Throughout the Bible, there are a variety of statements urging people of faith to be faithful witnesses, in both conversation and action, before those who are not yet a part of the community of faith.
In Eugene Peterson’s popular translation, The Message, the Great Commission is rendered in these words: Jesus undeterred went right ahead and gave his charge, “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day, right up to the end of the age.”
Jesus commissioned his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. How can a Christian living in a postmodern culture share his or her faith with others who are not yet Christians? Here are some strategies for putting the Great Commission into action:
–Treat every human being as a potential child of God. Jesus is the greatest model for this kind of acceptance. He associated with rustic fisherman, disreputable tax collectors, women rumored to have questionable reputations and people with a variety illnesses and diseases. Jesus related to individuals redemptively and non-judgmentally. So should we.
–Cultivate relationships with those who are not yet Christians. Bill McKibben, author of Signs of the Times, says that 72 percent of Americans don’t know their next-door neighbors. American Baptist minister Jeff Woods insists: “In a culture concerned with issues of privacy and leery of strangers, we must earn the right to talk to a person about his or her soul. People will no longer cross the threshold of the church building to hear about Jesus without a personal invitation from someone they trust.”
–Communicate the values of faith in casual, everyday conversation. Jesus did more communicating of faith through everyday conversation than he did while preaching and teaching. Faith is most believable when communicated through the routine experiences of every day life.
Practice a lifestyle that accurately reflects your faith. For the most part, your lifestyle speaks louder than words. St. Francis of Assisi urged the faithful to “preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.”
–Invite your friends and acquaintances to church. The Alban Institute published a survey of various congregations in three major cities, where newcomers to the church were asked, “What brought you to this church?” The following responses were given: an advertisement (2 percent), an invitation by the pastor (6 percent), an organized outreach program (6 percent) and invitation by a friend of family member (86 percent).
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are commissioned to go to our classrooms, our offices, our homes and our various arenas of recreation, and to make friends for Christ. Perhaps God intends for others to know Christ, by first coming to know you.
Barry Howard is the pastor of Brookwood Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches.