First of all, apologies for the click-bait-y title. But now you’re here, particularly if you’ve clicked in outrage, welcome and take a seat.
What has brought on such a statement you may ask? Dale, Dale Stevenson. Yep, it’s his fault. His and Crossway Baptist Church’s wonderful fault. I have just finished listening to his three talks on building a discipleship culture and their experiences with this at Crossway. In these three talks, he goes about a deconstruction of the best sort.
A deconstruction of our approach to evangelism, thus our approach to church, thus the way we measure ‘success’ as communities of faith. By the way, if you’re interested, click: here. To summarise, Dale gets back to doing it the Jesus way. Identifying people and discipling them toward (and of course also subsequently after) a faith commitment rather than ‘evangelizing people’ first and then (only) commencing a discipleship relationship post-conversion.
How does this happen? Firstly prayer in general. Secondly prayer specifically for God to reveal a person whom we can disciple. Thirdly asking them this question: “So I’m looking for someone to read the bible with, would you be interested?” Fourthly and lastly, assuming it’s a yes, catching up with them on a regular basis and simply reading scripture, asking/sharing what folks see in the passage and eventually committing to do something about the new insight. Again, for more detail, click on the link above. I thought the whole thing had a bit of an Acts 8, Philip and the Ethiopian eunich vibe about it.
As tempted as I was to write Dale off, the problem is that he leads a church which sees a ‘first-time faith commitment rate’ per year which is 10, yes, 10 times the national Baptist average. just let that sink in for a moment.
But one comment in the midst of his presentation struck me. Regarding if and when you actually get a chance to read the bible with a person yet to become a follower of Jesus we must resist the urge ‘to display a deeper knowledge‘. That sounds a lot to me like resisting the urge to share your faith in the commonly understood way. Here’s my expanded translation from one who has constantly failed at this: stop utilizing the simple questions and insights of other people to attempt a sermon to rival Johnathan Edwards. Rather,
Let them explore their thought and only when they are really finished, then share what you see in the text you’re reading (and only that text) before moving on to the ‘what are we going to do about it?’ question. Anything more than that is going to make the other person feel like a mere accessory in the whole thing.
It was this ‘displaying deeper knowledge’ comment which caused the penny to drop. What if we just need to let the Word of God itself speak to people and address them where they are rather than placing the importance upon our commentary?
Here’s my hunch and the reason for the title: we have made such a big deal about ‘sharing your faith’ that we’ve forgotten about just sharing Jesus. It’s the cart before the horse. Now obviously we need to share Jesus, but I believe the key to Crossway’s success is that they have dismantled the sacred cows of popular evangelism language and methodologies. Before you write me off completely, let me propose several ‘hangover’ problems that we are afflicted with as a result of the ‘share your faith’ language and overemphasis:
- People who feel ‘weak’ in their faith won’t share it.
Statistically, we suck at evangelism. The Australian average is 1 person for every 100 people in a church makes a new commitment to Christ. I think one reason behind that is because there are so many people who are afraid to ‘share their faith’ because, quite frankly, they feel like they themselves are only just holding on in a post-Christian world. I’m convinced some are thinking something like this; ‘I don’t want to share my faith with someone when I’m still going through wells of doubt myself, surely there’s a more confident Christian out there than me who can do a better job.’
So what do we do? Release yet another resource or course on how to what? You guessed it, sharer, our faith.
But how much does the pressure come off when we say: ‘ok so you’re a mess right now, just get together with someone around the gospel of Luke and talk about some of the really cool, counter-cultural and amazing things that Jesus does with and around everyday people‘?
- People who feel ‘strong’ in their faith are at risk of never accepting another’s faith commitment until it precisely matches their own.
If they are being honest, most pastors will admit that they have worked with, or at least talked with Christians that they secretly hope will not come into contact with certain non-Christians. These are those who are SO confident in their own faith and in their own ‘theological boxes’ that you just know that unless a person they evangelize not only makes a commitment to Jesus but also commits to a certain view of the end-times, a certain bible translation, abstinence from alcohol, a certain view of gender roles…etc, the prospective new believer will never quite be born again…enough in their eyes to quite measure up. Galatians anyone???
Is there a possibility that we have encouraged personal faith sharing to such a point where some will (and I’m convinced have) taken it as a license to (read this next bit slowly) share their version of Christian faith? This can be extremely damaging.
However, focusing on just reading a text and talking about it contains our hobby horses. But be prepared for those hobby horses to scream in protest internally.
- Your faith isn’t actually yours, to begin with.
I was basically converted through 1 Corinthians chapter 1 one night when I had run out of all other options. It was then I realized that God was calling me. It was then that I realized that my faith was, is, initialized by God and not by me. The Arminians among us a free to tune out at this point, but I am still convinced that unless we maintain a doctrine of sovereign grace we’ll fall into two things: a) we’ll see the conversion of another as another notch on our belt or b) well see their failure to make a commitment as our failure. We’ll be either depressed or proud. looking at the current stats, we’re more likely to be depressed and the lack of success. The other factor here is that we’re seeing a generation arise that can smell when someone sees them as simply another ‘notch on the belt’ from a mile away.
It is so difficult to get people excited about talking to people about Jesus in churches. I know this. I’ve been in churches all my life from being a pastor’s kid to now pastoring one of Christ’s communities myself. I’m convinced that people are convinced that evangelism is a ‘lost cause’ in the current atmosphere.
I’m over the subtle idolatry of owning faith as something we came up with and the power of our own story. (I’m not writing off testimony, see point 4 below). No, the power is really in God’s story and the way in which he has weaved it in and through your life. In other words; the message we steward is the objective, historical truth, not mere personal testimony or experience, as important as that is. These are illustrations of…the truth. That is what we are commanded to steward. Our faith is in a sense not our own, for it is God who finishes what he starts (Phil 1:6). This, of course, leads me on to the last problem:
- The more you focus on yourself, the less you can be yourself. (1 Peter 3:15)
We’re told to give an account for the hope that is within us. That is because if we are living the kingdom life there will be something different that attracts people to us anyway. This is also why Jesus said you are the light of the world in Matt 5:14-16. He’s not giving a command, he’s simply saying that this is what real disciples are by them simply being genuine disciples. Moreover, this ‘light of the world’ happens by people being the little candle that lights up a single house or room at night. In other words, Jesus prophesies that the world is going to be lit up by hundreds of millions of little followers lighting up their own homes and local communities all around the world rather than simply by one or two ‘helicopter spotlights’.
The point is that in the New Testament, personal testimony is always in response to a question (or even accusation) by someone else. Name any New Testament evangelist you like, they will always, ALWAYS share Jesus, backing up their argument by sharing verses of scripture. They do share testimony and their ‘own faith’ but never ever prior to simply sharing Jesus. That is also the key to authenticity. If you’re sharing Jesus, simply talking through a bible passage with someone else; who cares if you have a ‘boring’ testimony when compared to the dude down the road? Just focus on the testimony of the Scriptures and watch how easy it becomes to simply be yourself. Be a light.
Now of course at some point, you can and should unpack how you made that commitment to follow Jesus and step a person through it, but when they are ready, you are.
So, if you’re reading this and you have been told that you need to share your faith with at least ‘x’ amount of people in ‘x’ time. Relax. Stop thinking about ‘who am I going to share my faith with?’ Rather ask/pray this question: who can I read the bible with?
And do it.