Each June WDA staff meet together for an annual conference. This year as different ministries presented stories about what God has been doing, we were able to hear from Jon Deans who is leading a ministry called the Great Exchange.
By creating opportunities where staff and students ask questions and listen to others, God is opening up opportunities for the message of the gospel to be presented. Listen to Jon share about the Great Exchange and pray for WDA as we partner with churches and student ministries on campuses to bring the Great Exchange and the message of the gospel to college students.
Listen to Jon’s Presentation of the Great Exchange on this audio clip from our WDA Conference.
This week at the University of Georgia, this spring break, and around the south The Great Exchange is partnering with campuses and ministries to bring the message of the gospel to students.
“There is an unprecedented opportunity to reach 20 year olds on the university campus.
The Great Exchange team has found this next generation of young people to be extremely open to hearing and responding to the good news of the Gospel. They are not attracted to religion or our entertainment, but when we begin to discuss the mans that God had made for us to know Him they are very intrigued.
At the University of Georgia we are having hundreds, not just dozens, of ongoing conversations about Jesus. It is an exciting, attractive atmosphere and students find it fun and exhilarating. It is a lot like being at the Areopagus in Athens in Acts 17.”
Watch the videos to learn more about how God is using Great Exchange as WDA partners with other campuses and ministries to bring Evangelistic Events to campuses.
Evangelism is just the beginning, as many who come to Christ need to grow spiritually. As students come to know Christ, ministries see the need to help people grow.
WDA provides training and resources to help people continue to grow to maturity after they make a profession of faith in Christ.
I’ve often heard people say the reason they find it difficult to share their faith is because they don’t have all the right answers. “What if someone suggests all paths lead to the same God, making Jesus irrelevant?” they say. Or “What if a co-worker claims she could never be a Christian because the Bible has too many errors?” These are serious questions that deserve thoughtful responses. As Christians, we should have reasons for our hope. However, I wonder if we often put our hope in having right answers instead of hoping in the reason for our faith? Let’s consider the role of “right answers” in the difficulty of sharing our faith.
Reasons for Hope
While some consider Christianity to be an unthinking faith, the Bible underscores the importance of reason. Peter, a disciple not known for being good with words, wrote this: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Pet 3:14-15).
We are to offer “reasons” for our hope, to always be prepared. Prepared to do what? “Make a defense” is a translation of the word from which we getapologetic. An apologetic isn’t an “I’m sorry” attitude. Nor is it a defensive, antagonistic stance against culture. It is a reasoned statement of belief. To make an apologetic, then, is not to argue out of defensive insecurity, but to offer a reasonable explanation from our security. What kind of security frees us to offer reasonable explanations for our faith?
Two kinds of security free us to engage in apologetics. The first is intellectual security. The Christian faith has a long tradition of apologists who have faithfully defended the faith century after century, answering some of the most difficult questions. The earliest apologists include: Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Tatian, and Clement of Alexandria (view their texts here). Their apologetic answers have been handed down from generation to generation. New apologists, such as Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Tim Keller, John Frame, and Alvin Plantinga, also address new questions. We do well to read them.
It is important to note that the gospel alone acts as a grand apologetic, addressing the deepest of life’s questions including: the problem of evil and suffering, the existence of God, the hope of salvation, the nature of God and man, and the role of faith. Through apologetics the gospel has proven intellectually credible and existentially satisfying for many people across many cultures. The gospel provides a coherent, rational view on the world that is intellectually secure. It makes sense of a world where things are not as they are supposed to be. But there is another security that frees us to offer reasonable explanations for Christian faith.
Many of us won’t make time to read the old and new apologists. And perhaps we don’t have to. Is it possible that Peter had in mind an apologetic that included, not just reasons, but faith? Peter was writing to people who feared persecution for their faith. When we struggle to share our faith, do we not face persecution? We are attacked by thoughts that undermine our confidence, diminish our trust in Christ, and redirect us away from speaking about Jesus. Surely, this is a spiritual persecution. Cultural apologist Ken Myers has said:
“the challenge of living with popular culture may well be as serious for modern Christians as persecution and plagues were for the saints of earlier centuries.”
While we may not face the gallows or plagues, we do face something more subtle–the invisible power of pop culture that undermines truth, dismisses character, and radically orients us toward comfort. The good news is that we have the same ability as those early saints to be secure and strong in our faith. When doubts surface and silent accusations fly on the cusp of mentioning the gospel, we need a security stronger than our persecution.
Before instructing the early Christians to always have an apologetic, Peter prefaces his statement with this: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…” (1 Pet. 3:14). He reassures them, in the face of mockery, to sink their security deep into their hearts not heads. He reminds them that they have nothing to fear because they have Christ who offers perfect peace. He makes apologetics about Christ not right answers, a matter of both the head and the heart.
So, when we face that moment of temptation to shy away from identifying with Jesus, it is our identity in Jesus that we need most. We need not fear men because we can rest in Christ. People may reject us, but our forever acceptance in Christ gives us every reason to speak of Him, of His grace, mercy, kindness, love, and triumph over sin, death, and evil. O for stronger men and women who sink their identity deeply into what Jesus says about us more than what peers and co-workers (might) say about us! Our silence will convince no one of our rich, rewarding faith in Jesus. Fear over co-worker frowns will not inspire a smiling faith.
Our moment of opportunity is less about converting others and more about staying true to ourselves. Will we speak of our unique community in the church, the God-intoxicating gathering on Sunday, the stirring time of meditation on Wednesday morning, and the quiet, soul stirrings of communion with God? Will we speak authentically about what matters most to us and of the meaningful events in our lives or will we prove inauthentic, dismissing these things from conversation, and along with them, dismissing our true selves? Will we refrain from honoring the Lord Christ as holy in our hearts because we hold in honor the passing frowns of men in our heads? Surely the gospel offers a deeper security than the approval of passing men and women? Does not Christ’s love run deeper, His acceptance purer, and His approval longer than the love, acceptance, and approval that any person could ever give? If so, apologetics is meant to spring from a deep security in the heart, our unshakable union with Christ—fully loved, fully accepted. Apologetics is a matter of the heart as well as the head.
Defending the faith, then, is as much about defending Christ as our Lord in our hearts as it is explaining the reasonableness of our faith. The goal of apologetics should never be to convert others (that is the Spirit’s job), but it is to honor Christ as Lord in our hearts. This happens, very often, with our mouths. And in the end, for everyone the bottom-line issue isn’t an intellectual objection but hope objection. We refuse to remove our hope from one thing and transfer it to the ultimate thing, the person of Jesus. A witness of our authentic hope in Christ will be more compelling than any intellectual argument we could ever articulate. People need to see our hope burn in our bones. They need to sense the Lord Christ set apart in our hearts. They need to see that the gospel not only makes sense but that it also works. Christian faith is intellectually satisfying and existentially rich. So let’s not put our hope in having right answers but have answers that reflect our hope.
 Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1989), v.
Jonathan K. Dodson(MDiv; ThM) serves as a pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and has written articles in numerous blogs and journals such as The Resurgence, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, and Boundless. He has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others. Twitter:@Jonathan_Dodson
We often find it difficult to share our faith because we want to first form relationships with people. Avoiding preachy self-righteousness, we try to get to know others before talking about Jesus. We prefer to talk about work, culture, and ordinary stuff first. This springs from a proper concern to not come off as stiff evangelists but as real, caring people.
Love Not Proselytize Your Neighbor
This concern to have a relationship before sharing the gospel has some biblical warrant. Jesus said: “Love your neighbor,” not proselytize your neighbor. To proselytize is to coerce or induce people to believe what you believe. The person who proselytizes coerces by forcefully defending and advancing their beliefs. Remember the film The Big Kahuna? Grabbing evidence and opportunities, Christians back their co-workers into a theological corner, expecting them to throw up their hands and say, “I believe!” Other times, proselytizing takes the form of recruitment. We might try to convince people to join our moral or political agenda, as if Jesus wants to add to his numbers to strengthen a political constituency.
When we proselytize people, we reduce discipleship to an intellectual enterprise. In effect, we replace the gospel with doctrinal agreement (or just being right). When we focus on recruitment, we make Christianity about power or morality. This replaces the gospel with religion or rightwing politics. But Paul shared a gospel that was all about Jesus, preaching Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:1). He resolved to preach Christ not politics. Similarly, when sharing our faith, we need to make Jesus the stumbling block not morality or politics. When we put doctrinal, moral, and political blocks in front of the gospel, we proselytize instead of love. Proselytizing requires the mind and the will, but love requires heart, mind, and will.
“When sharing our faith, we need to make Jesus the stumbling block not morality or politics.”
I’ve had countless conversations with non-Christians in which I’ve had to remove these stumbling blocks in order to get to the heart with the wonderful news of the gospel. Getting to the heart takes time. We need what Michael Frost calls “Slow Evangelism.” We need faith in God and love for people that slows us down to listen to others well, so that we can learn how to make the good news good to their bad news. For many, hearing that Jesus died on the cross for them is entirely irrelevant; we have to show the relevance of Jesus to their real need. Relationships are essential to discerning and meeting real needs. It was Francis Schaeffer who said: “Give me an hour with a non-Christian and I’ll listen for forty-five minutes. Only then, in the last fifteen minutes, will I have something to say.” We often hesitate to share our faith because we want people to know that we value them, regardless of their response. But if we truly value them, we wont simply “wait” to share the gospel; we will embody it by listening well.
Wonderful Doesn’t Wait
Have you ever noticed when you encounter something truly wonderful, you don’t always wait for a relationship to tell someone? There are things that are so urgent, so weighty, so wonderful that we burst out to talk about them whether we have a relationship or not! When our sports team scores to win the game, we don’t look around the stadium and think: “I can’t tell people how happy I am about this win. I don’t even know them!” No, we don’t wait to express our joy; we burst out when our team wins. We celebrate with strangers and go nuts on social media. When we’re at a concert and our favorite song is played, and the band is really rocking, we don’t wait to sing along or comment. We sing and chat it up with strangers. After reading a book or seeing a great movie, perhaps the Hunger Games, we strike up conversation with people at work about how great the movie was.
When something is truly wonderful, we often don’t wait to talk about it. Is the news about Jesus so urgent, weighty, and wonderful that we can’t help but share it? It is, but often it’s not as fresh as the game, concert, or movie. Why? Very often this is because we aren’t immersed in the goodness of the gospel. It is old, memorized, fading news because we haven’t had a fresh encounter with Christ in weeks! The wonder is lost because we haven’t plunged ourselves into Christ-centered worship, prayer, or Bible meditation. We are most likely to talk about the gospel when the good news is good news to us.
“We are most likely to talk about the gospel when the good news is good news to us.”
Have you ever considered what would have happened if Jesus had waited until he had a relationship with the thief on the cross to offer him eternal life? What if authors, pastors, and preachers waited to tell you the good news until they had a relationship with you? Sometimes there are things that are so wonderful, they don’t deserve a wait!
Jonathan K. Dodson(MDiv; ThM) serves as a pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and has written articles in numerous blogs and journals such as The Resurgence, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, and Boundless. Dodson has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others.
Early in the partnership, one of the Pierce Scholars approached me with a question about the centrality of the Gospel related to the process of sanctification. That day, Jonathan Dodson and I began a friendship that endures to this day. I heartily recommend Gospel Centered Discipleship as a resource for those who sense that The Good News is about more than justification. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus.” Robert D. (Bob) Dukes, President and Executive Director of WDA
Very often we find it difficult to share our faith. Whether we’re in the workplace, neighborhood, or a social setting, talking about the person and work of Jesus doesn’t come naturally. There are some good reasons for this.
After spending almost fifteen years in creative class cities, where Christianity is typically marginalized and misunderstood, I’ve noticed that each city possesses its own unique challenges to communicating the gospel. Some of these challenges have led Christians to quiet down and let their actions do the preaching. Yet, there remains an intellectual and spiritual responsibility to communicate what we believe to those who would hear us. Whether it’s cold, diverse Minneapolis, intellectually charged Boston, or creatively weird Austin, I’ve noticed that some reasons for not sharing my faith have travelled with me from city to city. In brief, I’d like to describe five reasons why I think we find it difficult to share the faith. Each reason will reflect a constructive concern and a critical response.
What if I’m Viewed as Preachy?
One of the reasons Christians find it difficult to share their faith is because we’re rightly concerned about being perceived as preachy. Preachy Christians often turn people off not onto faith in Christ. Think of Angela from The Office, the street preacher, or maybe the free speech fundamentalist yellers on campus in college. I remember watching them. They stood on a box to yell. Leading out with hell, fire, and damnation not grace, forgiveness, and salvation.
These Christians all share something in common—self-righteousness. If we’re honest, we all have a bit of this in us, but with these figures it’s amplified. We hesitate to talk about Jesus because we don’t want to be associated with them. We’re concerned it would turn others off. But preachy self-righteousness isn’t just a turn off; it’s the opposite of the gospel. This brings into focus our first, principal concern:
We should avoid preachy self-righteousness because it communicates something opposite to the gospel.
Preachy self-righteousness says: “If you perform well (morally or spiritually), God will accept you.” But the gospel says, “God already accepts you because Jesus performed perfectly on your behalf.” There’s a hell of difference between the two. The gospel sets us free from performance and releases us into the arms of grace. Self-wrought performance is a death sentence, but the obedience of Christ on our behalf is eternal life. What people need to hear is grace, audacious, seems-too-good-to-be-true but so-true-its-good, grace. Grace is God working his way down to us, so that we don’t have to work our way up to him. He comes down to us in Jesus. We need to make Jesus the stumbling block, not preachy self-righteousness or spiritual performance.
How Do We Change the “Preachy” Perception?
Now, there’s also a critical response to this concern. While it’s true that we should oppose preachy self-righteousness (because it obscures the gospel of grace), it is also true that the gospel offends our own self-righteous sensibilities. The gospel reminds us that we don’t have what it takes before a holy God, that Christ alone has what it takes, and that he’s died and risen to give it to us.
The gospel is offensive; it lifts up a mirror and shows us who we really are, but it’s also redemptive; it lifts up Christ to show us who we can become.
In the shining light of God’s glory, our darkness becomes quickly apparent. We can feel it. Deep down, something is wrong, bent, even broken. We’re in need of repair. We spend most of our lives trying to avoid this inner sense, which distorts us even more. The gospel helps us see ourselves as we are, but offers us an entirely new image, the image of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ. If we’ll give up on ourselves and give into Jesus, he’ll exchange our darkness for his light, our distortion for his beauty. This is news worth sharing. The problem, however, isn’t just that people think “preachy self-righteousness” when they hear the word “gospel.” It’s that our concern mutes the gospel. In thoughtful concern, we quiet down to let our actions do the preaching but, in the end, people hear nothing. When Christians press mute, people are left to make up their own versions of Christianity. We think our silence will remedy the perception of self-righteousness but silence, instead of sharing, does not remedy the preachy perception.
One day I was having a congenial chat with a man in Starbucks, until he asked what I was doing. I responded, “I’m working on a sermon.” He replied by waving his hands, one across another, saying “Oh, no. I don’t want to hear the sermon.” This was followed by a nervous chuckle. A sermon isn’t meant to mound up all your woes and make you feel guilt; it is meant to relieve your woes and remove your guilt through faith in Jesus. Similarly, the gospel doesn’t just show us who we really are; it shows us who we can become in Christ. Sure, it lifts up a mirror but it also lifts up Christ, lifting us up with him in hope. Our concern to avoid preachy self-righteousness is good, but we have not gone far enough to remove this religious visage.
How will this incorrect view of Christianity be corrected? Actions might remedy a perception of personal self-righteousness, but they can’t correct a religious view of the gospel. Only words can clarify the meaning of the gospel. Yet, there remain more difficulties in sharing our faith. In the next article, we will consider the concern that we first have a relationship before sharing the gospel with others.
Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv; ThM) serves as a pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. This article is adapted from the book Unbelievable Gospel: How to Share a Gospel Worth Believing?” He is also the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and has written articles in numerous blogs and journals such as The Resurgence, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, and Boundless. Dodson has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others.
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