Ah yes, sharing your faith. That most difficult of subjects that most Christians squirm about, something we know we are to called to do but don’t know how. Let me let you into a little secret – I also struggle in this area. I am not a natural born evangelist, and I know have stronger gifts in other areas. But slowly over the years the Lord has been working in me and teaching me a few lessons about faith-sharing which I am still trying to learn. So very much as work-in-progress, let me share some of the most important things I am learning about sharing our faith:
Practice grace. What do I mean by this? Well, it can be very easy to fall into the trap that when an opportunity presents itself you have to get the words exactly right, or present the gospel in that particular way, or use all of those key words that are so important to the Christian faith. Anything less, you feel, and you are somehow failing to put across the gospel. That may be how some promote faith-sharing, but actually, it doesn’t all depend on you. Yes, we are to make the most of every opportunity (Col 4:5) but we do that by relying on God’s grace. And that means trusting He can use the faltering words, the conversations where we miss out some key part of our faith, even the admissions we are not really sure on one or two points. People respond more readily to an honest, imperfect testimony than a slick presentation.
Have faith. That may sound an odd thing to say when talking about faith-sharing. But if you’ve been a Christian for a long time, you can get into the habit of thinking whatever you do or say won’t really make a difference. You just happen to live with an unbelieving family or work among hardened colleagues, and nothing is ever going to change. The Lord however promises that His word will never return empty and will accomplish what He has purposed (Isaiah 55:10-11). We may not see the results, but that is besides the point. Faith is about trusting the Lord to be at work even when we do not see visible results, and we need to be able to leave our conversations in God’s hands, knowing that we are only unworthy servants called to do our duty.
Have humility. There is unfortunately a tendency in all of us to boast. We see increased numbers for two Sundays running and we tell everyone how our church is growing. Someone responds to something we say and we start talking the language of conversion, maybe even revival. I think it is appropriate to say we have seen the Lord at work, but let’s be careful the credit really does go to Him and in our spiritually hungry age we do not exaggerate what He is doing for our own ends.
Keep on loving. More and more, I realise that the best evangelism springs from a loving relationship with those you are seeking to reach. We can sometimes be in such a rush to share our faith that we fail to enter their world, to listen to their cares, to understand the language they use. This is something of which I have been particularly guilty in the past. Using instead a simple questionnaire to help folk articulate what they believe has completely transformed my pastoral work. We need to be secure enough to let them set the agenda, and see where the Lord leads by His Spirit. So when Jesus sat down by the well in Sychar he spoke with the Samaritan woman about a subject dear to her heart – water (John 4). When in Athens Paul started quoting from the Greek poets (Acts 17:16-34). Faith sharing starts with where people are at, not where we would like them to be, and recognising that fact is a proper response of love.
Cover yourself in prayer. One-to-one conversations are by their nature individual and personal, and it would not be appropriate to share the details of such discussions. But when you are about to have such a conversation or have just had one, then again I am increasingly realising how important it is to have people who are supporting your faith-sharing in prayer. We are after all the body of Christ, and when we are on the spiritual frontline it is so important to have your fellow believers holding up their hands on your behalf. I am so conscious that Paul the first great missionary of the church always worked as part of a team, with close fellowship alongside Him and besides Him. The early church grew because there was this network of prayer, and if we are not praying for one another, then we will see little fruit to our labours.
Train others. Jesus sent out the 12 (Luke 9) and then the 72 (Luke 10). He prepared them by sharing His life with them, and by giving them specific instructions to carry on doing the things He was already doing. When He was about to return into heaven, He passed on the great commission to people who already knew what it meant to make disciples, baptise and teach (Matthew 28:18-20). Now so far this is an area where I haven’t yet made a lot of progress. But one day I hope with all my heart there will be people who feel called to share in the work of baptism preparation or lead a Christianity Explored course, for example. As I said earlier, God uses our honesty and our imperfections, and it is far better that some try rather than one person continues until it is time for him or her to move on.
I am sure there are other lessons still to be learnt, but this at least is a start! But what is your experience? Let me have your thoughts and feedback, and maybe we will return to this subject another time.