Written By James Bunyan
James Bunyan is a bit of a fidget, to be honest. His inability to sit still tends to spill over into all sorts of areas of his life; he loves travelling, good writing, all sports (except frisbee), the sense of purpose that the gospel gives him, exotic teas and the satisfaction of peeling off a sticker all in one go. He lives in Teddington (London), where he is training to be a vicar in the Church of England. For James and his wife Lois, lockdown in London was improved by the arrival of their daughter, Galilee, who just learned to clap.
Sharing our faith can be pretty tricky.
Christianity is contagious and yet, in this world of easy communication and hundreds of different beliefs, sharing the gospel with family, friends, dentists, garbage collectors, colleagues, enemies, taxi drivers, teammates or others can often go awry pretty quickly—without us even knowing why. Well, it could be because we are making some classic mistakes when we interact with people with other beliefs and worldviews:
- Speaking more than we listen.
We think: The person opposite us has nothing to offer when it comes to matters of faith, so we make sure we enlighten them by dominating the conversation. After all, they need to hear about Jesus, don’t they? And that’s not going to happen if we just sit there and listen to them, right? Maybe we should even interrupt them when they try changing the subject . . .
- Always winning the argument, whatever the cost.
We think: Whenever we engage anyone in a conversation about faith, the truth of the gospel is at stake! It’s Christianity vs Whatever-Nonsense-They-Believe, so don’t let Jesus down! So hammer their arguments into the dust, using all our powers of persuasion, logic, and wisdom (and, if it helps, do some shouting as well). Actually, Facebook is the best for this, because we can write however much we like without having to look at our readers or acknowledge that they are people just like us.
- Keeping it intellectual and hypothetical.
We think: If we’re talking about faith, then there’s no need to discuss how this works in practice or talk about what Jesus is currently teaching us. Besides, they may either find that odd. Or, they may find out that Christians don’t always live perfectly themselves—that would not only be embarrassing, but we would also lose the argument (see above).
- Avoiding talking about Jesus or the Bible.
We think: If they have a different worldview, they don’t believe in Jesus, so there’s no need to talk about Him. Besides, He says some pretty odd things that won’t make us look too good; bits about angels, violence, and hell. Stick to talking about things like “searching for ourselves” and “not being perfect” that we can all relate to.
- Packing the whole gospel into one conversation.
We think: We are this person’s last hope of becoming a Christian! So make sure we never leave anything out, even if they don’t seem too keen to listen. Follow them out the door and down the road if we have to, so long as we finish what we’re saying!
As you’ve probably worked out by now, sharing your faith like this would be a total disaster. Yet many of us make these mistakes. And the biggest mistake is that we don’t respect people enough as precious humans made in the image of God. So the only message we end up sending to them is that Christians don’t listen, don’t care, are opinionated and, worst of all, consider people with other worldviews stupid and not worth engaging with.
In contrast, the Gospels show us that Jesus never talked to two different people in precisely the same way. Was it because He understood that each person’s worldview is unique and worthy of respect? Perhaps it means that sharing our faith is not so much about downloading information to people, as about dignifying them by appealing to and challenging their whole humanity, emotions and all. After all, imagine what Christians can achieve when they do the opposite of what we saw above. Imagine Christians who:
- Are confident enough to ask questions and humble enough to listen to people more than they talk, understanding that there is plenty to learn from others and to affirm in them.
- Value people enough to try and win the person, rather than just the argument, understanding that the other person has real value and dignity.
- Can share how Jesus is relevant to them today, understanding the importance of consistency between belief and practice, while at the same time admitting how they need Jesus to help them in their weaknesses.
- Take every opportunity to share the life, death, and resurrection of the real, historical Jesus they so clearly love, understanding that He alone is the author and perfecter of their faith and the power behind the message.
- Don’t desperately ram the whole gospel into every conversation, understanding the liberating truth that God’s Holy Spirit can use all sorts of opportunities to bring people closer to Him.
All this takes a little patient practice; it isn’t as easy as just following a recipe or memorizing a method.
But it could be a lot more exciting, couldn’t it?