Here are some commonly assumed, and terrible, reasons for people to share their faith:
- Because you think that, like Amway Distributors, your status is directly related to how many people you recruit. God doesn't need your help in "getting people in." And God certainly isn't planning to give you better health in this world, or a better mansion in the next, according to your performance as a recruiter.
- Because you think that the church "needs more people." (This often is accompanied by, "to help pay the bills, sing in the choir, volunteer in the food bank, or teach a Sunday school class.") The church is "the Body of Christ" in the world, and since everything that exists is made in and though Christ, I think we can safely assume that he doesn't need anything, including more people. Faith sharing isn't about something lacking in Christ or the church, it is about something overflowing from Christ.
- Because you're having trouble believing what you think the official authorized version of the faith is, and feel that if you can just convince somebody ELSE to believe it, maybe you'll be able to believe it yourself. If you aren't experiencing the presence and grace of Christ in your life, it won't matter how hard you try to convince others they ought to. You'll fail them and yourself, not to mention Jesus.
Those are the three big reasons we often find "evangelism" so distasteful. People have attempted to do it to us for those reasons, and anyone who has a lick of sense will run like - uh - like crazy - from someone who is after them for those reasons. None the less, you need to be sharing your faith! Here are some good reasons:
- Because when you have experienced something wonderful in your life, it is just a fundamental part of human nature that you want to share that experience with people you care about. When people who have an experience of the grace and goodness of God fail to share that with someone they care about, it is stifling. Just yesterday "America's Funniest Home Videos" had a whole series of clips of people learning that someone they love was having a baby. You can picture it. Now that is what people do when something good and true and beautiful happens!
- Because when people talk openly with people they care for about things that they really value, it is a wondrous and blessed thing. Just watch someone who loves baseball talk about the time she hit a home run, or someone who loves to paint show his best painting. If you've ever had a conversation with someone about a movie that you both love, you know what I am talking about. We are nourished, strengthened, and empowered by sharing the most important things in our lives with others, and by listening to others share the same significance in their own lives.
- Because Jesus made it very clear that the presence he gives to you is not only for your benefit, but for the blessing of others as well. Wesley understood grace to be something that, like the water in a river, only makes its power felt when it is flowing. Bottled up grace ends up petering out. Shared grace abounds. When you share the little bit of God's presence in your life that you notice, more of God's presence pours in.
But here's the thing - what you are called to share is not some abstract or official idea about Jesus, about God, about religion, or about people. What you are called to do is to testify (Jesus called his followers "witnesses") to what you have actually experienced. That is all. You share what you know, what you have felt, what you hold dear. And sharing means that you also listen to what someone else knows, feels and holds dear. You must learn to do that. You were born to do that.
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Rev. Steve Ross is the Director of the Oregon-Idaho Conference Vital Church Project. Previously he served as Assistant to the Bishop for the Oregon Trail District.