[ part 1 ]
I’m just going to say it…
I think the way we’re generally taught to lead someone into “accepting Christ” is filled to the brim with hokie scripts and buzzwords that probably mean absolutely nothing to the person we are trying to win over. And that’s assuming we do more than hand them a convenient pocket-sized brochure or fake dollar bill detailing why their entire life is at risk.
If the person is even slightly aware of socially awkward situations (that’s most people), we just come across as impersonal robots trying to hit some sort of quota.
And if they haven’t received a Christian upbringing or haven’t already been taught what “salvation,” “sin,” “repentance,” and “justification” mean, the conversation quickly gets tuned out because it simply makes zero sense. Best case, they’re curious and want to know more. More likely, though, Christianity seems even less appealing than before (especially with the fake dollar bill tract… seriously, who thought that was ever a good idea?)
Maybe they’ve been around Christians before, but all they know is that we go to church, blame everything on God’s will and, from their perspective, never have any fun. Or the flipside might be that they see us trying to do good, but then watch the same Christians cussing people out, having promiscuous sex, and getting trashed on the weekends.
Our own lives need to be heading down the right track before we start telling people about how theirs is lost. Dare I say we shouldn’t even claim to be Christians if we aren’t actively rooting out sinful habits in our lives.
When it comes to who Jesus is, we’re taught to skip right over the Old Testament and get right to the Roman road because someone decided that we should be able to convince people to surrender their entire life as they know it in under five minutes. Meanwhile, the guy who sold me a Kirby “cleaning system” (don’t ask) spent over two hours with me before I signed my life away.
Eternal salvation has become an acrostic elevator speech instead of a slow, transparent and friendly conversation in which we do more listening than talking.
Christianity isn’t the only belief out there. What is someone who was raised in a devout Muslim or Hindu family supposed to think when a well-intentioned Christian (likely raised in the church) comes up to them and says “You’re a sinner just like me, but Jesus took our place on the cross, and if you accept Him into your heart, you’ll go to heaven”?
First of all, it’s an insanely delicate conversation to essentially tell someone that the belief system their family has ascribed to for multiple generations with faith and devotion is one big hoax. Second, even for those who are a blank slate when it comes to their higher power beliefs (or unbelief), we need to back up and start at the beginning of the story so they understand a bigger context than a five-finger breakdown that starts with “you’re a sinner” and ends with “but Jesus died for you.”
And that’s only if they give us the opportunity to share it. It seems more effective to me to get them talking first by asking questions like, “What do you believe and why?” or “What’s your opinion of Christianity?”
Those answers will tell us exactly where we need to start with each person. And it may not be with the story of Jesus. It may take just as long (or longer) to give logical debate about the existence of God to begin with, or to help clear up someone’s misconceptions about Christianity.
Can we just scrap the scripted approach that maps out every word the “target” says with a Bible verse to respond with? No one knows how much you know until they know how much you care. If ever there was a time where this was true, it’s when someone is hearing about how important Jesus is. This conversation has to be the result of at least a basic relationship of trust, transparency, and confidence–especially to an over-saturated, relativistic and apathetic culture.
Even for people who were raised in a church-attending home and vaguely remember some details about Jesus need to be given the full context of the entire story. In the New Testament when Peter or Paul spoke to a crowd of Jews, they didn’t spend a ton of time doing this (they often glossed over it rather quickly) because in Jewish culture, nearly all of the schooling a kid received was focused on memorizing the Old Testament story and scriptures. They already knew the backstory and only needed to see how Jesus backed up every promise that God had given to them about who their long-awaited Messiah king would be.
When Paul was sent off to spread the Gospel to the gentiles, however, he didn’t lead with “Let me tell you about Jesus.” He had to start way before Jesus so that people would understand that Jesus, as He Himself said, completed and fulfilled these amazing, ancient Old Testament scriptures, which are where Jesus’ credibility as something much bigger than a good teacher or simple miracle worker begins.
The great news is that the core of Christianity is much more of a history lesson than it is a religion. The entire message, in my opinion, takes far less faith to believe than the elevator speech presentation requires. Why make it harder for ourselves? Without basing the presentation on some reliable historical context, we might as well be going around trying to convince people that Zeus, Athena, Aphrodite and the rest of the Greek god family really does live at the top of Mount Olympus.