Paul Thaxter, until recently director of international mission at Church Mission Society, shares five handy disciplines developed over his 25 years in mission to help each of us to share good news in our contexts.
Start with you – and with Jesus
The first person to be evangelised so often seems to be myself. I keep becoming convinced Jesus is the ultimate significant person. He really is the USP of the Church, without whom we can neither do nor say anything worthwhile as Christians. I am constantly surprised by how people’s lives are transformed when they encounter him. I keep getting converted to the fact that Jesus is good news.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus draws a large crowd as he shares about the vagaries of being a sower – an experience they would have all been aware of, directly or indirectly. Jesus was a terrific storyteller, sowing ideas, thoughts, riddles and mystery within everyday life. He made people think more, rather than telling them what to think. Author Tom Thatcher, in his stimulating work Jesus the Riddler, even refers to Jesus as helping people think less clearly and less certainly – creating space for alternative possibilities.
Playfulness can be a good approach. When I worked in the City, I would return to work on a Monday and occasionally throw out the comment, “You won’t believe what happened to me this weekend…”. In an open plan office there was always someone who took the bait!
We do not have to have the answer to everything – what a relief! We can develop questioning that arouses curiosity, and emotional and intellectual searching, with a keen ear to listen to what people really think and believe. So learn to ask questions: What do you believe in? What do you consider to be true, beautiful or valuable? Do you think religion and atheism are often toxic?
Have you ever genuinely asked someone what would it take for them to consider following the way of Jesus Christ? Or done community research to see what it would take for communities to engage openly and not guardedly with a church initiative? Sharing faith is both a personal and corporate endeavour, but questions may be more important initially than answers.
Telling stories is a favourite pastime of mine. I admit I am boring or completely left field at times, but you have to learn your craft somewhere and with someone! Most people who share their faith find stories convenient vehicles for imparting knowledge and faith. Most world religions advocate engaging in this process.
I was drinking coffee with a colleague one afternoon when he said, “When I hear the word story I think it is something that has just been made up.” Stimulated by the caffeine perhaps, I quipped back, “Story is often the safest vehicle to convey truth.” Eugene Peterson says stories are “verbal acts of hospitality”. I agree: stories allow people to enter on their own terms. I was speaking in a Maori conference in New Zealand and shared what they already knew: “Stories invite you into the room but do not tell you where to sit!” So why not share the message of Christ in story form?
When I have focused discerningly on aspects of the Bible’s big story, people of all faiths and none genuinely seem more receptive. At the centre of each person’s worldview is a mosaic of stories and the only way to dislodge some untrue or life-limiting stories is to replace them with better ones. As Tom Wright suggests, where better to look than in the biblical narratives of Jesus? So rather than using Bible verses like bullets in an evangelistic gun aimed at protecting ourselves and slaying our imagined enemy, why not tell stories?
Be a witness
We are called to be witnesses, to give testimony to God’s ongoing work in our lives. The early church saw and spoke of God at work and their lives being changed, both personally and in how they related to wider society. They did not have all the answers, there were discrepancies and confusion, but there was an effusion of hope. Their faith in Jesus changed how they treated the living, the dead and their enemies. It is hard to make sense of it from an analytical point of view, especially as people made such incredible sacrifices for others and got nothing material in return.
Ultimately, sharing our faith is letting others know that we have each encountered a living God who brings pardon from guilt, freedom from life-dominating appetites, a more selfless perspective, prayers of forgiveness offered for enemies and a life of fullness. The witness has discovered that the secret of life is not grabbing what you can and holding on with clenched fists but opening our hands and losing our life for Jesus’ sake and the gospel. It is as we give ourselves away that we find ourselves and most importantly discover the power and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ. He ultimately is his own witness. Maranatha.