(Work in progress)
|The three steps|
|Step one: identify|
|Putting it into practice|
|•||Step Two: Testify|
|•||Step Three: Multiply|
|Do create a space|
|Do provide an example|
|Why six hours?|
(Work in progress)
This article is about the three steps involved in sharing your faith. To be precise, it is the three steps that most Christians need to take in order to share their faith well.
I talk about 'good evangelism' and 'sharing your faith well' and so on. To be absolutely clear: I am not talking about evangelism that conforms to a certain model, pattern or denominational bias.
By 'good evangelism,' I mean evangelism that is good for God, good for you, and good for the person you are talking with. In other words:
Of course, every denomination and each Christian will have their own understanding of what is theologically sound. But I want to offer an approach which can be used with integrity by Protestants and Catholics, by Pentecostals and Evangelicals.
The two alternatives to good evangelism are bad evangelism and no evangelism. Many books and people discuss the problem of no evangelism. The problems with this are fairly obvious: the church becomes a self-sustaining clique, and eventually dies out.
But very few books on evangelism or evangelistic training courses deal with the problems caused by bad evangelism.
Bad evangelism hurts people and creates barriers. Folk who used to be interested are put off the Christian faith by bad evangelism. Christians who were enthusiastic about their faith are discouraged and put off sharing their faith, either because they were being asked to do bad evangelism, or because they did not understand what they were being asked to do, and it turned out badly.
We need to make a brief side-track, as someone always needs to raise an issue at this point. Folk who used to be interested ini the Christian faith are put off it by bad evangelism. It is also true that some folk who used to be interested in the Christian faith are put off it by good evangelism. This does not mean that there is no real difference between them.
The problem we are seeking to address here is the problem of people being put off the Christian faith through offensive and insensitive evangelism. I do not want to misrepresent Jesus, either in my words or in my behaviour.
But, on the other hand, the fact that someone has been put off the Christian faith does not mean that I got it wrong: there is something commonly called the 'offense of the gospel.' The gospel message can be clearly, sensitively and attractively presented, and still be rejected. This does happen, but it happens far less frequently than many Christians imagine.
We need to resist the idea that all Christians are called to be evangelists. This places an unfair pressure on many good Christians, who feel they are failing in their Christian walk, when they are actually being far more obedient than they realise.
After all, we do not say that all Christians ought to be preaching, or that all Christians ought to be leading worship, or that all Christians ought to have a ministry of pastoral care.
We recognise in all these other areas that you need a calling, and you need some training. A ministry of evangelism is no different.
So, not all Christians are called to be evangelists.
On the other hand, all Christians are called to be witnesses.
A witness is someone who gives a true account of what they have personally seen and heard. It does not matter whether the story is a dramatic one: what matters is that it is true. The other common name for such an account is a 'testimony'.
All Christians are called to be witnesses - to testify to what God the Father has done, and continues to do, in their lives, through the teaching, example and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the working of the Holy Spirit. We are to give, when asked, 'a reason for the hope that is within us'.
But, remember, this is a calling, not a present reality. For many, it will be a goal or a target - something to aim for.
It is perfectly all right to be called to do something, but not be doing it yet. What matters is that you are moving in the right direction. The question is: what do you need? What will help you get there?
While it is true that only some Christians have a ministry or a specific calling to function as an Evangelist, all Christians must be able to lead someone else to Christ when the opportunity arises.
After all, you may not have a ministry of healing, but if you are the only Christian around and God wants someone to be healed, then you are the one who needs to pray.
The main difference is that most Christians can manage to come up with a suitable prayer for healing ("Dear God, please heal this person." works quite well...) but many would panic if they were presented with someone who wants to become a Christian. The usual reaction is to try to find a minister. But there isn't always a minister to hand when you need one, and many ministers have never actually led anyone to Christ themselves, so they may not be much help after all. Sometimes, it is down to you.
So, it is probably safe to assume, from time to time we may all be called upon to take part in some evangelism. The question is: will we do it well, or badly?
From what has been said so far, when we look at the subject of evangelism, it is clear that there are three main steps that Christians need to take.
We can summarise these three steps as follows.
I know those headings are a bit painful. But there's a chance you might remember them.
Each step is characterised by a particular aspect of Christian life and practice. Step one is all about confession; step two is all about testimony; and stage step is all about evangelism.
Before anyone asks: no, there is no step four, and no, it is not about Discipleship. There are aspects of Discipleship in all the three steps. Neither is it about 'training others' or 'passing it on' - again, training and equipping others should be seen as a vital part of each of the three steps.
There is a belief in many parts of the evangelical church that we need to get more church members engaged in evangelism. Ideally, all of them should be doing it.
I am often asked to be involved in making this happen. The requests are phrased in different ways: "We want our members to stop talking about evangelism, and start doing it." Or, "We want you to inspire them to get out there and start evangelising their friends and workmates."
Common to most of these requests are the ideas: (1) that the church members are currently engaged in little or no evangelism, (2) that they all should be doing it, and (3) that what they need to get them started is to be suitably encouraged or inspired.
We can note in passing the assumption that these Christians already know what they are supposed to be doing and how to do it; they simply need to be encouraged or inspired to 'get out there' and start doing it.
I'm not too sure about that first point: I suspect that many Christians are actually sharing their faith far more than the church leaders realise. This may well be part of the problem...
But as for points two and three, I beg to differ. Not all Christians are called to be evangelists, and what most Christians need is not encouragement or inspiration but suitable, relevant and helpful training.
The purpose of this article is to outline what such training needs to cover.
We described good evangelism at the beginning as evangelism that is:
If identification is step one in this process, then for Christians to do it well, they need to understand what it is the first step towards - they need to understand the nature of good evangelism.
Good for God: evangelism has to work in the context of God's Kingdom. This means, of course, that people get saved. But it means much more than this: they must be responding to a Biblical gospel - one that includes a cross as well as glory, that spells out the cost of discipleship as well as the benefits.
Good for you: evangelism is not undertaken for your pleasure and entertainment. But, being realistic, unless you enjoy sharing your faith to some extent, you are unlikely to continue doing it for long. And, as well as being enjoyable, it should also be profitable - you should gain from doing it: discover new things, get to know people better, and grow as a Christian and as a human being.
Good for the other person: evangelism has to work for the person you are talking with - on their terms. We may be telling people the gospel, but if the people we are talking to come away with the conviction that Christians are crass, arrogant and insensitive, they are unlikely to respond to the message, however persuasive we may be. If, on the other hand, they enjoy the encounter and look forward to the next opportunity to spend time with you, then (a) there may actually be a next time, and (b) it is likely to be productive.
Evangelism involves dealing with some of the deepest issues of human life. It requires tact and discernment. You can't just trample on someone's deepest hopes and fears. You can't just dismiss their beliefs and values as worthless. When you touch important and sensitive subjects, you have to be gentle.
Sometimes, Christians don't share their faith because they know they can't handle the deep issues it is likely to raise. In which case, they are not being disobedient - they are being responsible.
In other words... maybe, sometimes, when Christians are not busy sharing their faith, they might be making the right choice.
For these Christians, they don't need more sermons telling they ought to be reaching their friends and families for Christ: they already know this, and feel bad about not doing it. And they don't need to be taught a set of words to use as a sort of evangelistic hand-grenade to throw at people: they usually have too much integrity to do that. What they need is is some training that will enable them to handle both the theological and the personal questions that arise when you start to talk about matters of faith.
Step one is all about confession.
Perhaps we need to reclaim the word. For some people, it presses the wrong buttons. But it is accurate, and it is the traditional Christian term for what we are being called to do at step one.
Confession is simply about telling the truth. It is often used in the context of telling the truth about a sin or a crime you have committed, but it is not limited to this context. According to the dictionary to confess is to acknowledge fully, to own or admit, to make known.
In step one, the vital step is to admit that you are a Christian: to identify yourself as a follower of Jesus and to own your allegiance to Christ.
This is absolutely vital, and (in 'normal' circumstances) non-negotiable. Of course, if you live in a Moslem country, where you and your family may be killed for converting, it is reasonable to be somewhat careful about who you tell. But for those of us who are fortunate enough to live in Western democracies, there is very little excuse.
Paul presents this as an essential part of conversion: "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.' (Romans 10:9) You have to confess Jesus with your mouth in order to be saved.
And it is not a case of telling somebody, once. If you refuse to confess the truth, you are denying it - and Jesus described the consequences of denying Him in very clear terms. Refusing to confess your commitment to Jesus is equivalent to rejecting Him. In this area, there is no middle ground.
It ought to be very easy and straightforward, but the sad truth is that many Christians do not manage to make the fact of their faith known to their friends and colleagues at work.
One factor that sometimes holds people back is the belief that all Christians ought to be sharing their fiath with all the people they spend time with. So they hold back from identifying themselves as Christians, fearing that once they do, they will need to start talking about their faith and converting others.
We need to make it clear to people: step one is absolutely fine. It is perfectly okay to be there, and you can remain there for as long as you need. You stay there until you are ready to move on to step two. All you have to do right now is to let people know you are a Christian.
Well... maybe not all. Maybe you can also pray for the folk you work and socialise with. Maybe you can try to help them in practical ways. Maybe you can show them love, and forgiveness when it is needed.
But in your conversations, all that is expected of you is to be honest. Anyone can do that.
How do you let people know? There are many ways.
When working in an office, I always used to wear a little silver fish on my lapel. People asked what it was, and I told them that is is an early symbol of the Christian faith, one that does not identify me with any particular branch of Christianity: a crucifix would suggest I was a Catholic, while an empty cross would suggest I was a Protestant, but a fish embraces all Christianity and all my fellow Christians. That opened up many conversations.
It is also easy on a Monday to talk about your weekend - what did you do? Just the usual - shopping on Saturday, church on Sunday morning, then a really muddy family walk in the afternoon. You don't have to make a big thing of it. It is you, it is a part of what you do, along with supporting your football team and those obscure Italian films you enjoy.
Of course it is much more important than football, but you don't have to say that: people know. They also appreciate knowing that you go to church - if they find out later, they are often uset that you hid this detail of your life from them. And they very much appreciate your tact in not making a big thing out of going to church, as that is often interpreted as an implicit criticism of them for not attending.
The sooner you let people know you are a Christian, the easier it is - within reason. You don't want to go up to your new workmates and say, "Hello, I'm Bert, I've just joined your team, and I'm a Christian." But when you sit down for a coffee, or go out for lunch with members of your new team, and someone says, "Okay, tell us all about yourself," if you don't say something at that point, you may well regret it later.
You do not have to say "I am a Christian." You most certainly do not want to say "I am a born-again Christian," or however you describe yourself to other Christians. Your new friends are probably not interested in the subtle distinctions that mean so much to us.
You don't even have to say "I go to church." And, again, if you do, less detail is usually better than more: "I go to an evangelical church that is mildly charismatic in its theology but we don't practice 'singing in tongues' in the services" is probably too much detail. "I go to a small, friendly church near our home," or "the big one on the corner opposite that supermarket" is often an appropriate level of detail.
It is often easier to slip in a reference to Christian or church activities. You can say things like: "I have a fairly active social life - most of it revolves round our local church, one way or another" or "We went there last year - we went on holiday with another couple from our church." This is not a cop-out. If you make a reference to church or Christian activities up front, and the occasional passing reference thereafter, they will connect the dots: this is a part of your life. That is all they need to know.
Remember, you are not seeking to convert them in step one. Simply letting them know you are a Christian is all you need to do.
The first benefit of making it clear from the start that you are a Christian, is the simple matter of integrity.
In a society where most people do not attend church or have a meaningful faith, the assumption will generally be that you are like 'the rest of us' and are either agnostic or have not thought enough about the issues to say what you are.
If you do not admit to having a faith, you are misleading the people around you. Not telling people may not technically be the same as telling them a lie, but if you allow them to continue to believe a lie about you, the distinction is fairly meaningless.
Even if you forget the Christian dimension, if you want to function well alongside other people, retaining a basic level of integrity matters. If you omit to tell people, who feel they have the right to know, some important details about yourself, they will feel cheated and deceived.
Being honest also protects you from the pressure to compromise. They will look at you as a Christian, and watch what you do. The challenge at this stage is not to talk, but to live. You do not have to be perfect, but you do need, most of the time, to be reasonably consistent. What matters is that you try, to the best of your ability, to live as a follower of Jesus. And they will watch you, to see what it is like.
This may be a bit scary, but it is much less difficult than the alternative of trying to live a lie.
People watch the way you live. They may not immediately make the link between your lifestyle and your faith, but if they know of your faith, then that connection becomes possible.
A common feature of the stories people tell about the journey they have taken in coming to faith in Jesus, is that they kept finding themselves spending time with Christians, and it slowly dawned on them that the people they respected, and the people they enjoyed spending time with, were all Christians. It got them thinking: maybe their faith is what they all have in common... maybe that is what makes a difference to their lives...
When people know you are a Christian, and have seen that you faith makes some kind of difference to your life, they may choose to talk to you when things get difficult in their life.
In a group, most people are very happy to joke about Christians and to ridicule the church. It's often easy to ridicule. But they rarely poke fun at Jesus. And they may laugh and joke as part of the group, but on their own with you, there may well be thoughtful questions and shared difficulties. Especially if they have noticed that you don't make fun of people who are different or struggling, and you don't gossip - you are possibly one of the few people at work who it is 'safe' to talk to when things get difficult.
Of course, simply because people amy share their problems and ask you questions, that doesn't mean you have to come up with answers for them. Just listening carefully to them is often a significant service. And you may know someone who might be able to help. And you can offer to pray - you might be surprised at how thankful and touched people are by the offer to pray for them.
All kinds of benefits and blessings flow - you you, and to the people around you - if you simply admit that you are a Christian.
Step two is all about Testimony.
My definition of 'testimony' in this context is fairly precise. It is: telling people what God has done for you.
To be clear - I am not talking about standing up in a church service or evangelistic meeting, telling people what a dreadful sinner you were, and how the Lord moved in miraculous ways. Of course, that does count as a testimony - assuming it is true! - but a testimony does not have to be given in public, or tell about your conversion, or include racy details of your former life, or recount God's miraculous dealings with you.
A testimony does need to be true. And, by 'true', I mean more than just factually correct. I mean honest - not misleading. It must be honest factually, and honest emotionally.
Understand the nature of good evangelism.
Understand what is good evangelism - what we are supposed to be achieving.
Step three is all about Evangelism.
Understand how to do good evangelism, and remove the barriers that stand in the way.
There are two main 'do nots' and two main 'dos'. Don't force; don't manipulate; do create a space; and do provide an example.
In other words, you can't trick or push them through the door of the Church, but you can open the door for them, and you can lead them through it.
Nobody ever wants to have someone else's beliefs pushed down their throats. Even when that person happens to be you.
People don't like feeling they have been tricked. So don't invite someone out for a meal and have them turn up at a Alpha Supper.
By your words and attitude, you can communicate to the people around you a few basic messages:
Most of the time, these four messages are enough. People are hungry and thirsty for spiritual reality, and if they think you can help, they will seek you out. They may make fun of the Church in group settings, but when they are alone with you the story is often very different.
The example you provide goes back, in part, to the way you testify: you can talk about your beliefs, and you can be very enthusiastic about God, Jesus and your church family. It's very much a question of style and personality.
All this is a great set of ideas and principles, but it is not going to change anyone's life.
What can make a difference is the training seminar we run. For a normal group of between 3 and 20 Christians, we can help them get to the point where they can talk naturally about their faith in a way that keeps people coming back for more. This generally takes one day, or three solid evenings: about 6 hours contact time.
For most Christians, there are several barriers that get in the way of these conversations. It doesn't take much time to explain what those barriers are and how to overcome them, but it does take time for people to process the information, to start to believe it, and then to work out how to apply it to their own situation. People generally need to be able to talk about their experience, and to ask their questions.
You need time to interact, and time to adjust. We have found that if people can't give enough time, the ideas remain just interesting ideas, and life goes on as before.
Details of the Share Your Faith training seminar can be found on the BCAN web site, at www.bcan.org.uk/syf.
Part of the reason why it takes a while is because people need to unlearn a number of things they have picked up as Christians. I say "picked up" because these are not things that are actually taught in most churches, but they are assumptions, beliefs and expectations that are rarely expressed or challenged. It takes time to identify these wrong beliefs so that they can be put aside.
Another reason is because the longer we are Christians, the more we pick up Christian language and terminology, and the more naturally it comes to our lips. If we wish to talk with people who do not share our beliefs, we need to learn how to put aside our language and to speak theirs. While there are some notable exceptions, church leaders are typically very bad at talking in terms people outside the church can understand and relate to - they may need more than six hours.
Conversely, young Christians tend to have very little difficulty in speaking the language of the people around them. But they do generally need more help understanding the message they want to communicate, so it evens out. The seminar is interactive, so we can concentrate most time on the areas where the people present want the most help.