As part of our sermon series on Strong Faith we have looked at several implications of the Christian message. The Good News of God's grace extended to us in Jesus effects everything.
Becoming a Christian makes us more loving in our neighborhood, more honest in our work, and more consistent in our parenting. It also naturally results in us becoming more comfortable in sharing our faith.
Soma is a community of Christians committed to sharing the Gospel in natural ways with the people that we regularly rub shoulders with. This post is designed to give us practical ways to do that.
In their well researched book I Once Was Lost Don Everts and Doug Schaupp identify 5 thresholds that skeptics go through when coming to faith.
1)Trusting a Christian
2) Becoming curious
3) Opening up to change
4)Seeking after God
5)Entering the Kingdom
These 5 thresholds are pulled from interviews with hundreds of new Christian believers. They are helpful for us as we build relationships with the people around us who do not share our faith. They can serve as a guide and keep us from pressuring people.
It is interesting that the first threshold is Trusting a Christian. As evangelists this shows us our first step with co-workers and neighbors; to be a trustworthy friend.
Our first step with co-workers and neighbors - to be a trustworthy friend
This is ironic because when most people think of the term "evangelist" they think of someone who is untrustworthy. They think of a TV personality who comes across as flashy and money hungry.
Jesus was the opposite of this and we will be too. Jesus' evangelism was a combination of truth telling and compassionate action. He genuinely cared about people. This in turn caused them to trust him. When we genuinely love our neighbor they will sense it and it will help them make it through that first threshold.
Guy Kawasaki has authored several books using the term "Evangelist" in the realm of the secular business world. He explains the essence of being an evangelist and his definition applies to Christians as well. On his blog he writes,
"People often ask me what the difference is between an evangelist and salesperson. Here’s the answer. A salesperson has his or her own best interests at heart: commission, making quota, closing the deal. An evangelist has the other person’s best interests at heart:"
The way we live this out is by sharing our everyday life with people no strings attached. We eat together, play together, watch the game together without an agenda other than to befriend them, and know their story. Jesus modeled this for us.
In Matthew 9:10 we read, "Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples." He ate dinner with unbelievers even with people who many would consider unrighteous. And yet Jesus also ate with people on the other end of the spectrum. Luke 11 shows us another side of Jesus. "While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table." Jesus as an evangelist showed genuine love for the unrighteous and the self-righteous by eating dinner with both.
This is a good model for us as well. As Jim Peterson of the Navigators says “The most effective evangelism tool you’ll ever have is your dining room table.”
"The most effective evangelism tool you'll ever have is your dining room table"
In the 50's America was a different place. The church had much more influence than it does today. It was the era of Christendom. As a result, sharing the good news with others lost some of its New Testament emphases and it shifted into a more institutional model. If we asked some Christians from the 50's how they did evangelism most of them would say something like "I invite my neighbor to church" or "I take them to hear Billy Graham." Those things are not bad. However they should never replace the power and the authenticity of inviting non-Christians into our everyday lives and becoming friends. This is what Jesus did. And this is what Soma is doing.
Every week throughout the Eastside, as Missional Communities and also as individuals, Christians are sitting down together and eating meals with non-Christians with no strings attached in a genuine effort to know their story and build a friendship.
CASE STUDY - ASHLEY SMITH
Sometimes we do not have the luxury of planning ahead and inviting people over. Sometimes we just find ourselves in situations where we feel thrust out into the unknown and the situation is screaming for us to talk about our faith. Even in those circumstances we can trust that God is not surprised and that he can use us even if we feel unprepared.
Ashley Smith is an example of someone who was unprepared and who found herself thrust into the unknown. In her 2005 book Unlikely Angel she shares how Brian Nichols shot and murdered 4 people then held her hostage at gunpoint at her own apartment. Even though Ashley's circumstances were extreme, I believe we can learn from the way she talks about Jesus.
1) First of all she is Honest about her mistakes, disappointments and failures.
She tells her kidnapper about her addiction to drugs and how it caused her to lose custody of her daughter. She also tells about the murder of her husband and how it affected her. Even though Brian Nichols was a total stranger to her she gets brutally honest with him in order to find common ground. In sharing meals with non-Christians the more we can be honest about our failures and disappointments in life the quicker we will build authentic friendships. It might be as simple as telling them about a mistake we made at work or a disagreement we had with our family. These show that we are not perfect and they help people trust us.
2) Second of all she prayerfully speaks the hard truth.
Sharing our faith means talking about Jesus with people and telling them the hard truth that they do need God, and that their life is incomplete without him. You can see how Ashley spoke hard truth to her kidnapper even though it could have made him very angry.
She recounts their conversation in her apartment and writes,
“why, don’t you just go turn yourself in now? I said, “I’ll drive you up there.”..”Your miracle could be that you go on and pay for this. That you turn yourself in right now and go to prison and share the Word of God with all the other people in there. Maybe that’s your purpose right there. Maybe that’s what God wants you to do, and he brought you here to my apartment so you could know that. I mean, listen – we could go right now” he didn’t say a word. I could see he just wasn’t moving on this at all. God I’m trying here, but I don’t know what else to say. I’ve said everything I know. It’s his choice and I can’t do any more. You just got help him make the right decision.”
Evangelists are able to be honest with others about the good news of God's grace. But in order for any of us to really grasp how good the good news really is, we need to hear the bad news - that we are distant from our Creator and that our sin has broken his heart.
The way Ashley found strength to speak hard truth was by praying in real time throughout the conversation. Her book is filled with spur of the moment prayers. It reminds us that sharing Jesus with others is never something we do without God's strength and help.
3) Last of all she pointed to Jesus.
She says to Brian Nichols “If he can forgive me he can forgive you."
"If he can forgive me, he can forgive you"
Even though he does not become a Christian right there, Brian Nichols does act differently after their time together. When she calls the police he peaceably surrenders and no one else is hurt.
If God can give Ashley the right words to share in a situation like this, he can also give us the right words to say as well.
Now, God forbid that any of us get held up at gunpoint! Nevertheless these three pieces of her evangelism intrigue me;
- honesty about our failures and disappointments,
- prayerfully speaking hard truth,
- and pointing to Jesus
Unlikely Angel can be seen as an example of reactive evangelism. As an example of proactive evangelism however we should consider how some of our Missional Communities are living out Jesus' reminder that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world..
- One Household baked coffee cake and took it to an elderly neighbor
- Another Household threw a Birthday Party and invited their whole street to attend
- Another Household planned a neighborhood Garage Sale where they cooked free hamburgers and had free drinks
- Another household hosted a Pumpkin Carving night for neighbors
- Another Household organized role - playing games for friends and co-workers
- Another Household planned a weekly Mom’s group to make friends with their neighbors
- Another Household opened up their Thanksgiving meal to 50 of their closest friends
- Other Households took in children at risk and involved their friends and neighbors in caring for their needs
These are all beautiful examples of evangelism, of spreading the good news about God's grace through word and deed. They show a genuine desire to develop friendships. When done consistently these activities break down stereotypes, they help non-Christians pass that 1st threshold, and they also help non-Christians become curious.