I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about how or when to talk to my friends about Jesus, my faith, or spiritual things. It’s an important part of my life – how do I bring it up in a way that makes sense? Take a moment to think back on all the interactions you’ve had with people this last month. How often have you gone there in a conversation?
If we want to have the right kind of approach to talking about Jesus, we have to come at it from two different angles.
First (and I decided to give the tough angle first), it really is up to you to talk about it.
No, it’s not up to your spiritual power or cleverness; God’s Holy Spirit will take care of that. But one of the crazy things about God’s plan for the world is that he has chosen to use unreliable, timid, weak people like us to share His good news.
If you have a relationship with a someone who doesn’t personally know Jesus, you have to acknowledge the fact that God can use you to introduce that person to Him. I’m not guaranteeing anything. We’re not always in the right position to make that kind of connection. But think about it from the other side. If not you – who else? One of the deeply flawed assumptions of the Christendom era was that we assumed that our culture was thoroughly Christian and Christian-izing. Any non-believers would clearly hear the message of the gospel from culture – or at least from some other Christian with whom they had a closer relationship. We became a church of bystanders! Now – as Christian influences in culture disappear (and how influential were they, really?) – we can see more clearly how our friendships are the places where we can connect others to Jesus.
Second, it’s not that big of a deal.
The priest/lay person split – another great tragedy of Christendom – happened when we took a good idea (different people have different gifts and callings) and turned it into the widespread assumption that talking with others about God is a serious task for serious Christians only (professional, extra saintly, people who only rarely sin, people with a great conversion story, etc.).
This is nonsense, but it provides us with an easy cop out. When we build sharing our faith into some big, scary undertaking, we give ourselves an excuse to kick the can down the road. I’ll share the gospel with that person, but not today – I’m not ready/holy/trained enough yet. Sometimes our traditional understanding of church and specialized ministries completely zaps our concept of what sharing our faith even looks like. Instead of envisioning ourselves sharing the gospel story, we think that we can just invite the person to read a book, attend a worship service, or participate in an evangelism event so that some other person – some super-evangelist author/preacher/speaker – can do the real heavy lifting.
So, how can we stop making such an insurmountable task out of telling people the good news of Jesus? What does real life sharing look like? One of the great reflection questions from Forge (and probably other sources) is to ask: “What is good news to this person?” Based on what you know about the person on the other side of the conversation (we are listening, right?), what new aspect of God’s story would be good for them to learn or experience as a gift from you?
I’ve been hearing some new terminology for mission lately: our job is to “alert” people to the salvation and reign of Jesus. I like how this depicts the balance between our agency and that of the Spirit in evangelism. We share the news; God brings the saving faith. Also, “alert” doesn’t mean “explain at great length, without distorting any details.”
Here’s an example that should be pretty familiar: your friend has a baby, you bake a casserole and bring it to them so they can have a night off from cooking. In a traditional church community setting, this was pretty much business as usual. This act of kindness could happen in any community, really. Making this an opportunity to share is as simple as connecting your act of kindness with God’s story. Maybe you talk about your own thankfulness for family. Maybe you prepare a dish that has some connection to your faith story. Maybe you cut to the chase and say you felt called to be a blessing that day.
As people who have received the message of Christ, we have something that other people don’t – we are connected to the true meaning of everything. That doesn’t mean we’ve mastered that meaning, but we really do have something to offer people. I really like the metaphor of salt and light in Matthew 5:
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
And salt again in Colossians 4:
Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.
Salt isn’t the main ingredient in a dish. Likewise, light is most useful when it’s illuminating something. Everyday life is the medium where the good news about God’s love for us in Jesus makes sense. Going this direction in a conversation takes creativity, real listening, and most of all – a relationship with God in the first place! That’s the real question that I keep asking myself: am I experiencing the relationship with God that I am hoping to offer to others?
Some final thoughts:
Leslie and I realize that by sharing these posts on Facebook, there’s a chance that some of our readers won’t identify as “Christians” or “religious.” We’ve all met Christians who were so focused on “converting” people that they never really bothered to get to know or love those to whom God sent them. That’s not how Jesus treated people, and that’s not how we want to live either. We want to live like Jesus did. Check out this post from November if you want to read more on this very important challenge.
Thanks for reading! And mega-thanks to Leslie for editing this so that it 1) made sense and 2) is readable.