway. Only God can do that. What you can do is take a step of faith to share in the power of the Holy Spirit and trust God for the results.
“Quit focusing so much on yourself. How am I coming across? What do they think? Am I doing it right,” Becky says. “Over the years I’ve realized that it is God. He’s the great evangelist and He’s going to use us in our weakness. There isn’t a perfect way to be a witness. There is no magic formula.”