When we share our faith, every situation—and every person—is different.
Jeremiah J. Gumm
“If your God is so almighty, why is there poverty in Africa?”
I was a new pastor fresh out of the seminary. I had just walked into George’s living room for an every member visit. George’s wife was a longtime member of our congregation, but George? At the time, he had little use for God or the church. When I walked into his living room, George was sitting on the couch watching television. A commercial for a charity helping children in Africa appeared on the screen. George turned to me and fired off his challenge before I could even introduce myself as the new pastor.
So how did I respond? I would love to tell you that I responded in a way that reached George in that moment in his life. But looking back, I’m not sure how I answered. I know that I made some quick, fumbling attempt to address his question rather than taking the time to get to know George better and to understand his story.
Why was George so quick to question God’s ability to provide for his world? Why did George seem so angry, so bitter, so hardened toward God and his Word?
No silver bullet
Trying to answer George’s challenge with a silver-bullet answer from the Bible—and a poorly fired one at that—failed to get at the heart of George’s objections to God and his Word. In time, I got to know George and the story of his difficult life. He had lost his parents at a young age, dealt with the hardships of living in Nazi-controlled Europe as a young man, and then started a new life from the ground up in America. As I listened, the Lord provided opportunities for me to give the reason for the hope that we have. In time, the Lord worked through his Word patiently shared.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a silver-bullet response to fire at every objection that comes your way? “How can there be a good God in such an evil world?” Zing! “Doesn’t science discredit religion?” Zing! “Why should I believe in the Bible? It’s so ancient and outdated!” Zing! “There are many paths to God.” Zing! Wouldn’t it be nice to simply turn a page of your Bible and drop another silver bullet in the chamber ready to cut down the next objection that comes your way? It sure would.
While such an approach may win an apologetic argument and give you another notch in your belt, it rarely wins the war for that person’s soul. Rarely does it convince someone of the importance of the gospel, of sins forgiven and heaven opened wide through the blood of Christ. Rarely do such responses work if you do not take the time to get to know the person and his or her story.
Building the bridge
To truly help people find Jesus, you need to build a relationship with them. You need to spend time getting to know them and giving them the opportunity to get to know you. You need to spend time getting to know their story—their background, their life experience, their personality. You need to ask questions and actively listen.
Why? You have the most precious treasure of all in the gospel. You want that person to enjoy that treasure for all eternity.
Think of it this way. If you had to carry a priceless artifact across a deep and dangerous ravine, would you want to cross that ravine on a rickety, jungle bridge with planks breaking beneath your feet? Or would you prefer to cross that ravine on a strong bridge made of steel and concrete that can bear the weight of even the heaviest trucks? Unless you are Indiana Jones, you want to carry that priceless treasure across the bridge of concrete and steel. So too your sharing of the gospel. Patiently building a connection—no matter what the objections—enables you to convey the gospel in such a way that is personal, respectful, and understanding.
Building that bridge to that person who objects to our God and his Word is so very important because every person is different. While the gospel is the same, how you respond to questions and opportunities to share it will likely be very different, depending on the person.
Responding to George was very different from responding to an agnostic former scientist that I once met in a hospital waiting room. The man had retired from the Canadian Ministry of Science. Growing up, he had attended church. He had learned about the Bible. At one time, he had even believed what the Bible said. Yet for much of his adult life, this man had been a proponent of evolutionary theory. He had accepted the argument of evolution that dismissed the Bible as legend and myth. He understood the science and agreed with what the Ministry of Science put forward as fact. Yet something bothered him as he got older. “I know the science, but I hope that what I learned as a child is true,” he said. That was all the confidence he had as he got older and the possibility of dying became more of a reality. There was a sadness about the man. At that moment, I knew exactly what he needed to hear, but sadly, he was not willing to listen. I did not have another opportunity to speak with him.
How do you reach people where they are? How do you convey the gospel to those who reject or misunderstand God’s Word? You get to know them. You learn their story. You seek to dig beneath their objections. What life experiences made them so bitter toward the church? What happened that made them so angry at God? Why do they reject God’s Word so sharply? How did they get to this point? What is their story?
To learn someone’s story takes God-given patience and compassion. It means keeping that silver bullet response in the chamber to let Christlike love for that person’s soul keep the bridge open. It means recognizing that no matter how frustrated you are, you need patiently to keep that bridge of communication open for the next opportunity the Lord might present. It means going out on a limb and asking tough questions that peel back what is really the story behind a particular objection. It means taking advantage of even the slightest opening or opportunity that the Lord presents. It takes gentleness and respect for each person. It takes understanding of that person’s situation. Ultimately, it takes love for his or her soul to connect that person to the Savior.
To share Christ’s story, learn their story!
Jeremiah Gumm is pastor at King of Kings, Maitland, Florida.
This is the third article in a 12-part series on sharing your faith.
What’s your story? How have you shared Jesus? Every encounter is different, and we want to hear your stories. To whom in your life did you reach out? What barriers did you have to overcome? How do you prepare yourself for these outreach opportunities? E-mail responses to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: “How I shared Jesus.” Include your name, congregation, and contact information. Questions? Call 414-256-3231.
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Author: Jeremiah J. Gumm
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019
Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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