Since regularly attending Calvary Temple here in Brandon, Wayne and I have joined a fantastic small group that meets Thursday nights. Led by a couple named Bryan and Amanda, we have been following a study by Bill Hybels, called Just Walk Across the Room, which aims to equip Christ followers to embrace evangelism.
I am the first to admit that I have not been blessed with the gift of evangelism. I know because a) I have known Christians who seem to attract non-believers like magnets and are used by God to change lives all the time, and b) I've tried, and it was so uncomfortable I'd almost rather skydive (those of you who know me know I am terrified of heights!). Because living as a Christ follower is a learned belief for me (it is not a faith I grew up with), I tend to put God in a box. I still talk to Him all the time. I still worship Him through my surroundings, and sing His praises spontaneously. But when it comes to telling others about His great love, His sacrifice, and His grace, I seem to clam up and think the other person will assume I'm some religious fanatic.
Anyone else with me?
The main problem is we are not a desperate people - most of us have food and shelter and at least one person in our lives we love and trust. We are not a people living in fear of persecution, of rape and pillage, of the spread of AIDS/HIV as an act of war, or of dying from hunger. So when the topic of God and salvation comes up, many people tune out, shut down, or flat-out walk away. Our liberal North American culture focuses so much on, "What's good for you is good...for you." Many in our society have also been hurt by the institution of "The Church" (meaning they were hurt by a person who represented The Church in their life), and their faith has been damaged or compromised. Sadly, the sins and imperfections of Christians often come to represent others' view of God, an unfortunate reality.
Last week's session from the Hybels study discussed "The power of story": being able to effectively tell your story (how Jesus has changed your life) succinctly and without using the Christian jargon we tend to cling to. He emphasized getting to the point, leaving out the warm fuzzies and giving to 'em straight.
This works for me. I didn't have some great lightening bolt moment conversion; I didn't witness a miracle; I haven't seen an apparition or been "slain in the Spirit." I just asked questions until I couldn't ask anymore. I was satisfied by the answers and the only thing left to do was trust Him. So I did.
Hybels suggests we have a short version (45 seconds or so, about the length of time of an elevator ride) of our life story prepared in the backs of our minds at all times, so that we can naturally "preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season..." (2 Timothy 4:2). In season is after a good morning of devotions or coming out of church on Sunday, revved up about God's Word. Out of season is standing in line at the grocery store, or picking up your kids from school, or sitting in the waiting room at the vet clinic. Telling others about how Jesus changed your life is something no one can argue with, and it is something people can relate to. We all have regrets and we all understand the feeling of wanting more out of life. So when you can tell people that what Christians have is that "more" they are looking for, they tend to listen.
Hybels reminded us to first treat people with dignity by listening to their life stories and taking interest in what they have to say. This should be a no-brainer - how do we expect to make friends otherwise? But I suppose some people with "evangelism" on the brain don't want a new friend. They want a new project. They will ignore what people have to say and act superior about the story of salvation and how they "have what you need."
But our goal should be to create relationships with people, to be transparent with them and give them a glimpse into our lives, to see that while Christians may have the one thing that will answer all their questions and give them hope in times of fear, it's not an exclusive club. "Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God" (1 Peter 3:18). These folks should walk away from us having learned that God is as accessible to them as He is to us. I am no better than a person who doesn't believe in God, even though I have "put on the new self" (Colossians 3:10). They are one of His children as much as I am.
So here is my elevator story, something I've been going over in my mind to really get to the heart and soul of my faith. Feel free to think about yours and write it in my comment box. Or blog your own!
"I believe in Christ's salvation because..."
I was raised as an only child for nine years, by parents who had me later in life. I was independent and, because I was always around adults, a little mature for my age. I was always a high-achiever, I expected only the best from myself, and I was highly competitive, in every aspect of my life. I was selfish and insecure, always looking for the approval of others. However, even when I brought home the awards and good report cards, I still felt like I needed to DO more.
Once someone took the time to explain to me that God has more than just earthly "success" planned for my life, that He wants a real relationship with me and that He sacrificed His Son so that I could have that, I didn't want to risk living without it. And what was there to lose? It was pretty cool to know that the Creator of the UNIVERSE wanted to have a relationship with ME.
Accepting Christ has enabled me to let down my guard and have authentic relationships with people, without feeling threatened by their talents or life achievements. I still struggle with my competitiveness and my compulsions to control everything around me, for sure. But I have hope for my future, in life and death, and I know that no matter what happens - whether I land the job, raise my kids perfectly, or come upon hard times in my life - Jesus will be there, waiting to hear my prayers, reassure me of His love, and remind me that His ways are better than mine. Only through His power and grace can I achieve anything worth telling others about. And so I can relax and enjoy this life, instead of constantly striving to fill the void with achievements.