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How to Share Your Faith Without Being Weird

March 18, 2015 2 comments

When I, by God’s grace, first became a Christian at age 17 my life had been so radically changed by Jesus that I wanted to tell everyone about him.  I had met the living God and wanted everyone else to meet him to.

The problem was that I didn’t know how to share my faith. I felt unqualified and uninformed.  Did I know enough? Could I explain my conversion clearly? Overwhelmed by the task and lacking someone to show me the ropes, I awkwardly tried to convince all my friends to believe the gospel but failed miserably.

Image via forbes.com

Image via forbes.com

Away With Evangelism Propaganda

When I got to college I joined a campus ministry and was instructed to use a series of gospel illustrations such as “The Bridge,” “Seven Spiritual Laws” and other pre-packaged propaganda.  I was then told that evangelism meant approaching total strangers and asking them if I could talk with them about eternity.

I tried this for about four months.  It was the worst experience I’ve ever had! In a relatively short period of time I became the “weird Christian guy.” This approach only pushed the people I was “witnessing” to further away from the Lord. It was awful and unhelpful.

All-Natural Evangelism

I quickly said good-bye to that ministry and its evangelism techniques after seeing that they made my faith feel plastic and negatively effected non-believers. During that season, I invested hours studying the Word and reading books about effective evangelism.

Everything I read convinced me that the Lord’s primary evangelism method was discipleship. He focused on teaching people to believe in and follow him through intentional relationships over time.  As I put this method to use I quickly realized that people aren’t opposed to the Christian faith, just to Christian propaganda. 

The Power of an Honest Answer

Colossians 4:5-6 is a great example of this. It reads, “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, making the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person.” Paul is essentially saying that the easiest way to introduce people to Jesus is to live differently and to answer honestly.

The contrast between the lifestyle of an authentic Christ-follower and someone who doesn’t know the Lord is generally drastic enough that it catches the attention of the watching world. When people see that authentic Christ-followers are different they naturally want to know why. An honest answer, as Paul says, is like salt.  It causes people to thirst for God. 

Ongoing Dialogue or One-Time Decision?

Instead of searching for the next evangelism fad, stick to a simple Christ-like approach. Live with such gospel intentionality that the unbelievers in your life take notice of your character, speech, conduct, attitude and worldview. When people begin to comment or question your lifestyle, honestly tell them that the difference is Jesus.

Focus on an ongoing dialogue rather than a one-time decision. As this happens with increased frequency you’ll be begin to see the Lord do work in people’s lives.  They’ll see Jesus in your life, hear Jesus in your words and experience Jesus through your friendship. This is what it means to share your faith.

Why a Mentor is More Helpful than You Think

When Jesus called his first disciples he began his invitation with two words, “follow me.” (Matthew 4:19) Years later, when the Apostle Paul wanted to move his readers further along their discipleship journey he would say, “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) Stated another way, Paul is telling his readers to follow his example as he follows Christ’s example.

You would expect such a strong statement from Jesus.  After all, he was the Son of God. But from Paul this, at first glance, sounds very arrogant.  Who is Paul that we should follow him? He’s not Jesus!

When we consider Paul’s words further, however, we see that he’s not being prideful, he’s being practical. You see, non-believers and new believers can’t follow the Lord’s example, because he’s not here to follow.  At least not in a physical sense.

Paul on the other hand is a physical, flesh-and-blood human being.  His readers had seen him, heard him and could even touch and experience his physical presence.  He was tangible to them, while Jesus was not. Paul rightly understood that people learn best from example, the things they can observe and experience first hand.

Image via quotesvalley.com

Image via quotesvalley.com

A Frame of Reference

In the summer of 2013, my father-in-law helped me build a wooden front porch to update our house. When I mentioned that we were thinking about such a project he proceeded to explain to me what type of wood, tools and equipment I needed.  He even described the process to me in detail, but I didn’t get it.

I attempted to purchase some of the items that we needed, but all of the options looked the same. I tried to imagine the framework he had described, but I got confused.  It wasn’t that he did a poor job of describing the materials and process to me, it was that I had no frame of reference for what he was talking about because I had no prior experience. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and ready to hire a professional.

Before I could, however, my father-in-law offered his help.  He went with my wife and I to purchase the supplies and showed us the difference between the options.  He then demonstrated how to build the framework and had me do exactly as he did, explaining what he was doing (or having me do) and why every step of the way.

I now know how to build a front porch.  Had I tried to do it just based on what my father-in-law described, however, it probably wouldn’t have gone so well.  It was my father-in-law’s example that helped me understand and experience the work for myself. He didn’t just tell me what to do, he showed me.

A Pattern for Life

The same is true of discipleship. People hear about Jesus through our words, but they experience Jesus through our actions. It is our example to people that brings Jesus to life for people. This is why life-on-life relationships are critical to spiritual maturity, because people have a real life example to pattern their lives after.

Books, seminars and conferences are great supplements to discipleship, but they are terrible replacements. If we want to see real results in our discipleship efforts, we must be willing to get out front and lead by example. We must understand that even the best explanations cannot replace hands on experience.

Discipleship for the Rest of Us

November 3, 2014 3 comments

When it comes to discipleship, most people I know seem to picture either a membership class or a new convert discussing basic doctrine with a pastor while sipping hot beverages at a local coffee shop. Discipleship is viewed more as an activity than a way of life. In many cases, we commonly assume that discipleship is something that we can graduate from.  We consider it a season we go through when we should consider it a lifestyle.

The result is that we have a lot of Christians who aren’t going anywhere or doing anything.  Many of our churches are filled with people who have been believers for decades, but who also haven’t grown much spiritually in the same amount of time. Sure, we can show up, pay our tithe and recite some basic creeds, but as a whole we’re neither progressing in our faith nor doing much to help others move along in theirs. The pastor is expected to do the heavy lifting, while the members are just along for the ride.

Discipleship is for Everyone

It’s time that we get rid of the silly notion that discipleship is best left to the experts. The Lord’s first disciples were not religious teachers with Bible degrees and seminary certificates, they were fisherman, tax collectors, misfits and trouble-makers.  They were ordinary people, like you and I.  If God can use these uneducated, ordinary people (Acts 4:13) to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6), then why can’t he do the same with us?  He can!

Discipleship doesn’t have to be complicated.  In fact, it’s more effective when it’s simple.  It doesn’t require fancy programs, a formal seminary education or even a five step process.  All it takes is a willingness to follow Jesus in the community of God’s people.

When it comes down to it, discipleship is simply learning to believe in and follow Jesus through intentional relationships over time. This can happen in several ways: one-to-one conversations, small group discussions, in a casual way through your hobbies, in a formal way through meals together and training programs and even as you’re on the go. In other words, discipleship is simply leveraging every human connection to move people closer to Jesus before, during and after their conversion, one interaction at a time.

Image via borizs.com

Image via borizs.com

I like what Rick Warren (Pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California) says about this.  Pastor Rick’s church has grown to tens of thousands based on one simple discipleship concept.  He tells his people to find what they enjoy doing, then to do it with non-believers.

The idea is that as Christ-followers enjoy time with non-believers their faith and lifestyle will “rub off” on the non-Christians they interact with.  This then provides opportunities to talk with them about Jesus, invite them into our lives and bring them into the community of believers.  Before long, non-believers are hearing about Jesus, experiencing Jesus and participating in small groups and services that teach them to believe in and submit to Jesus. It’s really that simple.

Becoming Like Jesus With Others

Ultimately, discipleship is learning to pattern your life after Jesus. He stepped out of heaven and spent his time making the Father accessible to humanity by doing life with those who were far from God. He then sacrificed himself on a cross so that we could personally know and live for God through him. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) If we want to make a difference it’s as simple as making Jesus accessible to others by doing life with them. This can be done in everything from formal small group Bible discussions to casual conversations while watching Monday Night football.

This is how Jesus made God known to us.  This is how we can make Jesus known to others. We don’t have to leave discipleship to the experts.  We can each have a tremendous impact if we’ll simply learn to repurpose our daily activities for the glory of God.

Church Building or Disciple Making

October 27, 2014 9 comments

In Matthew 16:18 the disciple Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ.  With this one phrase he proclaims that Jesus was God’s anointed messenger who had come to usher in the kingdom of heaven and to save God’s people from their sins. The Lord responds by declaring he will build his church on the truth of Peter’s confession.

Later, in Matthew 28:19 Jesus appears to his disciples to give them what is now known as the Great Commission. At this point he has been crucified for the sins of the world, buried and resurrected.  His earthly ministry is complete, but he reminds his followers that theirs has just begin.  Then, just before ascending into the heavens, the Lord commands his band of misfit believers to “go and make disciples.”

Image via chrisarmfield.com

Image via chrisarmfield.com

Do Your Job, Not His

Pair these two verses together and you have a powerful one, two combo.  Jesus will build his church, so we must make disciples. The order is crucial. He builds, we disciple.  Sadly, in an age consumed by prominence, fame, an over-emphasize on size and a grow-at-all costs approach to ministry, many Christian leaders are tempted to try and do the Lord’s job for him.

Leaders, myself included, want so badly to see God glorify his name by bringing dozens, hundreds and thousands of people to saving faith in Jesus Christ through our ministries. We know the joy of salvation and we are desperate to share this gift with anyone who will receive it.  This is a good thing, but we must always remember that it is not our job to build the church.  That responsibility belongs to Jesus and to Jesus alone.

The temptation to abandon discipleship in order to pursue the latest church growth strategies is high.  The allure of big events, fancy marketing and high class productions is strong. These aren’t bad things, but they must never replace discipleship. Pastors and ministry leaders must also remember that healthy things grow, but growing things are not always healthy. Cancer grows fast, but it will kill you.  On the other hand, it takes a child upwards of 16 years to reach adulthood.

Be Faithful

Many of todays ministry leaders, myself included, would do well to repent of our hyper-addiction to church growth and return with an unbending focus to the disciple-making mandate the Lord has given us as his followers. Discipleship isn’t sexy, it won’t make you famous and it might take more than a decade to see Jesus build his church larger than a handful, but it’s the only way to ensure that healthy, obedient Christ followers are being raised up.

It’s the Lord’s job to build his church and ours to make disciples.  Let’s let him do his job so we can get back to ours. Let’s refocus our attention on intentional relationships that help people meet Jesus and grow to maturity as his disciples. The Lord will be faithful to do the building.  We must be faithful to do the discipling.

Baseball Evangelism: A Better Way to Witness

August 12, 2014 5 comments

Baseball was one of my favorite sports when I was a kid.  I enjoyed hearing the crack of a bat, the smack of a hard line drive into a fielders glove and the heckling from the dugouts.  The game was a lot of fun. Like most young ball players, I liked batting more than anything.

I often imagined myself hitting grand slams, home runs and triples and I swung for the fences every time.  On the rare occasion that I made good contact with the ball, I could send it a decent distance into the outfield.  The problem was I struck out almost every at bat.

Swing for the Fences

I was so concerned with knocking the cover off the ball that I would take my eye off the pitch and come up empty.  I’m pretty sure I had more strikeouts than base hits.  My coaches would always tell me to get on base instead of trying to knock one out of the park, but I wouldn’t listen and my batting average suffered tremendously for it.

Changing our Approach

This approach doesn’t work in life any more than it does in baseball, but sadly this is how many of us have been taught to evangelize the world around us.  We were told to memorize gospel illustrations, to pack Bible tracks as thick as a deck of cards and to seal the deal with the “sinner’s prayer” at the end of every conversation.

As a result, this generation has grown accustomed to striking out at best or ruining witnessing opportunities altogether at worst.  The world around us has grown deaf to the door-to-door salesman version of evangelism and simply gives the cold shoulder when they smell a “Bible thumper” coming. I’m convinced that there’s a better way.

In baseball, the most successful batters are not those who swing for the fences.  They’re those who know how to get on base and move the runner along.  The ones who can make consistent contact with the ball, sending it to where the fielders are not.  The best batters are the ones who know when to sacrifice a home run swing for a bunt or a fly out to advance the runner.

Move the Runner Along

The same should be true for evangelism.  We don’t need to swing for the fences every time we get into a conversation with a non-believer. God will provide the “come to Jesus” moment when the time is right.  We don’t need to force it.  Instead, we can learn from the best athletes in baseball and learn to wait for our pitch and sacrifice fly instead of trying to drive every point home.

We’ll take the pressure off ourselves and be more effective in our evangelism efforts if we’ll focus on getting on base and moving the runner along.  Should we talk about Jesus? Yes! Is it important to win people to the faith? Absolutely! I’m convinced, however, that we’ll see more success if we focus on an ongoing spiritual dialogue and discipleship process instead of trying to get a decision right now.

Give yourself to the process.  Talk about Jesus as much as its relevant, but don’t get caught up in making someone convert.  Let the Lord work in their lives through relationship and watch what the Spirit does as God uses you to move them along their faith journey one conversation at a time.

Image via brooksbell.com

Starting Spiritual Conversations Part 2

In a previous post, I wrote about the internal preparation that is helpful for starting spiritual conversations, particularly with strangers.  In this post, we’ll tackle the external, practical side.

When I first became a Christian I couldn’t get over how much of Jesus’ life, ministry and teaching emphasized advancing the kingdom, proclaiming the gospel, reaching the lost and making disciples.  Nearly every chapter in the gospels involved Jesus’ and his disciples interacting with those who were far from God.

God began to give me an anguish for the lost and unsaved.  I desperately wanted people to believe in and follow Jesus. The problem was, I couldn’t even figure out how to start spiritual conversations with my closest friends, let alone people I didn’t know.

converse 2

In my experience, many people feel the same way. Through trial and error, reading, observation and some coaching from people who have gone before me, God has used the following big ideas to help me start spiritual conversations with people.

1. Initiating the conversation is half the battle.  This is one of the most difficult parts of witnessing, especially to people you don’t know. It can be super awkward. The truth is, the other person is just as concerned about it as you are.  Don’t worry about whether or not you’ll say something stupid.  If you do, the other person will be thankful it wasn’t them and will appreciate your initiative.

2. Comment on what you’ve already observed or know. One of the biggest obstacles to starting conversation is not knowing what to talk about.  Make it easy on yourself by talking about the things you’ve already seen or heard.  Tell them you like their shirt or purse or ask them about something you saw them do or heard them say.  This gives you opportunity to move the conversation along.

3. Identify shared interests and experiences. People naturally talk about their own interests and passions.  While you’re stating the obvious, they’ll usually respond with something personal.  It will be subtle, but once you crack the hard outer exterior they’ll tell you all kinds of information like where they’re from and what they like to do.   This will give you the opportunity to find common ground so that you can talk about things you’re both naturally interested in.

4. Play “tennis.” In a good tennis match, both players hit the ball back and forth over the net.  The same is true for good conversation.  Don’t monopolize the conversation by talking all the time.  Pay attention to what people are actually saying and ask a few good questions.  Comment briefly on what you’ve just heard, then ask a question about what the person just said to keep them engaged and talking.  This gives them more to talk about and often results in them asking questions in return.

5. Ask questions that if asked back to you would provide the opportunity to honestly mention Jesus. This is, in my opinion, the best natural way to get into a spiritual conversation.  People tend to ask the same questions of you that you have asked of them. Choose the questions that would provide you the opportunity to talk about spiritual things.

For example, when I meet people later in the week I like to ask them what their plans are for the weekend.  When they ask me, I tell them what I’m doing and am sure to mention that I’ll be attending church with my family.  That then allows me the opportunity to ask them if they go to church, which leads straight into a spiritual conversation. You can even make it easier on yourself by memorizing a brief starter response so that you don’t have to think about it.

6. Press the issue. Pay attention to what other people say and do.  If they get squeamish tell them that they appear to be put off and ask them if they’ve had a bad experience.  If they seem extraordinarily interested, tell them that you can see their excitement and ask them if they’ve ever heard the gospel or attended church.  When they say no, ask them if they’d like to hear it or attend with you and watch what the Holy Spirit does.

7. Put on your Nike’s. I love Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan. It’s so practical. I’ve had hundreds of conversations with people that I don’t know and I still get nervous every time.  More often than not, the thing that gets me going is this simple phrase. Just do it, what do you have to lose?

8. Strive for ongoing dialogue. One of the reasons we often whiff on spiritual conversations is because we set the bar too high.  We unrealistically expect that the person we’re talking to is going to be venerated as a saint by the end of our conversation. When we have unrealistic expectations we walk away unbelievably disappointed.

Instead, think of your conversation more like a game of baseball.  Don’t go for the grand slam “bring them to Jesus moment” during your first conversation.  Start by getting on base and moving the runner along.  This means you’ll have to live to see another conversation, so plan to return to the same establishment, social club or group of friends frequently and try to start the conversation where you left off.  Remember, Jesus told us to make disciples, not to seek decisions.

Image courtesy of brainlinemilitary.org.

Starting Spiritual Conversations Part 1

A few weeks back a group of leaders from our church and I were attending a conference with other churches in our worldwide

Image via dominant worldwide.com.

Image via dominant worldwide.com.

family, Newfrontiers.  In between sessions I made it a point to talk with people that I didn’t know.  I wanted to expand my horizons, meet new people, learn from guys wiser than myself and, Lord willing, maybe even inspire greater faith in others.

This is a recent trend for me.  In the past, I would have relegated myself to the group of people I came with and only spoken with the people that I know.  Now, I can’t help but talk with the people around me.  On the way back from the conference, one of the guys riding with us asked how I learned to strike up in-depth spiritual conversations with people I don’t know, even non-Christians.

After thinking about it for a few brief moments, God reminded me that there are two sides to the equation: a spiritual side and a practical side.  The practical side is important (and we’ll get to it), but it’s the spiritual side that we must get first because we will never do the practical if we’re not prepared in the spiritual.  Here are a few things God has used to spiritually prepare me for gospel conversations with people I don’t know.

1. Know the love of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:14 the church leader Paul says that it is the love of Christ that compels us.  A compulsion is an irresistible urge to act on a thought, feeling or idea.  To say that the love of Christ compels us is to say that the Holy Spirit has given us an irresistible urge to live for Jesus and share his good news.   In other words, when we truly understand the love God has for us in Christ it produces an overwhelming desire to invite others to know his love to.

2. Know who you are in Christ. Insecurity is one of the biggest obstacles to initiating conversations with people we don’t know.  When we believe the lie that our significance and worth are dependent on our ability to impress people, we stray away from talking with them because we feel as though we need their approval and acceptance. It’s only after we’ve been convinced that Jesus has secured everything we need from God that we can be free to engage others without fear of how they will respond.

3. Understand the authority you have from Christ. Jesus Christ rules and reigns over all things with complete authority and power.  He has given this authority to his disciples for the purpose of making disciples and advancing the Kingdom.  We can overcome the subtle accusation that we have no right to talk with others about Jesus through the simple truth that we do have the right to talk with others about our Lord because he gave us that right. (Matthew 28:18-20)

4. Anticipate the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our power to witness about Jesus.  When we expect him to show up, he multiplies our faith and does big things. Instead of thinking “I might screw it up,” try thinking “the Holy Spirit might show up.”  This will change your entire approach (demeanor, attitude, tone, etc) and you’ll be amazed at how exciting conversations with strangers can be.

If we’re honest, it’s the spiritual side of things that gives us more trouble than the practical.  Put these big ideas into practice and watch the Lord prepare your heart for more significant conversations to come.

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