If you’ve been following this series of articles over the past few months, hopefully you’ve come to a better understanding of the Great Commission and our responsibility to co-mission with Jesus in spreading his gospel. Perhaps you even understand better why Alpha is such an effective tool to use in our faith-sharing as it offers guests time and safe spaces to explore questions of life, faith, and meaning. But perhaps you still have plenty of questions about where to begin. Questions like, how do I invite someone to Alpha? How do I talk about faith?
Sharing the gospel with someone who doesn’t yet know Jesus is a bold form of worship. Only a heart set on fire with love for Jesus will respond so boldly. Yet fear tells us we have much to lose if we declare to the world our love for and allegiance to Jesus. We might wonder if it is even practical to consider sharing our faith with our non-believing friends given that we live in such a highly polarized culture where many are so easily offended. Doesn’t sharing our unsolicited thoughts about faith with them risk offending them even more?
Before we conclude that our culture is the most acrimonious from a faith-sharing perspective, let’s remember how the first century Christians were treated. Imprisonment. Beatings. Execution. There are plenty of outcomes far worse than awkward silence or being snubbed as a result of sharing our faith. So, where do we begin with our faith conversations?
Look for the right conversation to talk about faith
Jesus tells us the work of sharing the gospel is a lot like spreading seed in a garden, and we all have a role to play in it. We are all, variously, sowers of seeds of the kingdom, or waterers, or even much-needed light. Yet not every conversation offers an appropriate opportunity for sowing the seeds of our faith. So, how are we to know when the time is right?
It may be helpful to think about our types of conversations as we would think of a gear-shift on a car with a manual transmission. In this analogy, all relationships begin with casual conversation. That’s gear #1. We are all in countless relationships and while each one is unique, they all begin the same way, as a casual, get-to-know-one-another relationship. Over time, some relationships move to second gear—meaningful conversation. Those people with whom you’re having meaningful conversations may be open to a spiritual conversation, gear #3. But like in our car analogy, we would no sooner jump from gear 1 to gear 3 then we would jump from casual conversation to spiritual conversation without first moving through meaningful conversation.
With those people who have moved from acquaintance to friend, and where the conversation has shifted from casual to meaningful, we can look for opportunities to introduce topics of faith. With some people, these overtures will be met with a stony gaze, an eye-roll, or some other indication that we have no permission to pursue the conversation. At other times a dialogue will begin, giving us permission to continue. As co-missioners with Jesus, we have to be on the lookout for these opportunities to pursue conversations of faith.
Ask questions to talk about faith
So, what does it look like to pursue such a conversation about faith? In our calling to co-mission with Jesus, the best practice we can assume is to be imitators of Christ. Oddly enough Jesus’ gospel-sharing strategy didn’t involve much proclaiming of gospel truth. Quite the contrary. His style of evangelism was to ask questions rather than try to convince someone of the truth. In his book, How to Revive Evangelism, Craig Springer writes, “The Bible records 307 questions that Jesus asked, along with 183 questions asked of him…yet he only offered a direct answer eight times. Jesus was forty times more likely to ask a question than to provide a direct answer.”
More of the recorded words of Jesus were of the questions he asked than the sermons he preached. In addition, Jesus spent more time praying than worrying if someone crossed the finish line of faith.
What are we to make of this? Our role is not to convince people of the truth. That’s Holy Spirit’s role, in fact. Our role is to create safe spaces for people to ask their questions, perhaps the very questions we’ve already asked of them.
Prayer allows us to see where God is already at work
Jesus asked lots of questions, but he also spent lots of time in prayer. If we hope to co-mission with Jesus, we too need to spend much time in prayer. Before running my first neighborhood Alpha, I prayed every day for all thirty-five households on my street. It helped that I had a puppy in need of a good walk every morning! I prayed for everyone by name as I passed their home, lifting up what I knew of their lives and asking God to show me who to invite to Alpha.
At the beginning of those five weeks of prayer-walking I had a particular short-list of names in my mind. Five weeks later, God revealed a different list to me; a list of those people with whom he was already having conversations about life, faith, and meaning. Ultimately, I invited six women to join me on the Alpha journey, and by God’s grace, all six said yes.
Prayer reveals to us where God is already at work. Prayer is a catalyst for God to move, but it is also a channel through which we can see more clearly the movements of God.
How do I talk about faith? By inquiring of God where he is already at work. By asking friends meaningful questions that dare to tap into the spiritual. Ultimately, we begin by recognizing that everyone we meet is an image bearer of the living God and as such holds the potential for deep fellowship with Him.
The question for all of us is simple. Will we accept our co-missioning with Jesus and worship him in the greatest way we can?
Will we invite our friends to come and meet our Jesus?