I believe that Christians should share their faith with people. Since the day I trusted Christ on Oct. 24, 1989, I have shared my faith with people. Since then, I have learned a lot about how to share it more effectively.
Mostly what not to do.
The way I share my faith reflects how America has changed over the years. The old way I was taught to share my faith assumed that deeply embedded in our culture was a Christian understanding of the world, so it was assumed people already knew the way of salvation.
Christians just needed to remind people of what they already knew. What was not emphasized was relationship building.
The new way of sharing the faith understands that Christianity has been intentionally marginalized by secular society and no longer has the cultural reinforcements of its teaching embedded into society. Many in our society assume that most of the problems we see today, such as racism, sexism and various forms of bigotry, are attributed to the influence of Christianity.
Therefore, sharing one’s faith in this environment demands a different approach. In short, the new approach must be more personal and requires Christians to invest more time in actual relationships.
Q: What does it mean to share your faith?
The old way of sharing one’s faith emphasized a single interaction. If you were at a bus stop or talking to the waitress at the local diner, you could boldly pull out your evangelism sales pitch and share your faith. No relationship building was needed because they just needed to be reminded of the truth they already knew.
Whereas, the new way emphasizes multiple interactions. People don’t assume Christianity to be true. Many people think it to be false. Therefore, people you share your faith with will have questions and even concerns about your faith. Take time to lovingly answer those questions.
We can also see examples of this approach in the Bible. Take, for instance, Paul’s interaction in Acts 18:4 with the Jewish leaders in the synagogue. The verse says Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.” Paul saw it necessary to engage in multiple interactions so he could explain and clarify his ideas. Christians should be ready to do the same.
Q: Should I focus on evangelizing strangers or friends?
The old way of communicating one’s faith was impersonal. Too often, the emphasis was to hand out tracks to people you didn’t know on the streets, engage in door-to-door evangelism, or take advantage of the opportunity to share with the person who is sitting alone at Starbucks.
The new way of doing evangelism emphasizes that Christians are called to love people; all people, meaning they must be willing to build friendships with people not like them.
Loving people, however, means not befriending people just to share their faith. It means as one reaches out to love the people around them requires them to build authentic relationships. When this happens, the natural inclination is to share with the other person what is important to me or you. If your faith is essential, you will share it, organically.
Q: Does real evangelism involve more talking or listening?
In the old way, the emphasis was on talking, not listening, which encouraged Christians to dominate every faith conversation. Christians were encouraged to take any break in a conversation to share their faith by using evangelism strategies like sharing the four spiritual laws, popularized by the late Bill Bright who began the Campus Crusade For Christ ministry.
The purpose of the four spiritual laws was to make sharing your faith as simple as possible to lead someone to Christ. While this can be an effective way to share the gospel, it turned evangelism into sharing a sales pitch that believers could pull out at any time.
The new way emphasizes asking more questions and doing more listening. If you are talking more than 40% of the time, you are talking too much. I must admit that this is hard for me and probably hard for some of you.
To make this method easier to embrace, understand that the question method was the method Jesus used. For instance, many people were confused about his identity. Instead of offering a 15-minute explanation of his identity, he responded with this question: “Who do you say that I am?” What a great question.
Next time you are talking about your faith to a friend or neighbor, ask them this question: “Who do you say Jesus is? Then follow up that question by asking how did they arrive to that conclusion. This could be the start of a great conversation.
Q: How should the truth be conveyed?
We not only live in a post-Christian culture, but we also live in, what Abdu Murray calls a “post-truth” culture. This was the very word the Oxford English Dictionary named as their word of the year in 2016. However, for Christians, truth is essential for our faith. Christians believe that truth is absolute, universal, knowable and communicated to us by God.
The controversy arises when another question emerges. How is the truth to be conveyed? The old way emphasized bold proclamation, where Christians were encouraged to take any opportunity possible to “preach the truth.” Communicating the truth with humility was not emphasized, even at times, frowned upon. The result was that many Christians came off brash and arrogant.
The new way more readily embraces the Christian mandate to speak the truth with love, as Ephesians 4:15 explains. Truth is still essential, but so is love. Truth should be conveyed in a gentle, non-threatening way, not in a triumphal way, but with humility. If not, “the truth” you are communicating will be rejected.
When speaking “the truth,” it is also important to remember that the word “love” in the verse just mentioned, is the Greek word ‘agape,” meaning sacrificial love. Sacrificial love is the demeanor that should characterize our conversations.
The new way also emphasizes humble cultural engagement. There is nothing worse than a Christian sharing the truth in a prideful or brash manner. Such motivation is driven by an attitude that says I have “the truth,” and you don’t. While this might be the case, it is also important to remember that understanding the truth doesn’t mean one is morally superior.
These Christians forget that knowing the truth has nothing to do with their moral goodness. The Christian is right before God not because they know the truth, but because they have accepted Christ’s free gift of salvation that was accomplished by Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Knowing this truth in our heart of hearts should bring about humility and not moral superiority.
While parts of the old way retain some value, it is essential for Christians to share their faith in a way that is relevant to our culture and honors Jesus. As we work toward things that have eternal significance, like sharing our faith, we might consider heeding the advice of Rick Warren, who said, “The way you store up treasure in heaven is by investing in getting people there.”
This is pretty good advice.
Tim Orr of Columbus is an author and an adjunct faculty member in religious studies at IUPUC, where he has served for more than 10 years. His writing reflects his 20-plus years working with a variety of cultures. His website is TimOrr.net. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.