Valuing Others: Impactful Authenticity
When it comes to reaching others for Christ, if we are honest, for most of us, we would have to admit that we are not very good at it. Think about it. Over the last five years, can you think of 1 or 2 people who have come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ partially as a result of your involvement in their life? It’s a sobering thought, and if what we are doing or not doing isn’t working all that well, perhaps it is time we think about impacting others in some other way.
Generally in the past, sharing our faith has often been associated with a class at the church or a technique we learned from someone one who is seemingly able to jump out of a speeding automobile and lead someone to Christ on the street corner. Then we emotion pack the whole experience by adding the word ‘evangelism’.
It’s as if evangelism is something you do. And if it is something you do, then you have to do it to somebody. Most people I know don’t want something done to them, particularly if they haven’t asked for it. They don’t want to be the focus of someone’s project, or the recipient of uninvited awkward questions which are asked totally out of context. Someone knocks on the door of their home, and in the next several minutes they are barraged with questions regarding their eternal destiny. Really, they were just looking forward to sitting down and having dinner. Now they feel like they are being roasted for dinner. That’s not to say that God in His eternal plan has not used this approach with those who are comfortable with it, but for some recipients, it might do more harm than good.
When I think about the ministry of Jesus and the disciples, I’m hard pressed to find a time when Jesus said to His disciples, “Boys, today we are going to go do some evangelism.” I don’t find a sure-fire, tried and true technique that Jesus taught for every situation. Not only that, it seems that Jesus’ approach was customized for every individual He ever met. He certainly wasn’t like some football coaches who script the first 15 offensive plays of the game. While that might be an effective method for football, to utilize that approach with people can often have a very dishonoring and devaluing effect. It doesn’t matter what they say, the next play has already been called. And believe me, they get it. They know they are now on someone else’s agenda, whether they have invited that agenda or not.
So what should we do?
It would seem that we need a different approach. The good news is that this new and different approach is really nothing new at all. It has been the approach taken by many within the church since the time the church began. Sometimes it helps to see something true articulated in black and white once again. Things that have always been. And when you see them, it’s as if deep inside, something says, ‘yeah that’s right, but I just never thought about it quite like that’, or ‘I just needed to be reminded’.
What follows is meant to help bring focus to your life in a way that frees you to reach your neighbors, family members, and coworkers. Hopefully it will help you be much more intentional in the day to day. Not to make people a project, but simply to live out your life, caring for others like Jesus would. It is not a technique to be learned, but it is who you are. It is a natural expression of the new life you have found.
If you want to reach others, it all starts with you caring for them. Whether you have five minutes or five years, take time to get to know THEIR STORY. Getting to know someone’s story means you are taking time to care and care is communicated when we find ways to value and love them. Value can be communicated to others, even if we have only a few minutes, by taking time to listen. To listen to someone involves setting aside preconceived private agendas to sincerely value what is on the other person’s heart. And to truly listen, you will have to cultivate the art of asking good questions. The questions you ask will help you discover the needs that are on their heart.
THEIR STORY. Really, this is just taking time to love people and care for them. It is much more costly than a five minute technique. It will cost you time and energy, and even perhaps some resources. And, it won’t be something you only employ with people you don’t know so that you may dismiss them when you are finished and then come and go as you please. It will cost you freedom, and you are going to miss out on some things you would rather do. But if Jesus is leading you, it will be worth it all, and it will be His love reaching out to them.
Next, comes, YOUR STORY. Your story is just another way to say, be who you are. Be authentic. How many times have you been around others who have not yet come to faith in Christ and felt you had to hide parts of your true identity? Maybe you felt you had to walk on eggshells.
At the same time, authenticity does not mean you get to say whatever comes to your mind. You wouldn’t even do that around the in-laws or others you might not like. Authenticity means sharing appropriate parts of who you are for the contexts you are in and it does not mean preaching sermons to unsuspecting congregations of one.
Authenticity sounds like this when a need is shared. “I’m going to pray about that.”, or,”I’ve never faced what you are facing, but my relationship with God made all the difference when I faced a similar situation.” Authenticity verbally brings God into the relationship in a very short sound bite. The key is that it is short, brief, and not more than a sentence or two. It can also sound like an invitation for someone to join you at church, and if you are not comfortable inviting others to your church, you might want to ask yourself, ‘why is that?’ That is a discussion for another day.
Authenticity is being the person you are inside and allowing that person to speak with great consideration for those near. If your relationship with God is the most important thing in your life, then it should be perfectly natural for that to be expressed. The keys for evaluating what is said is that it should be authentic, (not contrived, not forced, not scripted), appropriate, (fitting, natural, not out of place), and if in doubt, abbreviated (no long stories about yourself, your experience, even your theology). People don’t want to hear your 20 minute story unless they specifically ask. And if by some miracle out of kindness they ask, drop the 0, and make it a 2 minute story. Even 2 minutes is probably too long. If you have a great need to talk, it is doubtful, anyone will want to listen. The holes in your heart might be showing.
And then lastly there is THE STORY. THE STORY is the good news of grace, repentance, and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. THEIR STORY and YOUR STORY have set the stage for THE STORY. The two previous stories have built a relational bridge for deeper conversation, and when God is working in the life of someone you know, if you are listening, you will hear them give you an invitation to set foot on the bridge when you catch a glimpse of what is going on in their heart. When that happens, rather than charge across the bridge thinking you are the light brigade, tread lightly and politely, not because you are fearful, but because the human heart can be very fragile.
The way to tread lightly is once again to ask questions. Questions that move the conversation to THE STORY. Questions like, “Have you ever thought about becoming a Christian?”, “Have you ever thought about surrendering your life to Christ?”, “What reservations do you have about becoming a Christian?” And if they respond to something you have said, rather than charge ahead, once again, tread lightly. Ask their permission. “Would you like to know how to become a Christian?” If they say yes, then tell them how you became a Christian in a few short sentences and ask them if you can pray. If they say no, then respect their decision and let them know you will be there for them.
Pretty simple. Not contrived. Life changing.
THEIR STORY, YOUR STORY, THE STORY
One other benefit. If you have been polite and respectful of who they are, not pushing them to go anywhere they haven’t invited you, a new level of honesty will enter your relationship which may set the stage for greater relationship and future dialogue. God draws people to himself, and God is the One who saves people. We simply get the privilege of joining Him in the work by allowing the new person He is creating within us to touch those around us. That person is truly authentic and cares deeply for those He came to save.
— by Rick Reitz
Reitz is the author of W(hole)Hearted. He is a pastor and speaker specializing in strategic planning and leadership development.
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