So often, Christians do the hard relational work of walking with a non-Christian for weeks, months, or even years and then miss out on that moment of helping that person move from conversations with you about God into a tangible relationship with God. Perhaps they outsourced that part of their witnessing to the trained professionals, thats a lot less scary. Perhaps they feel ill prepared as to how you'd actually go about helping someone to make a faith decision.
I do believe that it is possible for every Christian to share their own story of Jesus with other people AND be the one who helps them take their first steps into Christian faith. The other path we sometimes take is thinking that somehow or in some way the person will eventually get it. You know the misquote, "preach the gospel at all times and where necessary use words", I fear it is used too often as a cover for not saying anything. It might be more helpful to acknowledge that perhaps it's the fear of the unknown that stops us in our tracks. We don’t know if they will be annoyed or offended. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves if we veer into unknown territory and get stuck for words.
At some point it requires us to not only be reactive in sharing our story about Jesus if someone asks, but also to be proactive, where we take the lead and start the conversation. None of this happen in a vacuum. We’ve already covered some of the things that are important.
Our attitude and our character matter. We have already thought about prayer, We gave Paul's prayer request as a model to try. Open door/opportunities, open hearts and an open mouth. Regardless of whatever prayer model you use, its both fuel to us and places the impact and effectiveness not in our strategy or polished words but on this actually being God's work.
in the last few weeks we talked about Jesus and how he used story. Last week we spoke about Paul and how he explained the story. This week we are thinking about you sharing your story. I’m not one for scripts but some people are. In a few weeks you’ll have the option to look at some if you’d find that helpful. I want to do some big brush strokes of elements that will help create a generous space for a friend, a neighbour, a colleague or a complete stranger make their own faith commitment. You might be disappointed that I won’t be telling you what to say. Honestly, I know this is scary for many, St Pauls says of himself that he entered moments of talking to others about Jesus with ‘fear and trembling’, scary is normal. But in the words of a wise Envoy Aberdeenshire woman, ‘hold your nerve when you get into conversations about Jesus and go the distance'.
Going the distance includes offering, not just once, but probably a few times the opportunity to respond to the conversation. Should it be in the moment, a week or a month's time, giving people the opportunity to make a decision to follow Jesus, to own faith for themselves or whatever language and phrasing you'd use for these moments of shift and transition. If they said Yes, would you know what to do (other than get the professionals in!)?
Giving opportunity to respond.
It can be terrifying, no matter what the response is! When we invite response, we are putting everything on the table; we are opening the door (or closing the door) to a new normal in the relationship. There is a weight to this space when it is about Jesus. It's a turning point. It's a risk! There are many potential responses. Yes or No are the obvious ones but more likely it will be a series of I’m not sure or a question back to you. Apathy or avoidance are the worst just in case you feared no! It's all part of a person’s journey and a massive learning curve for them, so give them time. Don't think of yourself as doing evangelism, it's much more like coaching. A coach will challenge, stretch, question, wait, try again and try a different approach and all within the capacity and ability of the relationship to hold the conversation. Giving a person a chance to respond to Christs invitation to 'come follow me' is not forcing someones hand, not coercive and not an attack. It's helping them take steps and take risks and opens up the next chapter of their life.
Why do we do it?
Here are some reasons that giving opportunity for a person to take their next step is helpful.
You might feel like this is out of your comfort zone but imagine how they feel, especially if they have little concept of what following Jesus means and limited ‘spiritual’ language to communicate that. If ever there was a moment in their life when they needed to be coached, this is it!
It keeps it as a two way, equally owned conversation rather than a presentation, a sales pitch or a repeat after me. It keeps you at their speed and not yours. It respects and honours them.
Being given the opportunity to let your yes be yes and no be no as the bible describes decision making is basic good mental health. It helps clear the floor both of your mind and theirs of unfinished or unspoken conversations. It helps your conversation clear verbal clutter and keeps you on point.
It's the practice of Jesus, the early disciples and much of church history to invite response to following Jesus. Jesus does it to his own disciples as well as the crowd.
Moments of decision that are marked verbally or in an action actually changes the composition of the thoughts embedded in the decision within the brain. A new though about anything that has no expression or action attached very literally, evaporates. Naming faith and stepping into faith changes its function in us and facilitates actions that are in keeping with faith - we call it discipleship. It's now a solid memory to return to.
A response to follow Jesus happens many times and not just once. We have many moments where we are faced with deciding again to follow Him. When was the last time you were faced with having to follow?
You and they know where everyone stands. It brings clarity so you stay at the conversation level that is needed or enter another chapter on the journey, or it ends. its a kind of pruning process.
You are not their personal Jesus. If they are getting their spiritual fix from you then its misplaced - technically its idolatry. The bible says the population at large would call a Christian a little Jesus. A mini version of the original. Do you really want your own personal 'mini me' hanging on your every word and copying your every action!?
An invitation to respond is an invitation to one step ahead. At some point this will be the question are you ready to, or do you want to follow Jesus? However the invitation to respond might be, 'would you like to continue this conversation- when suits?'. Response and invitation is momentum and less likely to get you both stuck in a rut of either debate or, you being the pastoral spiritual go to guru.
An invitation to go further, regardless of the answer being yes or no is theirs. This means ownership is theirs and responsibility is theirs.
All of this requires one attribute from you more than any other. Courage. You already know enough to begin to speak to people about Jesus. Yes, there is always more but when it comes to it, you know enough. It requires risk, stepping out of your comfort zone into someone else's. It means having to live with the word ‘no’ and the sensations that word generates in you. It may mean grappling with the visuals in your head of rejection or wanting people to like you. Even if you do all this it still comes back to taking risks, getting it wrong and learning from it. No one can do this for you but we can be your support or listen after you have taken your risk.
Some of you are thinking, I know what I want to say but I just don’t know how to start the conversation. I always encourage people to be honest. Why not tell that friend that you’ve wanted to share something important with them but you don't know how to start the conversation. After their blind panic when they discover you haven’t murdered someone, I think they will listen. The very act of an honest admission puts them in a position of strength and being comfortable on their ‘turf’ which we discussed a few weeks ago is exactly where the gospel story gets to be planted at its best.
Become a gossip (in a good way)! We've covered the role of story and asking good questions so when someone asks you what you did at the weekend don't tell them you went to church. Tell them you went to church and it was amazing because... the because is your chance to tell a story or tell them about impact because of what you heard or saw. And in all this don't expect much if you're not praying much about open doors/opportunities and open hearts/readiness.
Chose your words carefully!
There are words like gospel, sin or repentance that might make sense to you in church but hard to convey in a pub, the students union or at a cash point in the supermarket. Often when we see these words on social media they are devoid of relationship (which is their context in the bible) and now feel like an attack, we then avoid them and then they increasingly become the language of offence and extremism. It is worth doing some research around these words so you can translate them into the language of the people you spend your day in day out life among. Here are a set of short videos that cover some of those awkward words. It starts with the word sin. Try and get those big concepts down into simple language that you can sum up in a single sentence. If you get into a conversation you can easily build up from your baseline sentence or cheat and say, 'lets watch this video, it explains what I mean'.
So where do YOU start. It's unlikely to be where the others in Envoy are but it is every bit as important. It could be researching words. If it is, don’t stay there. That could easily become avoidance. It could be prayer and looking for opportunity/testing the water to see who is open. Maybe review the names of the people your Envoy community are praying for, remember people of peace are open to you AND to your faith/exploring faith. If they don't carry both attributes it doesn't mean ignoring them, rather, you continue to witness but look for people who are open. If you don't know whether they are open to your faith or not, it might mean you don't really know each other and you need to invest in connecting. Have fun, hang out, be social. You are not failing God or evangelism by deepening relationship, you are increasing the likelihood of the conversation being relevant because the knowledge of each other is deeper. The natural outworking is you starting to discover each others inner life and its in this relational context you start the practice of invitation. Oh and of course pray, pray, pray.
Invitation might look like curiosity, who, what, how, why, realm questions. Evangelism often runs in a circular way rather than linear. You keep connecting again and again but on each loop it's a bit deeper. You return again and again to asking questions and listening. You tell stories, again and again, yours or others. It might happen on social media or in person but you return again and again. Each time you will observe an increase of depth or maybe length of engagement. You might use points of the Christian year, for example Easter or Christmas to invite a number of people to meet with you to talk more specifically about Jesus. Invitation is always around the next best step for you both, if its too low bar or too high bar it won't trigger progress, remember Jesus nudged - it really is what is the next best step. So as you think of your people or place what will that look like in the next week as well as the next month or three months. Maybe your stories have done their job of nudging and awakening the person and it's time to start explaining, like Paul did in Athens. He already knew their stories well enough to start from within their world/stories and work outwards rather than be outside their world trying to get in!
Remember also the chance encounters are not particularly relational and have minimal trust so you can afford to be bold and ask big! You can do your evangelism in that moment. If you think that they might become a connected person you switch to the journey motif and a discipleship process. All you've read in the last few minutes (with exception of the chance encounter comment) is really designed for your connected people. It is a process of discipleship, after all we are called to disciple nations and evangelism is a part of discipling - not its alternative. We haven't touched on chosen relationships which is a whole other approach we hope to deal with separately on another occasion.
ACTION PLAN. Name your next small steps (3 or 4 with each building on the last)? Start small and keep it simple. Big and complicated won't serve you or the hearer well. Be sure to tell someone, they could be doing Envoy or someone in your church as a kind of personal commitment and that will help make it more likely to happen.
If you are looking for a big moment or you presume (or fear) a big monologue - don't. If it's an existing relationships you start small and pray big, let God bring the opening.
Be proactive in returning from time to time to the faith conversation and check it for movement, change and life.
Ask open ended questions that leaves the ball in their court and the conversation ongoing in their mind.
Let's review and let's go!
Jesus told stories, lots of stories, every day everywhere to everyone. We covered that two weeks ago. Your starting point may be to get used to sharing your story, your experience of God and its impact on you. At least share the little bit that might be a fit for the conversation you are having. If you don't have a story use someone else's. If you are more of a street evangelist, build rapport, get to your point quickly and respect the privilege they have just given you. Keep your words open for response and I don’t necessarily mean responding to you, rather words that facilitate the person to respond within themselves to God even if that first response is to pray. Start seeding your words with your story. Go on, take the risk.
Jesus and Paul had less people and less moments where it shifted from telling stories to explaining the story. We looked at this last week. If you are at this point then chances are you are comfortable sharing your own faith story but the stretch would be to start explaining why Jesus is who he says he is (for you). If you are doing this then you may need to start including invitation towards a response. That response might be an invitation to find out more rather than to follow, at least not yet.
If you are feeling unsure about sharing in a story format, or you have stalled or stagnated then use a kickstart comment or question. For example, I'm curious what you think about..., If faith isn't for you then what is, what holds your world together/floats your boat? If you were a christian what do you think your life would look like? Tell me why this doesn't work for you? All of these open up the opportunity (after you have listened) to say, thats really interesting, can I share why/how/what/when/where.
I hope you can see where you in the above. You might have ‘how’ questions that you need to tease out either in your group or one to one with someone you view as further on in all this stuff. You need to ask for this help.
If after all this you still want to communicate God but get stuck striking up conversations then you may need (with another) to gather people to an activity or event that is about faith. Alpha or the like are good examples. If you do organise something for people on your street or at work, keep it between a day and 6 weeks (in today's world a commitment longer is usually seen as too much) and you should take the lead in it rather than directing them to someone else's Christianity Explored course. Keep giving opportunity for response from those who are open to an ongoing conversation with you and/or an invitation to follow. Ask your Envoy community for help, ideas and suggestions for what might work.
You might like to take time now to go back through this weeks notes to work out what is next for you in terms of sharing Jesus with the people you've been praying for or the context you find yourself in. How might a pre-decision today start to become your practice? Don’t worry, you don’t have to enact it this week, rather a commitment to a direction of travel and some markers for how that might become reality.