(Editor’s Note: This article is reposted with permission from Gospel Centered Discipleship)
This is the second in the series The Difficulty of Sharing our Faith by Jonathan K. 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.