Do you ever feel like a failure when it comes to sharing your faith? That you really ‘should’ mention Jesus or prayer to every stranger you meet? And if you don’t, you have kind of… failed? That you ‘ought to’ mention Jesus more to your family members who don’t follow Him? Or feel guilt after speaking to your neighbour and forgetting to pray for their broken foot? Do you ever feel like the people you engage with outside of the church are just seen as ‘targets’?
The sad thing is that, on top of everything else we ‘ought to do’ in life (like exercise, drink enough water, be a good friend/family member, volunteer and the list goes on) sharing our faith can feel like just another burden that adds to the pile of things that make us feel overwhelmed and not good enough. There are of course exceptions, but if you ever feel like this, I am here to tell you that you are not alone. After being a Christian for a few years, I started to really wrestle with what it means to ‘share Jesus’ with people because I hate the thought of only seeing people as ‘targets’, and the guilt that comes from ‘forgetting’ to name drop Jesus into a conversation. Then something changed for me…
I am pretty sure I can remember the day I realised what it means that God is a missionary God. I was doing an undergraduate degree in Theology, Mission and Youth Ministry, not really seeing the point of studying ‘mission’ as I didn’t want to become a missionary overseas. But suddenly I realised that ‘God is already at work around me – I just need to join in’. I realised that I had put God, mission and Christianity in a box, and in the box was everything I had to do to be a ‘good Christian’: the do-s and don’t-s, the language I had to use, the Christian to-do list of Bible readings and prayers, the standardised answers to every issue that a non-Christian would ask and so on.
When I realised that God doesn’t work inside a box and that I am allowed to be me, I discovered a new freedom in my faith and a new love for God. I realised there’s a whole world out there to learn from. Just as Jesus became one of us, listened to us and spoke our language, I can connect with the people around me and be creative in the language I use to help people on their own journey to get to know Jesus for themselves. But these people are not targets, they are friends. Friends share life together, they share what is important to each other – and faith is important to me. We can learn from each other, and maybe you will find hope in Jesus just as I do? But if you don’t, I respect that too.
I often try to put myself in the other person’s shoes. For example, if I had a friend who was openly an atheist, and I discovered that the only reason they wanted to spend time with me was so I would become one too, and that’s all they wanted to talk about, I would feel betrayed. On the other hand, if they accepted me as I am, and were curious about my belief without judging me, I would accept them too. I want to be that friend who accepts, listens, who’s curious about beliefs and someone one can have honest conversations with without people feeling judged, as well as having fun (never underestimate the importance of having fun!). I believe every person has something to teach me, and maybe I have something they could learn from too? I have found that when people feel listened to and accepted, the cracks open and Jesus can come in. The important object is therefore not ‘how can I mention Jesus today?’ but for me to be connected with Him on a daily basis, so all I need to do is share my life with others. I just need to be me.
When I realised that God is already at work around me, I felt like I was back in the children’s stories I read as a child, like the famous five, always looking for a new adventure. To find out what God was up to I had to listen, observe and explore. One of the things I felt lead to do was to work a couple of shifts a week in my local pub. For me that is the perfect place to connect with people who wouldn’t normally come to church, to learn about their views about faith and God, and maybe even have the opportunity to share what is important to me – namely my faith.
What I didn’t know when I started working there, was that two years later my husband and I would be celebrating Christmas Day with friends we had made in the pub. What started as weekly chats about everyday life, turned into shared birthday meals in the pub, a bring and share meal at our house, fun, and deep faith conversations over a beer – and this with people who are 25-55 years older than me. People who, if it wasn’t for God, I would never have imagined making friends with because on the outset we are so different. What I love about these guys is that they listen, they accept me as I am, they are curious about my life and we share struggles – in other words we are real with each other, and because of it, I have had the privilege of praying for some of them and share about my faith too.
What I also love about it all is that as I engage with people with different beliefs to me, my faith grows as I am challenged. People’s questions or life situations make me go back to my Bible and dig deeper or pray for their situations that touch my heart.
The year 2020 has just started – why don’t you try and leave all your ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ behind this year? Challenge yourself to spend more time around people with different beliefs than you, whether it is in the pub, in a fitness class or a parent from the church’s toddlergroup. Find opportunities to just listen to their stories and be real with them. You never know what kind of exciting people God will bring into your life.
If this is something you would like to explore more, I can really recommend the missional training course FORGE, which I enjoyed doing last year. Forge can help you discover what God is up to around you and give you the confidence to join in. Another year of Forge has just started, but it’s a good time to start thinking ahead and maybe plan to join in with the next one. It’s a great place to meet likeminded people who want to share faith and do church differently. Everything is easier when you realise you are not on your own