Texas Only Has Three Seasons
Unlike most of the nation’s spring, summer, fall, and winter, we have springtime, ridiculously hot, and football season. From preseason to Super Bowl Sunday, football talk is everywhere. From fantasy teams, to social media feeds; from pro and college jerseys worn proudly in the grocery, to conversations and watch parties, our world revolves around our teams. You may not love football, but something is just as important to you as football is to the stereotypical fan. The next installment in your favorite movie trilogy, your family, your job, your church, a new restaurant you visited, a big project you’re working on: whatever it is, we all talk about what’s important to us.
If you’re a Christian, it’s likely you’d consider Jesus more important to you than football. Although sometimes we wonder about some men in our churches . . . And yet, this Cornerstone of our very lives, motives, actions, and decisions often becomes the least-discussed aspect of our entire lives. Many Christians pull a “bait and switch” on those around us. You know that image: a newspaper ad lures you to a store, where you find out there were “only ten at the special price, but look what else we have . . .” If we’ve gotten to know a neighbor for nine months, and only then we reveal that we follow Jesus, we’ve done the same thing: they question our motives, wonder about our relationship, and feel like we’ve lied to them. And we have: as the courtroom oath goes, we’ve showed and told “the truth,” but not “the whole truth so help me God.” How do we share the gospel without killing the relationship? The first way is to be open about our faith from day one.
Why do we do this? Maybe we hesitate to talk about faith because it’s divisive. Maybe we’re nervous: what if they then ask us a question we can’t answer? Or maybe, since they don’t follow Jesus and we lack that shared experience—which a football game easily provides—we might wonder if we have common ground. Each of these breaks down. First, if we incarnate ourselves into a mission field, eventually people find out we follow Jesus. Our neighbors see us pull out of our driveways every Sunday, frantic and late, or see Bible-toting friends enter our home every Wednesday. Second, when (not if) they ask a question we can’t answer, we have two viable options. We can answer from our own experience, since experience is sometimes more meaningful than cold, hard facts. Or we can show humility: “I haven’t studied that specific element of faith yet, so I don’t know.” Then we can go find the answer and honor them by remembering to follow up. Third, we may lack the shared experience of faith, but we’re normal humans, so have plenty to talk about.
One thing comes across in our lack of sharing the gospel: shame. If we can’t look someone in the eye and talk about our personal experience with Jesus with confidence, we appear to be ashamed of the very thing we claim as most important to us. We go directly against the apostle Paul’s exhortation to Roman Christians, not to be ashamed of the gospel1. It takes great faith to share the gospel: it is divisive—God promises it to be, and others will consider our belief foolish. It can make us nervous—they might not respond well; they might laugh at us. And it is intrusive—the cross draws a line between beliefs. Such is Christian experience, throughout history and across the world. But the faith by which Paul and the righteous live isn’t faith in others’ perspective of us, or the relationship we have with them. It’s faith in a far greater God than those idols. And that faith caused Paul—and causes us—not to be ashamed of the gospel.
Eboo Patel started the Interfaith Youth Core, which works primarily on college campuses. Eboo—a Muslim who I (Bob) admire deeply and love—once asked what I believed. “Eboo I’d never offend you in the world, but I really believe based on the Bible that Jesus is God and the only way to Him.” I told him of working in Vietnam and later in Afghanistan with Muslims. He told me one of the reasons partnered with us is because I held to my faith and still wanted a relationship with him. People do not just want honesty, but clarity to understand what we believe. It’s a matter of how we say it. I’ve become convinced that truth is always kind and humble. Harshness, mean-spiritedness and arrogance often displays insecurity about our beliefs. If we believe the truth, we should be the most secure, humble, compassionate people on earth. We have nothing to be ashamed of.
Christianity in Everyday Conversations
And we’re not encouraging forcing God into every conversation, at the exclusion of everything else: that will ensure a ‘no’ the next time you invite them over. We are encouraging allowing our faith to be a part of our normative, unforced conversation. Just like other parts of our lives are. Sharing the gospel begins by not omitting parts of our lives that speak to our beliefs. If your boss asks what you’re doing this weekend, instead of “yard work and a birthday party Saturday, then some other stuff on Sunday before I watch the game,” simply acknowledge that “some other stuff” means “going to a church gathering, and even serving on the parking team.” If a neighbor wants your opinion on a hot-button issue, instead of simply talking about politics and human rights, bring your Higher Authority into the conversation.
Tim Keller said it like this: “You have to be willing to talk about how your faith integrates with your life. Because if you’re in non-superficial relationships with people, your faith simply has to come up! Why you do this and why you do that, and why you don’t do this and why you don’t do that, and how you were helped with a problem—you just have to mention it. It should be very natural . . . You have to have a lot of non-superficial relationships with not-yet-believers, and you also have to have a willingness to talk about your faith, and how it affects how you think and live.” Here are a few, among many, common ways to bring faith into common conversation3:
- Talk about your faith and community: speak of church gatherings, events, meaningful relationships, and God’s work with excitement and joy: it raises intrigue.
- Talk about our redemption stories: talking about our lives both before Jesus and after takes courage, but is deeply moving in its vulnerability. And talk about moments of brokenness and reconciliation in your life since He redeemed you. It shows that you’re still not perfect, but that Jesus continues to redeem areas of pain, struggle, and disbelief.
- Share the result of your faith: show people our true rest, joy, peace, and comfort in God alone, because of His ongoing work in us. How does faith impact your daily life?
- Give God due credit: as you talk about good things in your life, rightly attribute those blessings to God, the giver of every gift.
- Point to the bigger story: as we discuss conflict, sin, pain, and brokenness in the world, or as we discuss success, joy, and echoes of redemption, acknowledge that every specific act is part of a larger story of brokenness and redemption.
- Be generous with praise: whether watching a mountain sunrise or hearing a co-worker complain about her assistant, point to beautiful things God has uniquely put in them
- Show great grace: instead of engaging in gossip, and instead interacting with someone who’s failed or hurt us, display the grace God first showed us.
- Share our true thoughts when asked: instead of avoiding advice, or downplaying the fact that the gospel drives us, boldly give answers from a faith-filled worldview.
- Don’t talk about God differently with not-yet-believers than we do with believers: we normally talk openly about God, faith, and even struggles and doubt with our community; do the same in our mission field. Honesty and openness shows others we don’t have every answer.
The gospel is important to us. While we must listen well, the other side is equally true: to really get to know people, they need to know what’s important to us. You talk about everything else in your life that’s important. Don’t stop talking about the big game, the hit movie, or your big project. Just make sure they’re in their place and don’t ignore the bigger driving force in your life. Don’t be ashamed of the gospel. In normal conversation, and early in the relationship, let people know you’re a follower of Jesus.
Ben Connelly, his wife Jess, and their daughters Charlotte and Maggie live in Fort Worth, TX. He started and now co-pastors The City Church, part of the Acts29 network and Soma family of churches. Ben is also co-author of A Field Guide for Everyday Mission (Moody Publishers, 2014). With degrees from Baylor University and Dallas Theological Seminary, Ben teaches public speaking at TCU, writes for various publications, trains folks across the country, and blogs in spurts at benconnelly.net. Twitter: @connellyben.
(Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from A Field Guide for Everyday Mission by Ben Connelly & Bob Roberts Jr. available from Moody Publishers starting June 2014. It appears here with the permission of the author and publisher. For free resources and preorders, visit everydaymission.net.)