A quick rationale for yet another entrance into the blogosphere.
I became a Christian when I was 14. Shortly thereafter I was introduced to the idea of sharing my faith with other people. Outside of being a somewhat awkward and shy teenager, I didn’t really have a problem with the concept. However, the strategies I was taught didn’t sit well with me. They seemed to resemble tactics that a less than upstanding used car salesman might use to “get you in this car today.” I learned to ask questions like, “If you died today and stood before God, why would you tell Him He should let you into Heaven?” and “What’s keeping you from receiving forgiveness from your sins through faith in Jesus?”
I’ve never had any issues with these questions doctrinally. But they’ve always come across as overly confrontational, incredibly binary, and somewhat pressure-packed. Yes, I understand the urgency of the Gospel. Yes, I understand that sometimes people do die and that they often die before they expect it. But I’ve also rarely heard a Christian testify, “You know, he asked me where I would go when I died. It immediately cleared up all of my questions and I repented of my sin and trusted Jesus immediately.”
I was also taught a simple formula for how to share my decision to follow Jesus.
1. Talk about your life before Jesus.
2. Describe the circumstances around the moment you trusted Jesus.
3. Share how your life has been changed by Jesus.
My wife’s testimony was the initial disrupter to my paradigm. She grew up in church and doesn’t remember a time that she didn’t believe in Jesus. Obviously there were markers along the way– her decision to get baptized, a period of relative questioning and a time in which her faith really became her own– but she doesn’t have clear memories of 1 or 2 above.
After seminary, I interned at the University of Georgia Baptist Collegiate Ministry. Part of my internship included educational projects that I got to decide on with my supervisor. In the spring, I decided to interview the students on BCM’s leadership team in an attempt to discover how many of them had been personally discipled by someone after they came to faith and how that relationship operated.
Two findings jumped out after I interviewed about 35 individual students:
1. Only 1 of them had been personally discipled by an older Christian.
2. As I asked them about how they came to trust Christ, only 1 of them talked about that decision as past events leading up to a singular moment of repentance and a resulting life-change. The vast majority described a process that took years, multiple people, and a long period of discovery/consideration.
Fleshing it Out
The final nail in the coffin of the old way came after I read I Once Was Lost. The authors interviewed hundreds of people who came from no religious background to trust Jesus. Their findings corroborated mine. These people spoke of coming to Christ over a long period of time, with multiple relationships, countless conversations, and long periods of wrestling with subjects/doctrines/traumas that traditional evangelistic paradigms simply didn’t equip my students (or me!) to handle.
In the years since I’ve come to understand sharing my faith more as a series of events rather than a singular occurrence in which I need to unload all of my good material in order to “get you into faith today.” From the perspective of most younger adults and the vast majority of non-believing people, coming to Jesus won’t resemble a “light-switch moment” in which someone says the right thing and the switch of faith miraculously gets flipped. Instead, it will more likely resemble a progression along a spectrum of belief.
The further back an individual starts in the spectrum, the longer it will take them trust Christ (generally speaking). In some instances, it could take years to move someone up a single dot in the spectrum.
In this reality, what we need is a new way of talking about faith in Christ that respects spiritual pilgrimages and invites not only an initial conversation, but a continued conversation with friends, family, co-workers, or classmates.
We need to recover the art of conversation with purpose. We need to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. We need to clarify the goal and refuse to get distracted by secondary issues. We need to be informed so we can discuss honest objections that people have to faith. And we need to be spiritually renewed so that we can follow the prompts of the Holy Spirit as we engage others in conversations about Jesus.
Let’s have a conversation.