Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Witnessing’

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.

Advertisements

Discipleship in the Margins

September 29, 2014 3 comments

This past summer I had the privilege of directing an FCA leadership camp called EXCELeration Leadership Training Camp at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, MO.  The camp was geared toward coaches and their invited team leaders, but my focus as director was to get the right staff and volunteers involved.

A great camp is only possible when you have great people making it happen.  It was also evident, however, that my primary responsibility was not to develop the coaches and athletes that were attending the camp. It was to train, develop, equip and empower our staff and volunteers to do that.

With this in mind, I intentionally scheduled two half days of training for our camp staff and volunteers.  I poured every possible leadership principle into them that I could during that small window of opportunity.  I also created a few training checkpoints throughout camp so that I could further develop our camp leaders along the way.  We even ended camp with a one hour follow up so that our leaders would be better prepared for their next camp as well.

A Surprising Discovery

After camp was over, I asked my assistant director what he thought the best part was.  Without hesitation he said, “discipleship in the margins.” When asked to elaborate he explained that the scheduled training sessions were helpful because they gave him tools for his leadership tool box and put him in the right frame of mind for camp, but that it was the one-to-one time that he and I spent together in between scheduled activities that made the biggest difference.

Image via bestforbeginners.com

Image via bestforbeginners.com

His response caught me off guard. I thought for sure he would have said a segment from our pre or post-camp training.  Looking back on it, though, his answer makes sense.  When the assistant director and I were able to connect walking between activities, during a meal or on break we were able to discuss what we were learning as it was happening in real time.

I asked him questions.  He asked me questions.  I gave him leadership pointers and we were able to identify together what the Lord was doing in his life right then and there. It was personalized leadership development that was tailored to what he was experiencing as he was experiencing it. 

Intentional Relationships Not Just Scheduled Meetings

In John 3:22, the Scripture says that Jesus went to the Judean countryside and “remained their with” his disciples.  The Greek word used in the verse is “diatribo.” It literally means “to rub against” or to “rub off.” In other words, Jesus was doing discipleship in the margins.  This time wasn’t scheduled training, it was just Jesus “rubbing off” on the disciples by spending intentional time with them in between scheduled ministry activities.

In the same way, our most impactful discipleship will come not from scheduled meetings, but from intentional relationships.  Scheduled meetings are important (and we should utilize them), but they are only half the equation.  We must always work the truth of Jesus Christ into the lives of the people we’re discipling by being intentional in our relationships outside of those scheduled meetings.

You and I can exponentially increase our disciple-making effectiveness simply by being more intentional in our relationships.  This kind of discipleship is never convenient, but it’s always worth it.  It will happen with your children late at night when they should be in bed, but are instead struggling with theological questions.  It will happen when a co-worker shows spiritual curiosity while you’re trying to finish that email so you can get out of the office and go home.  It will happen after church when that person you’ve been ministering to finally asks to hear more about Jesus, intruding on your football watching.

This kind of discipleship cannot be planned, but it must be prioritized. Always be prepared to coach people up, to ask heart level questions and to point people to Jesus. If you’re willing to be intentional, it’s the time int he margins that will make the biggest difference.

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.

Community: Why People Often Belong Before They Believe

April 10, 2014 3 comments

Living Hope, the church I pastor, is filled with young, post-moderns who are genuinely interested in spiritual things, but are incredibly skeptical of the church.  The Christian message of a benevolent and compassionate God is attractive to them, but it seems to contradict their experience with the church.  How can a message that is really good news come from an institution that can be so hypocritical?

We have another crop of people who have been so disenfranchised by their church upbringing that their faith is stunted by resentment and fear.  They know with certainty that there’s more to the God of the Bible than the cheesy, isolationist Christianity they grew up with, but they can’t seem to find an authentic expression of the church described in the New Testament.  Where are the people who actually live what they believe?

Unexpected Grace

About two years ago, a few church members and I met an athlete from the local university at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting on campus.  This athlete was from another part of the country.  She grew up with a distorted view of God because her parents both practiced different religions.  Her childhood was less than stellar, her family dynamics were a mess and her only experience with Christianity came through polarized media exposure.

This young lady thought that Christians were nothing more than upper-class, conservative, homophobes who looked down on everyone and always voted republican. She had little interest in Christianity, but she was fascinated by Christ. To her, his people were a bunch of uptight Bible busybodies, but he was a mystery.

On a whim, she went with a group of friends to the FCA meeting I mentioned.  She was hesitant, not knowing what to expect and fearing criticism from these Christians.  To her surprise, everyone was fairly welcoming.  They greeted her, genuinely tried to get to know her and enthusiastically thanked her for coming.

Refreshed by the unexpected hospitality, she stayed after the meeting to ask a few questions.  I shared the gospel with her and she left intrigued but personally offended.  The message of God’s grace had both angered and astounded her, but the community had whole-heartedly embraced her.  She grew hungry for more.

belong

Belonging and Believing

A few weeks later she started asking about more opportunities to get to know the Lord. We invited her to Community Group and she loved it.

She was still offended by the message, but she was attracted to the community.  This was the first time she had been among a group of people she didn’t have to prove herself to in order to belong, even if she didn’t yet believe.  It was the first time she felt like she could be herself, confess her doubts and hesitations, share her past and be honest about her non-Christian worldview without being criticized or outcast. It was the first time someone “religious” said they could identify with her doubts, fears, hesitations and disagreements.

Over time, this gal found herself believing that Jesus is Lord and Savior. One day during discussion she confessed to the group that she became a Christian.  She wasn’t sure how, she didn’t know why and she couldn’t say when, but she knew without a doubt that she belonged to Jesus, his sacrifice meant her forgiveness and she was ready to live the rest of her life for God.

Jesus With Skin On

When asked about her journey, she often attributes her belief in Christ to the fact that she could first belong to Christian community without being forced to believe the Christian message. For her, the members of the group embodied the message they were teaching.

There wasn’t anything cheesy or isolated about these people.  They actually lived what they believed.  It was belonging to the community that changed her heart, not a change of heart that made it possible to belong.

She came to faith in Jesus, in part, because she could see Jesus reflected in the lives of the people she spent time with.  Their example made the truth of Jesus Christ come alive for her.  Why? because she got to experience Jesus first hand and not just hear about him from a distance. 

If we want our churches to be effective at reaching those far from God, we must make them places where those who don’t yet know him feel like they can belong.  This doesn’t mean you affirm all of their beliefs, but it does mean that you affirm their dignity as a person.  As they belong, they hear, see and experience the truth of Jesus Christ and often find themselves believing without even realizing it.  When believers and unbelievers do life together in authentic community the church grows just like it did in Acts. (Acts 2:42-47)

What effect has authentic Christian community had on the unbelievers in your circle of friends?  You can leave a comment below.

The Difference Makes the Difference

In our day, it’s common for many Christians to spend their time trying to blend into the fabric of society as if the goal of the Christian life were to hide like a chameleon in the shadows instead of shining Christ’s light in the darkness.  The courageous faith that got early Christians publicly humiliated, imprisoned and even killed has long been sleeping for fear of a little criticism.   The faith that fueled the addition of 3,000 converts in one sermon has, at times, grown silent.  (Acts 2:14-41) It’s time to bring back the faith of our fathers.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not advocating for beatings and imprisonment, but I am advocating for the kind of faith that’s willing to take a few risks in order to advance the gospel.  Admittedly, things don’t seem to be going well for Christians right now.  We’ve lost some traction and it’s because we’ve spent too much time trying to argue over tradition instead of identifying faithful ways to be relevant.  As a result, many Christians have become so concerned about being identified with the outspoken, condescending and hypocritical religious types that we’ve stopped speaking up at all, but that’s not a good alternative either.

The Difference

Ephesians 4:21-24 says, “assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life… and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  The writer to the Ephesians is basically saying, Jesus has made you different, so live different.  Through Jesus our sin is removed, we’re clothed in Christ’s perfection and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a new life.   This new Christ-exalting life is what makes the difference in the lives of others.

Surprisingly, most unbelievers don’t care if you’re eccentric, they just want to know that you’re authentic.  Our culture is starving for the authentic Christian message.  People really do want to hear the good news about Jesus.  They just want it to be from someone who is actually living it.

difference2Different, in a good way. 

My wife and I host a church small group in our home each week.  We connect with members and guests over a shared meal, enjoy quality time with unbelieving friends and discuss the sermon from the previous Sunday.  Unlike most church small groups, ours is predominantly non-Christian.  It’s not unusual for our group of 20 to have 5 to 10 non-churchgoing, unbelievers participating in our discussions.

When asked why they come, most of our unbelieving friends commonly confess that it’s because they were attracted to the authentic lifestyle of one of our Christian group members.  When these unbelieving friends ask about that difference our group members honestly tell them that it’s because of Jesus.

After the shock wears off, our friends find themselves craving our Thursday night gatherings.  They’re blown away that a group of Christians can disagree with their lifestyles and beliefs while still caring for and accepting them unconditionally as individuals.  The result is that a good majority of our unbelieving friends become Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, God-honoring Christians.

Be a Difference-Maker

The truth is, you really can make a difference for Christ in the lives of your unbelieving friends, co-workers and family members, but doing so means both living differently and answering honestly.  It also means taking the gospel serious.  God unconditionally loves, approves of and accepts those who believe because of what Jesus has done, even in spite of our sins and short-comings.  This should move Christians to love and care for sinners in much the same way.

When it comes down to it, being a difference-maker means being able to disagree with the sin in someone’s life, while simultaneously caring for and accepting them in spite of their short-comings, just like God does for those who believe in Christ.  It means emphasizing the goodness of God’s grace instead of the atrocity of their sin.  It means being honest about your own failures and short-comings, while celebrating Jesus as your hope for change.  This is the kind of difference that makes the difference.   This is the kind of faith we must return to if we ever hope to take God’s good news to to a world in need.

Helping Others Toward Jesus

One of the main themes of the Bible is what is commonly referred to as “mission.” The concept of mission is that God the Father sent Jesus the Son to rescue those who believe from sin and hell so that they can glorify and enjoy God as they submit to and obey Jesus in all things. Now, God the Son, Jesus Christ, is sending Christians to lead others to faith in him by the power of the Holy Spirit. (John 20:19-23)

Mission is for Everyone

Too often we wrongly believe that it is only the pastor’s job to lead people to Jesus. Biblically, however, every Christian is a missionary, sent by God to bring people to Jesus for his glory. If you are a Christian, it is your high calling to live missionally so that others can know Jesus. (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21)

The big idea behind mission is that we would use our relationships with others to help them toward faith in and obedience to Jesus in action, word and lifestyle.  At Living Hope Church, where I serve, we call this life-on-life discipleship, friendship evangelism or simply “mission.”  We’re not trying to win people to Jesus in a day.  We’re trying to help people toward Jesus through authentic relationship over time.

evangelismHow to Live on Mission

Living “on mission” can seem scary and overwhelming, but it’s much more natural and easy than you might expect.  Here are a 8 ways you can live on mission naturally.  Don’t worry about doing them all at once, just take the next step in helping others on the journey.

1. Get with God. In John 15, Jesus tells his followers that they can do absolute nothing apart from him.  This means that we must first be sourced in, dependent on and submitted to Jesus as we seek to lead others to him.  We must live out of the overflow of our enjoyment of and relationship with Christ and we must prayerfully ask him to bring people to himself.

2. Live Differently. The statement “seeing is believing” is critical for helping others toward Jesus.  People can’t physically see Jesus, but they can see the affects of Jesus’ work in your life.  In Matthew 5:13-15 Jesus tells his disciples to be “salt” and “light.”  Salt has many properties, but one of them is that it makes you thirsty.  Light also has many properties; one of them is that it reveals to the eyes what is hidden.  Jesus is saying that we are to live in a way that reveals him to others in action, word, worldview and lifestyle so that they would see Jesus in our lives and grow thirsty for God. We bring Jesus’ example to life for others through our example to others.

3. Answer Honestly. People will take notice when our actions, words and lifestyles are different than theirs; they’ll want to know why and will likely ask for the reasoning.  In 1 Peter 3:15 Peter  tells his readers to “always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks for the reason for the hope that you have.”  In other words, Peter is telling us that people are going to ask why we live the way we do; we must be willing to honestly tell them that it’s because of Jesus.

4. Establish friendships around shared interests and experiences. If you want the opportunity to live differently and  answer honestly then you need to put yourself in an environment where you can make friends. Make it easy for yourself by making friends who enjoy the things that you enjoy. Mission will be much more natural this way. In John 1, it was Nathaniel’s friend Philip who invited him to meet Jesus. It was the strength of the friendship that moved Nathaniel to accept the invite.

5. Extend invitations to others. The number one reason why people don’t attend church is because no one has ever invited them. Don’t be satisfied with a casual relationship with those far from God. Be deliberate in pursuing them so that they might actually come to know Jesus. You can do this by simply extending invitations. Invite your non-Christian friends to eat with you, to hang out with you, to meet your Christian friends in a context that isn’t church related. Over time, take your invitations a step further and invite them to a gathering with members from your church, to a Community Group or to a Sunday Service. If you’ve done 1-4, you’ll be surprised how willingly they might accept.

6. Accept invitations from non-Christian friends. Jesus was constantly spending time with people far from God.  The religious teachers in Luke 5 even criticized him for spending so much time with the irreligious.  Jesus responded by reminding the religious teachers that sinners need him.  When your non-Christian friends invite you to a meal, to play sports or video games, to go shopping, hang out or visit a party–go with them.  Light shines brighest in the darkness. Living differently in their environment will open many doors to speak with them about Jesus.

7. Ask good questions. In Luke 20, a group of religious teachers come to question Jesus. Instead of getting defensive, angry or frustrated, Jesus responds by asking them questions in return. In doing so, Jesus identifies their motives and discovers how he can further reveal truth to them. We can use the same method in our relationships by questioning the behaviors and worldviews that we see and hear around us. Most people aren’t really sure why they do what they do. By questioning their beliefs and lifestyles we can get them asking questions that provide us the opportunity to speak with them about Jesus. This can be as simple as asking our friends if they have any faith preferences and then genuinely listening to them without judging, condemning, correcting or criticizing.

8. Share the gospel. Paul tells the Corinthian church that he “delivered to them [the gospel] as of first importance.”  The gospel is the good news about who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.  It is the truth that Jesus is King who rules all peoples. He deserves all we are, have and do and he should determine who we are and how we live.  The gospel is also the good news that Jesus used his authority as King entirely for our benefit by dying on the cross to deal with our sin and bring us back to God.  Don’t let your friendship be wasted by missing the gospel.  Honor your friends.  Tell them about their need for Jesus.  Tell them of God’s love for them.  Invite them to trust in Jesus and to let Jesus lead their life. This, as Paul says, is of first importance.

Mission can be difficult.  Use these 8 suggestions to help you along the way!

This post summarizes a sermon series I preached at the Living Hope Church-Maryville Campus called “Mission: Living Out & Inviting In.” You can view the sermon series by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: