Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sharing the faith

In my lifetime I've seen many ways the church has been taught to share the Christian message. As a child I remember one week and two week long revivals often with red-faced evangelists challenging their listeners to get right with God while there was still time.  Early in my pastorate I taught our church members the techniques of Evangelism Explosion before we went into nearby neighborhoods and asked the five questions that would allow us to witness to unsaved people.  In Bible college we were taught that evangelism was one of the primary purposes of Sunday school and we should expect to see many converts come through that important ministry of the church.  Throughout my lifetime I've watched the Billy Graham crusades on television, and a couple of years before beginning my pastoral ministry had the privilege of attending a Billy Graham School of Evangelism.  Despite the various methods that have been used and taught over the years many Christians still find it very difficult to share their faith.  A large percentage of believers have never led anyone to Christ, and many of them haven't even tried.  Most of them would probably admit to feeling very inadequate if they tried to witness to someone.

There are people who have the gift of evangelism, and it seems they can lead someone to Christ as easily as you or I might order a cheeseburger through a drive-through.  You and I might not have that gift (I don't), but that doesn't mean that we are exempt from the Great Commission.  Every Christian has the responsibility of sharing our faith with others, and the good news is we don't have to memorize a canned approach to be able to do that nor do we have to have complete knowledge of everything written in the Scriptures.  Many times we just need to walk across the room.

If you didn't recognize it, Just Walk Across the Room is the title of a book written by Bill Hybels designed to help every Christian point people to faith.  This is not a new book.  It was published in 2006, but I just read it this week.  In the book Hybels makes evangelism seem so simple that anyone can do it.  It begins by believers developing relationships with non-believers.  That may seem rather elementary, but the fact is that the longer a person is a Christian the fewer non-Christian friends that person has.  (Question - How many non-Christian friends do you have?)  The second thing we do is to develop stories that will point people to God and then begin to look for opportunities to share those stories with them.  For example, what were the events in your life that led you to invite Jesus Christ into your life?  Your exact situation may not be the same as those of your friends, but it's likely the emotions you felt at the time will be similar to what they are feeling: fear, shame, guilt, confusion, helplessness, hopelessness, discouragement, etc.  Since I gave my life to Christ I have probably told my story to hundreds of people, and some element of that story connected with the vast majority of them at some point.  Not everyone I've told my story to invited Christ into their lives at that moment, but the results are not up to me.  I'm only responsible to tell the story.

A couple of weeks ago I preached a revival meeting in one of our bivocational churches.  During one of the final messages I challenged the congregation that the church needs to make a decision.  If we truly believe the Bible is true and is the Word of God then we have to accept what it says about eternity and the final destination of mankind.  Those who are saved through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ will spend eternity with God, and those who do not will be eternally separated from God.  If we really believe the Scriptures are true then we should feel compelled to share our faith as God provides opportunities so all will have the opportunity to invite Christ into their lives. 

I believe two things need to happen before we can expect our churches to take seriously the Great Commission.  The first is they must see their pastors and other leaders sharing their faith with people.  Remember - Everything rises and falls on leadership.  If the leadership isn't sharing their faith with people then they cannot expect the rest of the congregation to do so.  The second thing that needs to happen is we need to help people become more comfortable in sharing their faith.  I really believe this book by Hybels can be a good tool to do that.  It needs to be studied in your small groups, in your adult and youth Sunday school classes, and be included in your leadership development ministry. What he describes is not dependent upon the size of a church or their resources.  It is only dependent upon the willingness of God's people to be obedient to the Great Commission in their lives.

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