Sharing the story like me.
Sharing the story like me.
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 that they can help that person 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.
During exiles we looked at promises and criticisms we practice because of our faith. It' like the mood music in the background for anyone who encounters us. Our attitude and our character matter. We thought about prayer, We gave Paul's prayer request as a model. Open 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.
Two weeks ago 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, later 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 Aberdeenshire woman, ‘hold your nerve’ when you get into conversations about Jesus. 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!)?
Passing on the
come follow me
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 thought in the brain, it's less likely to melt back into the subconscious. Naming faith changes its function in us and facilitates actions that are in keeping with faith. 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 you stand.
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 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.
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, or at a cash point in Tesco. 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.
So where do YOU start. It's unlikely to be where others are but 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 if they are open to talking about faith. You might still be at the stage of building connections and deepening relationships with new people.
Name your next small step. Start small and keep it simple. Big and complicated won't serve you or the hearer well. Be sure to tell someone 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 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 picking up the conversation.
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 risks.
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 to 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, 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 had a christian faith what would your life 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 are 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). Keep giving opportunity for response from those who are open, either to ongoing conversation with you and or an invitation to follow. Ask your Reunion community for help, ideas and suggestions for what might work.
No afterthought this week. In its place we'd like you to look at examples from your own practice of evangelism. They don't need to be measured as success' or failures, rather they are examples of you attempting to connect with people around the subject of Jesus or exploring faith.
We will give a framework below so you can step outside those moments, observe and ask yourself some questions, you don't have to use all the questions in the afterthought alternative
The afterthought alternative.
Identify a few occasions you've engaged someone/people in a conversation about Jesus or faith and use them to answer the following.
What do you observed about yourself (habits, avoidances, faith, regrets, funny moments, feelings etc) from your own evangelism.
Did it happen in away that felt safe, significant and on their turf? How you would approach or do things differently if at all.
What triggered this moment, how did you create opportunities for them to explore more?
With Hindsight, is there anything you've learned in Reunion that you'd bring to this past moment of evangelism?
What would you ask the others in your Reunion to speak into in you or in your evangelism based on what they know about you and what you will share at this next meet up?
At your Reunion meet up on zoom please break into groups of three using the breakout rooms. You are now going to coach each other.
We have compiled some resources for evangelism. The web is awash with resources so these are only for getting you started.