Nobody likes a jerk, but so often this is the impression many Christians give when sharing the faith. There are many people who claim to follow Christ but share their faith in a way that completely contradicts Jesus’ message and manner. This happens even with well-meaning, kind-hearted, Christians. They want their friends and family to know Jesus Christ, but they fall into unhealthy patterns of sharing the faith, patterns that push people away from God rather than draw people near. I want to begin by saying that I understand. Sharing the Christian faith is hard.
Rico Tice, in his book, Honest Evangelism: How to talk about Jesus even when it’s tough (The Good Book Company, April 2015), says:
I find evangelism hard. The problem with being an evangelist is that people assume that you find evangelism effortless; but I don’t find it easy, and never have. For me, telling people about Jesus has often been nerve wracking. (p. 11)
Through the years, I have had the privilege of having friends who seemed to be naturally gifted in sharing their faith. They made it look easy, but when I spoke to them, I discovered they had the same difficulties that I experienced. They had the same fears and worries. They stumbled over their words. Here are eight helpful points I learned from them.
1. Kindness goes a long way.
This may seem obvious, but too often when Christians share the faith, it turns into a heated argument. The cross is offensive enough. When I share the faith, I need to make sure that I am respectful and kind. I know plenty of people who have turned away from Christianity even though they think it’s true, because church people were jerks. As you seek to share your faith in a kind way, you may be surprised that people are more willing to listen.
2. Honesty shows and gains respect.
Some people who share their faith put on a character. They become “spiritual.” This “spiritual” person never doubts, worries, or sins. This “spiritual” person always loves Jesus more than life. This “spiritual” person doesn’t respect people enough to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question.” This “spiritual” person is afraid to admit that he or she may need to learn something about what others think.
Too many Christians are afraid to be honest. They fear that honesty will lose people’s respect. It doesn’t. The truth is that honesty often gains respect. When Christians treat people as people and not as numbers or “sinners,” they often gain respect. When Christians admit their sin, when they ask for forgiveness after failing to show kindness, they often gain respect. Don’t be afraid to be honest.
3. Ordinary conversations matter most.
You don’t need a formula, a method, or a program to share the faith. You need to have ordinary, honest, kind, and respectful conversations about the faith. Try this: ask people if they would like to talk about Christianity. Sometimes just asking, “Can I talk with you about Jesus?” opens people up.
If people don’t want to talk, you probably won’t persuade them by raising your voice or trying to force them. Respect their decision. Remember that these conversations are hard for people. To have serious conversations with some people, you need to gain a certain level of trust. Frustration, anger, or force will only push those people away. Be patient. Make yourself available. Don’t worry.
4. You can only share what you know.
I have found that a big reason most people fail to share their faith is because they know very little about the faith. Think of it like a language. It is much easier to read a foreign language than to speak it. It is much easier to hear and understand the gospel than to teach it and talk about it. To talk about the gospel—to share it—requires a certain amount of gospel fluency. It takes regular Scripture reading and prayer to attain gospel fluency. Too many Christians haven’t given enough time to learn the faith. When you take the time to read Scripture, pray, and study the Christian faith, you will discover that you, too, will have much to say about God and the gospel.
5. Share the gospel.
The message we share with people is not about hell, morality, or the church. Hell, morality, and church are important. But the message of the gospel—that which is of first importance—is that Jesus came to save sinners. You don’t really need to convince people that they are sinners. You don’t need to ask them if they keep the Ten Commandments. Tell them about what Jesus did on the cross. The fact that Jesus suffered and died on the cross is evidence enough that there is something wrong with the world. Most people have a sense that there is something wrong with their life. Talk about what Jesus came to do and why he came to do it. Start with Jesus, and you might be surprised how many people will grant that they are sinners who need a savior.
6. Don’t talk too much. Listen.
Whenever I share my faith, there is a lot I want to say. I want to tell people about Jesus’ perfect life. I want to talk about his crucifixion. I want to speak about the glorious resurrection, but I have to remember that a conversation is not a speech. I am not giving a sermon. I’m supposed to have a conversation. Throw out the agenda, and give up on trying to get in all you want to say. Trust God. Enjoy the conversation.
7. Becoming a Christian can take a long time.
Sometimes when people hear the gospel, they immediately believe it and become Christians. The Holy Spirit’s regenerating work of creating faith happens in an instant, but only God can see that. You and I see people questioning, learning, doubting, and believing. No one believes everything all at once, because no one can learn it all at once. There is a lot to learn in Christianity.
We should expect people to take time to ask questions and to express doubts. Learning takes time. This is why sharing the faith is not something Christians do once. Whenever a pastor preaches, he should be reminding the congregation of the mercy and love of God in sending Jesus Christ to die and rise for sinners. As Christians, you and I will be learning the gospel for the rest of our lives. As you share your faith, trust God to save your friends and family in his timing.
In sharing the faith, like me, you will often fail. It happens. Don’t worry about it. When you fail to show kindness, to speak honestly, to be authentic, to share the gospel message, to listen, or to display patience, admit your fault and ask for forgiveness. Remember, God draws straight lines with a crooked stick.