On sharing your faith

26 Apr

I’m going to take a break from dissecting my own conversations today because I realized I’ve been operating under an assumption that my readers might not hold. Being a vocal witness for Jesus is a requirement if you are a Christian.

I live in an inner city neighborhood. You can follow the 911 calls made from our zip code on twitter and it reads like an episode of Law and Order. Often I’ll meet Christian folks who say “What you’re doing is great, but it’s not for me.” I totally agree. I will argue the point however if the same Christians suggest they have no part in caring for the poor. This is non-negotiable. (See Isaiah 58, James 1-2 or any of Jesus’ miracles for more info)

In the same way, a lot of Christians like to offer the (probably not authentic) saying of Francis of Assisi as a sort of Get-out-of-evangelism-free card: “preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”

When I first hear this I remember thinking “Yeah!” but after reflection I’ve realized that our deeds are meaningless when divorced from context. If your neighbor does not know why you are caring for them so well, they will attribute it to you. Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world, we are the salt of the earth, we must go and make disciples of all nations. For the most part, the American church has settled for being really nice and inviting people to church.

Don’t get me wrong – invite people to church, it’s awesome. In fact, I think it is one of the easiest and least potentially offensive ways to start a spiritual conversation. Ask your friend/co-worker/step-aunt to church (or community group, or small group, etc.) and either way they respond you have something to go on.

If they say YES: done! Make plans sooner rather than later.

If they say NO, their response probably falls into one of two categories:

The deflection says “no, I’m busy.” (or any, “no, I have ___ going on” response) To this we can respond by pointing out that they won’t always be busy and it’s ok if they’re not interested, but if that’s the case let us know because otherwise we will invite them again in the future. Which can lead to…

The shut down says “no.” (Usually coupled with, “I’m not very religious.”) Here we have an opportunity to surprise them or simply be curious about their past. I often respond to the shut down by asking if folks grew up in a particular religious tradition and got over it or if they have never explored faith/spirituality. We have now added “spiritual things” to the list of acceptable conversation topics and additionally have made the foundation of that conversation curiosity not argumentation.

Contrast this approach of invitation/curiosity with the brashness of trying to argue with non-christians, or the passive transfer of an impersonal tract. I believe both of those have some role to play, but I also believe this is better. The key is not stopping after you “pop the question.” If you’ve already mustered up the courage to make an invitation, keep the momentum going no matter the response and press in!

At this point some readers may be tempted to respond “that’s great for you, you talk to strangers all the time and have a degree in apologetics!” Yes, but this was not always the case. One of my first experiences as an IV staff was to wander around the campus of Brevard Community College and invite people into spiritual conversation. I had never done this before, nor had any training. After 10 minutes or so of walking I went into the library and sat down, burning the next 20 that we had allotted. I was scared and didn’t know what I was doing, and I hid in the library. Having conversations about your faith is a learned skill that comes only with practice and patience. Your churches is a great place for people to hear the Good News, but please don’t put all your eggs in one basket by refusing to engage people on a one-to-one level.

After re-reading this I realized that I haven’t made the case that individual evangelism is called for by the nature of our faith. Here it is, briefly. If you are a Christian then you are an eyewitness to the activity of the risen Jesus. However, our call is not to be witnesses in the sense of having observed something, but witnesses who testify! If you are not testifying then you are just an observer. The harvest is plentiful, the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out workers into his harvest field. (Luke 10:2).


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