What I have found with folks is that the more you are confident, the more courage you will have. And confidence comes, to a great degree, from training. If you have training, then you will have confidence. If you have confidence, you will have courage. And you will be able to more effectively go out and engage people.
I had a radio interview a couple of weeks ago with a Northern California station. The question was, How do we share the Gospel with our neighbors? How do we go about bringing the issue up or steering around to Jesus? I hadn’t really thought about it in so many words, but as I prepared for the show, I got some things together, and I thought I’d share the same thoughts with you. As you will see, these are not radically different from the things I’ve talked about in the past year, but maybe just put together in a different way.
The first question that was asked of me was, “Why are so many people afraid to preach the Gospel?” That is, why are Christians timid? I do believe many Christians are timid about preaching the Gospel. As I reflected on it, I realized this is not so much a bad thing in the context of our culture, but it actually reflects something good. It is not a good thing to give in to timidity, but that one is timid is a good sign.
The reason that they are timid, of course, is that they are frightened. They are frightened that when they give people the message that they need to hear, that those people are going to be mad, upset, or frustrated with them. They may even turn on the believer and try to marginalize him by calling him names like “narrow-minded,” “arrogant,” “intolerant,” that kind of thing. Why is that a good thing? If you are frightened about sharing the Gospel, that shows you understand that the true message of the Gospel is something that the other people aren’t going to like. This means you are still in touch with classical Christian roots.
Let’s face it. There is a growing contingent of the church, largely on the seeker-sensitive side of the spectrum, that has erred in excess in the way it has communicated the Gospel. I’m not saying that all of them are like this, but this is an error that those who are seeker-driven are more prone to. Since the seeker is the all-in-all in the more extreme forms of that view, you don’t want to do anything or say anything that is going to bother the seeker. There has been a metamorphosis, as a result, in the so-called Gospel. But Gospel, which is good news, is good news only in context of the bad news. And if the bad news offends people, why don’t we just get rid of the bad news and just tell them good stuff? So to a great degree, the Gospel has morphed into Christianity as life enhancement.
If you are offering Christianity as life enhancement, there is no reason to be frightened at all because that version of Christianity—try my ice cream, it’s better than your ice cream—is not the least bit offensive to people. It fits in perfectly with a pluralistic world view. All religions are routes to God. Each is just as legitimate as any other. Find the one you like. Our message then is “Ours is better!” Not “Ours is true.” And if your view is that ours is better, try it and see if you like it, then we are peddling life enhancement, and that never bothers people. They may not think that ours is better, but they aren’t going to be offended by the appeal that we offer.
If you are frightened about sharing your faith, it is because you know that what it is you have to share is something that is likely to offend. The stumbling block of the cross is offensive. We dare not remove the offense that is inherent in the Gospel. We shouldn’t make it more offensive than it is, but we should not take the offense out of it. That is part of the nature of the Gospel itself. If we are frightened to preach the Gospel to our friends and neighbors, that is actually a sign that we are still in touch with the real McCoy.
But how do you overcome this?
What I have found with folks is that the more you are confident, the more courage you will have. And confidence comes, to a great degree, from training. If you have training, then you will have confidence. If you have confidence, you will have courage. And you will be able to more effectively go out and engage people. That is why Stand to Reason is here, to provide that kind of training. Not just on the air, but also through our tapes, and seminars, and teachings, and the like.
But there is an important bridge that I think every Christian has to cross, given this challenge. The Gospel, at its core, in its naked truth, with no offense added to it, just as it is, is offensive enough. The bridge is the knowledge that communicating the bare Gospel is going to offend people and that it’s going to put us on the outs with them.
I was teaching last week on Sunday night. Some of you were at the session there in Huntington Beach. I was asked a question about a woman who is obliged to take tolerance training at the public school where she teaches. Of course, whenever you see the word “tolerance,” just always read homosexual. Ninety percent of so-called “tolerance” training is acting as if homosexuality is just fine. She said, As a Christian, I can’t give in to that. I’m going to have to take a stand publicly on that. She’s concerned about doing is as a good ambassador; but she’s even more concerned about becoming a target once she makes her views known.
My answer to that particular problem is very simple. Christians are going to have to cross the bridge, that is, make a decision in our lives that we are going to stand with honor with Christ, even when we get the approbation of the world. We have to admit to ourselves that, as followers of Jesus, we are simply going to get people ticked off—not because we are offensive, but because our message necessarily offends. And if we stumble there, if we get ready to try to communicate but we pause because now wee are going to be a target, that means you haven’t crossed that bridge yet.
I challenge you to come to a point in your life where you say, I’m going to stand with Jesus as graciously and as persuasively as possible, not seeking to offend, but willing to take the anger and approbation that is really directed at Jesus on myself. I’m committing myself to that kind of life. I’m accepting the fact that I am not going to be liked all the time because I’m a follower of Jesus. We have to make our peace with that, ladies and gentlemen, because we will never be effective until we do that.
Pick a battle. If you go into the battle with bullets flying, and you think, if I get out of this foxhole, I may get shot and so I’m just going to sit here, you won’t be effective as a soldier. You will not be able to do what you are commissioned to do. The best soldiers are the ones, not that aren’t frightened, but have made their peace with the idea that their lives are expendable and they go out regardless. Maybe I’ll get killed. Yep, that’s the lot of a soldier. Easily expendable. So you need to make your peace with that as a Christian.
With that in mind, there are a couple of points that I offered that I think are helpful in terms of guiding us in sharing our faith. First of all, for me, I don’t think about witnessing. It isn’t my goal to witness. I think about being an ambassador, and that is a bit different, as we’ve characterized it. Witnessing means sharing your faith. Being an ambassador means representing your sovereign’s goals and purposes to a people accurately with a mind towards tactical wisdom and doing it in a winsome and attractive way that makes it persuasive. You have knowledge, wisdom, and character that are involved. It’s not just getting the information out. There also has to be attention given to the manner in which you do that. So, when I go out, I don’t think, how can I share faith with these people? I ask, how can I be a good ambassador, that is, representative for Christ? Sometimes it means being explicit about the claims of the Gospel. Sometimes it means dealing with some other issue that allows them to get closer to the point where they can take the claims of the Gospel seriously.
I want to create an atmosphere that is conducive to the Gospel, after a fashion, rather than just spit out the Gospel to them and figure I’ve done my job because I’ve witnessed, they’ve rejected it, and their blood is on their own head. No, a good ambassador has as his goal, persuasion, so he is going to work to maneuver to try to communicate his information as tactically and carefully as he can, given the situation. My first goal is to be an ambassador when I go to my neighbors. That is the motif that I am placing myself in.
Second, because of that, I don’t feel that I have to get to the cross immediately or ever. How about that? I do not put myself under the pressure that if I don’t get to the cross of Jesus Christ with this person that I’m talking to that somehow their blood is on my head. No, I’m not the Holy Spirit. I’m just an ambassador. And people are at different places at different times.
Look at the way that Jesus dealt with Nicodemus in John 3 versus the way he dealt with the woman at the well in John 4. He followed the advice that Paul later gives that we season our words with salt so that we know how to respond to each person. I know a non-believer is somewhere along the continuum of radical unbelief to total belief and that God is interested in moving him along that line. It is God’s responsibility to move him forward and I am just a player at some point in time who hopefully is pushing him a little in the right direction, but probably not all the way down the slide. So my part may be very small as an ambassador. When I finish with my part, as an ambassador, then another ambassador picks up where I left off, according to the sovereign interaction of God. So I don’t feel that I have to get to the cross immediately. I’m looking for the particular job that I can do effectively as an ambassador for Christ in that circumstance with that unique individual.
Here’s a third point. Take a tactical approach. We emphasize this all the time at Stand to Reason. You can be tactical by asking questions. We use the Columbo tactic. You get the ball rolling by asking questions. Questions like, What do you mean by that? When they make reference to something, draw them out a little bit. Ask a question like, How did you come to that conclusion? Ask for their rationale for their point of view. Then maybe ask a question like, Have you ever considered this possibility? And then you offer your ideas from a Christian perspective. Questions help to move along in a non-combative, but fairly direct and involved, interactive kind of way.
As you are asking these questions, the thing you want to get to is the ultimate point in to whether a person’s beliefs are true or not. That’s the key issue. Is what you believe regarding God and Jesus and any religious thing and the ultimate aim of life, is that thing true? Not, Do you like it? Is it fun? Is it satisfying? Those are not relevant questions here at this point. The question is whether it is true or not. So in my tactic of asking questions, I am trying to get information and present challenges to their views by asking questions to help them see the flaw in their thinking. I want to offer them something they can think about.
The final thing that I do is I try to get the focus on Jesus. The reason I want to get the focus on Jesus is that He has credibility. I could say all kinds of things about what I think is true about the world. That’s just another guy’s opinion. But when you talk about Jesus, He is a man with respect; He is a man with credibility. This is why everybody wants Jesus on their team. The New Agers want to quote Jesus for their view. The homosexuals want to quote Jesus for their view. Everybody wants Jesus on their team because He is somebody that you have to reckon with. So let’s reckon with Him. Let’s get to what Jesus said about things and then have them focus in on that because after all, the decisions that they make about Jesus will determine where they spend eternity.
My recommendation is that if you are nervous about witnessing, that’s a good thing it means you are still in touch with the truth that is offensive to many people. The way to overcome your fear is to get training and the training will give you confidence. It also helps to make your peace about receiving flak for being a Christian. You have to decide who you will stand with. Will you stand with Christ and receive the flak the world gives out or will you stand with the world and seek its approval? And then the four points I offer: 1. Don’t think about witnessing, think about being an ambassador, and that helps to color the way you interact with people. 2. Don’t feel you have to get to the cross immediately, or at all; just move the person forward as the Lord gives you opportunity. 3. Begin by asking questions, and maybe end by asking questions. It’s a great tactic. Keep in mind that the real question out there is whether their beliefs are true. 4. As soon as possible, get the focus back on Jesus because He is the issue and He has credibility.