I'll just come out and say it: I missed an opportunity to share my faith. We had a superhero birthday party for our oldest son, complete with capes, decorated cardboard-box buildings, a Spiderman hanging from the ceiling, and—at my son's request—a butterfly piñata. My wife had invited an acquaintance of hers with a child around our son's age. This woman came with her two kids and her husband, whom I had never met. But we got talking, and he asked me, "So, what do you do?" And I told him, "I'm a pastor." So he followed up, "You don't hear that very often. What got you into that?"
I was in between filling a bowl of food and grabbing someone a drink, and I was caught off guard by his candor and desire to talk. I don't even remember exactly what I said, something about my personality and gifts and growing up in the church. I knew after the words came out of my mouth that I had missed an opportunity. What made it hit home even more was that, earlier that week, I had encouraged the middle and high school students in confirmation classes to be prepared to share their faith, and I had failed when the opportunity arose.
When it comes to sharing our faith, we all miss opportunities, and we all say the wrong things sometimes even if we recognize that we have an opportunity. "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" (1 Peter 3:15 ESV) can provide us with guidance, but it also can be overwhelming as we prepare ourselves to witness. A person's beliefs about God are very important, so when we approach the world as Christians, we want to be articulate, honest, and convincing. Below are a few practices that can help guide us as we prepare to share our faith with others.
1.) Praying regularly
We acknowledge in our prayers, "Thy Kingdom Come", and just as Martin Luther pointed out, God's kingdom will come whether or not we pray for it. But praying helps us to align ourselves with what God is already doing. God is working in the lives of our loved ones. God is bringing situations and people into each person's life, in order that God's will may be done. We know that God is at work. And we pray to get on board with God's plan. Pray for these people by name, regularly. This will help us value each interaction we have with them, as we recall our prayers and ponder how to continue to pray for them.
2.) Recognizing the opportunity
It is important that I recognized the missed opportunity at my son's birthday party, and the same goes for all of us. An opportunity is whenever you get to share what your trust in Jesus means to you. Being able to see a genuine opportunity to share one's faith in a meaningful way is not always obvious. Be gracious with yourself and remind yourself that recognizing opportunities is part of the process of sharing one's faith.
What might an opportunity look like? It might be as simple as being asked, "What did you do this weekend?" or "Why do you go to church?" (Students in my congregation share that they get asked these questions by their friends.) When asked questions like these, people in our lives are trying to make sense of why we value something they don't. Our answer might start a process of re-evaluating their lives.
The opportunities could be more complex. A friend struggling with a family crisis or illness, or the birth of a baby. A co-worker going through divorce, or a neighbor getting married. When somebody shares parts of his life with us, it is a chance for us to help him connect his story with what God might be trying to do in his life. But before we talk, we must listen.
3.) Listening to their story
We don't listen to respond; we listen to understand. All of our lives are messy and complex, and the same situation can affect different people in very different ways. We should never assume that we get what a person is going through. We listen in order to put ourselves in their shoes, so to speak, to feel what they are feeling and think what they are thinking. Until we have done this, we will not even know what to say to them.
As Christians, we are not looking to "win anyone over", like it's some sort of marketing ploy. We truly want what is best for other people, for them to have the peace and wholeness that comes from a life connected to Christ. And, if we listen closely, we might find that the people with whom we wish to share our faith are wanting exactly the same. They just don't have any clue what that looks like.
4.) Knowing why your faith is important to you
After we truly listen, we will be better prepared to speak. We might know what the person really is seeking. (Jesus' first question in the Gospel of John, after all, is "What are you seeking?") Sharing our faith is not only about sharing the faith. We share how God's story has intersected our own. We look to share our experiences. This is for a couple different reasons.
First of all, if it's your story, people know you really believe it. It is meaningful to you. If you tell someone to eat at a restaurant you yourself have not visited, how likely do you think they are to go? Let's be honest: they aren't going. Sharing your story is a powerful witness that you believe this. Second, it's much less likely to become a heated or tense discussion. Anyone can argue with your doctrine. No one can argue with your experience, because it is yours. (If you're looking for an example, see how actress Letitia Wright shares her faith in a secular magazine.)
Be confident in your experiences of God's love and grace. Even having a peaceful home centered in Christ is a powerful witness to someone who only knows brokenness and fighting in their family. We don't need radical stories to have powerful stories. How has Jesus changed your life? When did you experience God's love in a powerful way? What kinds of things has the Holy Spirit empowered you to do? As we share how God has worked and continues to work in our lives, people might come to see how their fulfillment, peace, joy, hope can be found in Christ, too.
How have you shared your faith with others? Do you have additional advice for people looking to share their faith? Please comment below!