There are two types of people who learn in this world: some who learn-by-watching and some who learn-by-doing. I am a learn by-doing-type of person and to be perfectly honest this can get me into some trouble... specifically when it comes to witnessing or sharing my faith. Often, I have had a sort of trial and error approach with sharing what the Holy Spirit reveals to me, and praise God sometimes it works but I also know sometimes I offend people.
Can anyone relate to this?
I recently took the time to re-evaluate and go deeper into not just WHY we should share our understanding of scripture, but also HOW to go about it. We see verses in the Bible such as Mark 16:15 telling us to spread the gospel to all the world and we think, "Welp! I guess I have to tell everyone!" I wouldn't say this is an inherently wrong approach but allow me to challenge your thinking.
Seeking Truth vs. Pushing an Agenda
80% of people in America believe that God exists (gallup.com) yet only 32% read their Bible regularly (christianitytoday.com). 1 in 3 people are unhappy in the world today according to US News, and 47% of people feel lost when it comes to their purpose or calling in life. To me, this reveals that many people are looking for answers and open-minded to learning about God. It is those people we must seek for... and we must remember that many people are not open-minded.
In my short experience with faith-sharing, I have learned how to recognize where a conversation is going to go fairly quickly. Being someone who utilizes social media frequently to discuss religious matters and spiritual topics, I get my fair share of DM's and emails even. On occasion, I have also had video chat or phone calls with people from the online space. The conversation opens up in one of three ways:
Confrontational- "You said XYZ and that is not Biblical!"
Passive Aggressive- "I know you love Jesus but you should probably pick up a concordance and actually read scripture before you speak on it."
Curious- I read your article on XYZ and wondered..."
Confrontational people are looking for a good fight. You are likely not the first person they've called out on something, and they are expecting you to lash right back at them. This approach is a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes you can respond kindly to them and they will open up to you revealing why they attacked you the way they did. Often it is because of a past negative experience or because someone taught them that "true" faith sharing means bashing someone over the head with "facts".
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
Passive Aggressive people are looking to feed their ego. Again there could be a few reasons for this. You may have said something that was a trigger for them; an area they personally wrestle with. It is too hard to admit to themselves that they need some work in that area, so instead, they imply that YOU do. Another reason could be that they just like being right. They never intended on listening to anything you had to say because they are more focused on "winning". They want to prove to you (and to themselves) that they are smarter, wittier, and better when it comes to matters of religion and perhaps other things as well.
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. Proverbs 18:2
Curious people are people genuinely trying to learn. They may already have their own opinions or ways of doing things but for some reason, they aren't satisfied with it and want to learn more. Curious people might disagree with you, but they will still want to hear what you have to say because they are always open to the potential of new things. They will share what they believe with you in return for hearing your thoughts.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. James 3:17
As we try to share our faith, I believe that we should all work on being more curious around those who think differently than us.
Stop Trying to Win
I once had someone write me a message asking me to change something on my social media page because they, "didn't want me to go to hell". How thoughtful of them to want to save me. They "knew what was best for my life" because they were a born again Christian. Keep in mind they didn't ask ME if I was a born again Christian. I had never spoken to this person in my entire life- yet somehow "the Lord" had filled them in on me! I could have easily been very offended by this, but instead, I made a mental note to make sure I never do that to someone else.
How can we avoid talking down to people? By giving up our desire to be right in their eyes.
So many Christians miss the point when it comes to sharing what they believe. They think that in order for someone to truly "get" the gospel, that person has to immediately adopt their way of thinking and living. We want people to look at us like we are a Bible thumping celebrity... or dare I say, their savior.
"But Melissa", you will well-intendedly protest, "If God has shown me the right way to live my life, why wouldn't someone else want to live like me??"
That is very simple: because they are not you and you are not God.
The Bible does not say to go and make yourself disciples, it says to go and make disciples for the Lord. This means it is ultimately Jesus who that person needs to see and decide to emulate. I hate to break it to you, but the way they believe and are convicted to live their life may look VERY different from what you do in your life. It is time for us to learn that this is okay. It isn't our job to save people from their sins- all we can do is share our own experience and allow the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts and minds. This means that many times you will share something with someone and you may NEVER know or see evidence that it impacted them. It might take years for the words you shared to ring true in their hearts.
We should always share, but we should never win.
When to Give Up
The term "give up" sounds pretty bad, but stay with me for a moment. There comes a time in any theological, spiritual, or religious debate or discussion when we have to stop talking- especially if we are arguing. This goes back to the winning discussion. If I am not trying to win, there is no need to keep repeating myself. Say what you need to say (out of love by the way) and then let it rest. This doesn't mean you are giving up on the person... you can certainly still pray for them. It does mean you are being respectful of both yourself and of them. Part of being respectful means knowing when to stop speaking.
We don't like to talk about giving up when it comes to "saving" souls for Christ, but this is a Biblical concept:
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil.
2 Timothy 2:23-24
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
Staying True to Your Convictions
There are times when it is worthwhile to speak up for what you believe is right. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says, "But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."
It is good for us to be able to explain what we believe in and even why we are aligned with a certain church or organization, yet it is not the focus of our purpose in Christ. At the end of the day, my relationship with God is between Him and I. Let us always keep our eyes on the true reason for our passion and faith.
Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9