Two things I enjoy: running and Jesus. Two things I am trying to get better at: running barefoot and loving and understanding Jesus. In my random cyber-universe, I happened across this blog post about barefoot running and its author, Jason Robillard has some interesting points (scroll down to the bottom of his article). I quickly made some helpful connections to Christianity.
Robillard is discussing fanaticism. He starts off talking about a former professor who was an Apple fanatic (aren’t they all?!?!). His professor’s fanaticism ended up driving him away from Apple’s amazingly wonderful and glorious products (oops!). He relates this experience to the excitement one gets about barefoot running and gives four ways that barefoot running enthusiasts can share their excitement without being overwhelming by shoving their agenda and “dogma” down their prospective convert’s throat. Here are his four points:
1. Be skeptical of your own beliefs, no matter how strong.
2. Know your audience; learn to pick up on subtle cues.
3. Accept that we’re all different and there may be more than one solution.
4. Avoid dogma.
As Robillard assimilated his fanatic experience with evangelizing about barefoot running, I’d like to take his point and assimilate them to Christian evangelism. Well, 3 of the 4 anyway. I think these are helpful points to consider when sharing the Gospel with people. Why? Let’s go point-by-point.
1. Be skeptical of your own beliefs, no matter how strong. Perhaps the best, most lingering piece of advice I ever received was similar: “Be a strict critic of yourself and have compassion on others and their beliefs.” In other words, you’d better know what you believe and why you believe it. About barefoot running AND Jesus Christ. Being skeptical or critical of your own beliefs means you are willing to admit when you are wrong and be quick to do so. As a Christian, is also requiresyou and I to be honest about holes in our beliefs and willing to grow in our understanding of the Bible. We ought to be like the noble Bereans of Acts 17 who, when Paul taught them something new, went right back to the Bible to see if what he said was true. Being skeptical and critical of our beliefs does not require that we are quick to trade our theological paradigm for another. We are not to be tossed around by every wave of doctrine we come across. However, we ought to be continually molding and shaping what we believe and hold fast and humbly to the fundamentals.
2. Know your audience; learn to pick up on subtle cues. If you’ve ever sold something, anything, you know about this point. I used to sell shoes and there comes a point where some customer’s eyes glaze over and you know they’re not interested in what you’re selling. Or, if someone randomly stop by your house for no apparent reason while you’re busy with something else and they just. Don’t. LEAVE. UGH! “Don’t they get it? I’m right in the middle of something important!” And then you start to get frustrated by their lack of understanding of your subtle cues: walking closer to the door, saying you have a lot to do today, starting their car for them…It’s great and wonderful to share Jesus and to do so with a certain boldness and authenticity. But it may be a bit awkward in the grocery store check-out lane. Not for you…for them. I know when my message is not getting through to my students because they sleep. What about your unsaved neighbor? Or your unregenerate family member? Are you browbeating them and they’re sending you clues but you’re not picking up on them? Remember: few if any are browbeaten into the Kingdom of God. Pay attention.
3. Accept that we’re all different and there may be more than one solution. True of barefoot running and running shoes, not true of God. Despite what Oprah Winfrey says, Jesus is the only way to God. There are not many roads to one God. Nope. There’s one and his name is Jesus. So we are all different, but the problem is universal: sin, and there’s only one solution: Christ. But a different interpretation of his point could be this: We’re different and there is no one method or style or speech in evangelism that effectively reaches every single person. What I mean is this: the message, the content, the Gospel is the same and never changes; however, our methods, approaches and style may according to time, place, audience, etc. The Gospel is the unchanging Word of God. How we present that to people may (and should) vary. Example: Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 2 is very different from Luke’s version in Luke 3. Matthew is writing to a very Jewish audience and traces Jesus’ line back to Abraham. Luke is writing to a much broader audience. Same message, different methods.
4. Avoid dogma. Boy this one’s tough ain’t it? Robillard says it this way, “The phrases were predictable… they were the dogmatic statements that we repeat without much critical thought. The idea behind the statements make sense; they’re the basics we use to teach others. However, when repeated out of context they sound like crazy rants from fanatics.” Are you a crazy, fanatical Jesus-person? When you talk about Jesus, do people look at you like you’re drunk? What lines or phrases or statements do you make about Jesus that are cliche? Now to some extent the world will think people who believe in Jesus are crazy and fanatical for their beliefs, but we don’t have to add craziness and fanaticism and offense to the already offensive Gospel. Be sure that when people argue against you (and they will), that they’re not arguing with you, but with God and the Bible. Make what you say to them compelling and logical and reasonable and true so when they respond, they are responding positively or negatively to God, not you.
Applying Robillard’s four points to our work of sharing the Good News leads us to this point: it’s not about us. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus. We don’t save, Jesus saves. We may offer the message of salvation to someone, but we don’t save them. The Holy Spirit does. It’s not even about sharing how wonderful Jesus is in my life, “Don’t you want that too?” The Gospel that saves is not our testimony, it’s about Christ. Read the whole book of Acts beginning to end (it won’t take that long. We’ll wait right here.). There are several sermons recorded in Acts by wonderful men who had first-hand and direct interaction with Jesus. Not one single time to they ever suggest that, “Jesus worked a miracle in my life. Wouldn’t you want that in your life?” They remarkably do not talk about themselves and their experiences. They talk instead about Jesus and how he did things healed people, fulfilled prophecy, and rose again from the dead. And they did so in a reasoned, logical, concise, objective way.
How do you share the Gospel?