One of the guys I’ve been mentoring/discipling in my church is in his last summer before his senior year of High School. While his school is bigger than some, we do not live in a large town with a large school. Each graduating class contains somewhere between 50-to-60 students. In the time I’ve been mentoring him, we have worked on his character and consistency as a follower of Jesus. One area in which he desires to grow is sharing the Gospel with his fellow students.
We live in a very spiritually apathetic town. It is small. Most everyone is related or connected to each other in some way. And therefore, most everyone “belongs” to a local church, and I use “belong” in a very loose sense. Maybe they were baptized as a kid, but haven’t been to a church worship gathering in 10 or 20 years. Maybe their grandma brought them to VBS as a child. Maybe…whatever. Almost everyone in town, if you asked them, would claim to be a Christian. Yet very few actually are.
Of the high schoolers, if 10% of any one class lives as faithful Christians, I’d be surprised (and, yes, I know 10% is only 5 or 6 students).
Recently, I’ve had this young man list out the names of some people he knows who aren’t followers of Jesus. We’ve begun to pray for them and opportunities for his witness this coming school year. Along with this, I also gave him five “be” statements to remember when it comes to sharing the Gospel:
1) Be talkative. Talking is easier for some than it is for others. I’m not much of a talker, especially not to people I don’t know well. But God communicated the Gospel of our salvation from sin through words. We tell others about Jesus through words. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. Sound familiar? No matter how outgoing or shy we might be, we have to talk to people in order to share the Gospel with them. Now, “talkative” sometimes implies the chatterbox who annoys everyone and just won’t shut up. That’s not this kind of talkative. Annoying people rarely serves as a good means of sharing the Gospel. We have to have a limit to our words. (I wouldn’t expect a student to talk to his neighbor in the middle of class while the teacher is lecturing on the Pythagorean Theorem !) But we can’t be silent either, even if it means we have to step outside of our comfort zone from time to time.
2) Be friendly. The Gospel is offensive. We’re telling people they’re sinners under the judgment of a holy God and need to repent and trust in Jesus for salvation. People want to hear that they’re good enough. People want to hear that God loves them just the way they are. People want to hear that if they’re kind (most of the time) to their neighbor then God will be satisfied. The Gospel is a stumbling block and a rock of offense since it does not say these things people want to hear. Paul once wrote he would do all that he could not to place any other offense in the way of the Gospel. The message is offensive enough, it doesn’t need our help offending people more. This is why we’re not wannabe Pharisees from Topeka hoisting hateful signs at soldier’s funerals.
Friendliness does not guarantee people will accept us and hear our message. Friendliness does not guarantee we will avoid being hated by the world. But friendliness can be disarming. If we are friendly to people, showing true concern and real acts of service in love, then we are far more likely to at least have an audience who will listen (and hopefully actually “hear!”).
3) Be you (or: be authentic). One of my seminary professors, Dr. Mark Coppenger, told a story of a time he went to preach at a predominantly African American church a friend pastored. It’s a well known fact that most white preachers preach differently than most black preachers (and that’s perfectly fine). But us white guys have a tendency to attempt to preach like black preachers when we’re in front of a receptive audience, and it usually goes poorly. Dr. Coppenger said his friend told him, with this in mind, “Look, you’re an old, fat, bald white guy. Preach like an old, fat, bald white guy and don’t try to preach like a black man.”
We each have our different personality traits, style, gifts, and talents. We have things we are good at and things we are not good at. We are who we are. Now this is not an excuse to relish in moral weakness, but it’s a reason to not be a poser. I’m a bit of a geek—I’ve always been geeky and I will always be geeky. The geeky kids think I’m cool, the cool kids think I’m a geek. If I pretend to be cool and hip while witnessing to a bunch of “cool” people, they’re going to see right through it. A good witness requires authenticity.
4) Be different. Now this might seem to contradict “be you,” but it does not. Whatever our personality, if we are followers of Jesus, we have a new identity in Christ. We are his holy people. We are meant to be different. Paul told us not to conform to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. As we seek to flee sin, our lives should look different to the people around us. Peter told us to always be ready to make a defense to any who ask about the hope within us. Peter’s words imply people see something about our lives that is different than what they normally see. There’s enough bitterness, gossip, hatred, divisiveness, envy, cliquishness, and just all around sinfulness in the world as is. We are to be lights shining in the darkness, beacons of hope, and portrayers of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
5) Be prayerful. Our evangelism depends on prayer. Jesus said to pray for workers in the harvest field. Paul petitioned churches to pray for his words, boldness, and opportunities to share. Jesus taught us to pray about God’s Kingdom—which would include people becoming followers of the King. We can “be” all the other things mentioned above, but if it’s not grounded with prayer then we’ll miss out on the power of God in our witness.