Canvas | Issue 90: True Witness
When we’re amazed by Jesus, we naturally want to share him with others. However, our world and culture are changing as society reconsiders what is just, equal, and acceptable. Sadly, from the outside, Christianity is often misunderstood; the message of the gospel of grace and hope is little known in the secular sphere.
Robin Ham, minister of St Paul’s and Grace Church Barrow, writes in his blog That Happy Certainty: “Communicating the good news of Jesus in the West in 2020 is challenging. Christianity is often portrayed as irrelevant, out-of-touch, even unjust and toxic. And like it or not, that’s got to shape how we communicate the Christian faith.” As such, the more direct approaches we’ve used in the past may no longer be helpful; we may need to tread more carefully.
As we find ourselves in an increasingly polarised social climate, the words of the apostle Peter, written hundreds of years ago, remain true for us today: “You must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.” (1 Peter 3:15–16)
In keeping with these principles, in his book God Space, author, speaker and chaplain Doug Pollock explains the need to create a safe space for spiritual conversations to take place. This means we must be safe people who create a “low risk, high grace” environment. We need to listen respectfully, and ask for permission to share our experiences.
Additionally, Ham offers some helpful images for “connecting and confronting” in our current climate, to encourage people to “consider the relevance and goodness of the gospel and the Christian worldview.” Let’s look at four of his images:1
1. The Stone in the Shoe
When having spiritual conversations, Ham says, “we want to provoke in such a way that people can’t carry on the same as a result.” We need to offer truth they cannot ignore – truth that gently challenges and leaves them pondering. Jesus was often provocative in his teaching and way of life. He did not always adhere to what people of the time had been taught about God and faith. People could not ignore that the way of life he invited them to was radically different.
2. Opening the Curtains
Ham suggests we need to “open the curtains” on the Christian life. He writes, “There are so many unhelpful stereotypes out there about Christianity, which means we need to help people to see what the Christian life is actually like. What difference does it make to believe in Jesus?” How does following Jesus influence the way we relate to others? How we seek guidance for the future? How we cope with conflict, and suffering?
Ham indicates that it’s important our experience is relatable. Pollock echoes this, expressing the need for Christians to offer spiritual appetisers or gospel snacks: “personal stories, no more than two minutes long, intended to stimulate spiritual thirst, keep the dialogue going, and demonstrate the relevance of Christ in our daily lives.” Preparing these specific stories of how following Jesus shapes our lives, and how he has “shown up” for us is an important part of being ready to explain our hope to others.
3. Tracing the Sunbeam
As Christians, we understand that everything good in life – such as freedom, love, justice, beauty, joy – is given to us by God. The apostle James writes, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” (James 1:17) Ham explains that people tend to use these gifts – or sunbeams – as idols, pursuing and worshipping them as “ends in themselves, as if they would truly satisfy,” rather than pursuing the “Giver.” However, we can help them “trace the sunbeam back to the [Source], to their Triune Creator, the One who alone is worthy of all worship.”
4. Capturing the Longing
Each human being has a sense of longing deep inside, sometimes referred to as an “emptiness that only God can fill.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God has “planted eternity in the human heart.” This is often what seekers identify as fuelling their quest for spiritual fulfilment. St Augustine describes this as restlessness.
Ham also refers to smaller longings – for justice, relationship, or life after death. He explains, “These desires reflect the divine purposes for which we were made… Surely part of our calling is to articulate those longings, so that people can identify that within themselves – and [to] show how the Christian gospel makes sense of them.”
If we use these images in our spiritual conversations, in an environment where people feel safe to share and explore their questions, doubts, and hurts, we may earn the right to speak the truth, love, and hope of the gospel into their lives.
1 This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on the author’s blog: thathappycertainty.com/preaching-ministry/5-images-to-keep-in-mind-as-we-share-the-gospel-in-the-2020s
Bex Allen, Communications Manager