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By Peter W. Marty

Challenging conversations

Talking about Christ Faith never private project, even with some highly personal dimensions


girl came home from Sunday school expressing disappointment to her mother about the experience of the morning. “The teacher kept telling us to go out into the world and make disciples of all peoples,” she said. “But

all we did was sit there … and for a whole hour.” Name any Christian tradition and you’re apt to find large pockets of adher- ents who are, in the words of our little Sunday school friend, just sitting there. It’s not uncommon to find churches packed with faith-filled people reticent to share their faith. The whole idea of expressing faith commitments in any public manner can make even the most genuine believer shudder. Lifelong Christians often struggle to articulate the most basic significance of what Christ means to them. Confidence in finding the right words to describe their spiritual journey is slow to come. While many sit peacefully on the sidelines of a hurting world, plenty of non-Christians question whether a life connected with Jesus makes any difference at all. Not all Christians are noiseless. Some interpret evangelism as a gritty sales

pitch with a coercive twist. These more fanatic disciples want to scare others into some kind of compliance. As far as they’re concerned, following Jesus is more requirement than invitation. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 isn’t simply our charge to “go and make disciples of all peoples.” It’s more like divine permission to “go and make all people think, act and behave just like I do.” That’s how to free someone else from the prospect of doom! Yet aggressive evangelism misses the invitational character of Jesus. No one I know wants the gospel arriving on their doorstep packaged as a heat-seeking missile.

The best way of discipling other people—to use an important word in verb form—is to employ the same methods Jesus did. He blessed others. He loved them. He came to their aid. Whether other people accept all those gifts is beside the point. Offering them graciously is what counts. Perhaps you wonder how to talk about the Lord’s activity in your own life.

The words don’t come naturally. You are well aware that conversing with other people about faith matters will be a strenuous exercise if you cannot locate some passion and joy in your own experience. And you’re nervous. In the midst of this nervousness, you can’t quite buy into the idea that “inviting Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior” is deeply meaningful language. That’s OK. For one thing, the expression “a personal relationship with Jesus” isn’t exactly phrasing from the Bible. It’s more like our own stab at intimacy. For another, Jesus is much busier inviting us into his life—often taking us places we’d rather not go—than we are busy inviting him into our lives. So how will you testify to the beauty of the Christian life? Where might your experiences and convictions alter someone else’s world for the better? Is Christian witness for you? Yes, Christian witness is for you. Silence is not an option. Were God an embarrassment, we might all get to think differently. But God is not. Were Christianity a private enterprise, we could remain mute. But faith is never a pri-

vate project, even if it has some highly pers onal dimensions. As you

search for the right words to share your joy of the Chris- tian life with someone who doesn’t know the same, one nagging question keeps bubbling to the surface. It’s a serious apprehension inside your head. Because you don’t believe in heavy-handed, lopsided wit- ness, this one question persists: “When do I share personal testimony with oth- ers about Jesus Christ, and when do I get explicit about my trust in him?” Only one answer works consistently

well, namely: “When they ask you.” No person may ever ask, of course, if your life fails to model anything that hints at the impact of Jesus. Without the daily example of your words, behaviors, and decisions exhibiting admirable faith, it’s hard to picture anyone gain- ing enough curiosity to ever ask. This may be why the fourth-century teacher John Chrysos- tom was quick to say: “Let us astound them, before all words, by our way of life.” 

Marty is a pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport, Iowa, and a regular columnist for The Lutheran.

Fourth in a series

The best way of discipling other people—to use an important word in verb form—is to employ the same methods Jesus did. He blessed others. He loved them. He came to their aid.

August 2013 3

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