Reclaiming the Heart of the Wesleyan Way #13 ©

Faith Sharing

The story is well known and speaks to the heart of the Wesleyan Way. Roger Ross relates it as follows:

On April 2, 1739, at age thirty-five, Wesley took the plunge:

At four in the afternoon I submitted to ‘be more vile,’ and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining the city, to about three thousand people.

That was the tipping point of the eighteenth-century revival. If Wesley had waited for those three thousand people to come to church, he would have died standing at the altar. Instead of making them come to him, Wesley went to them.

The early days of the revival felt like a page out of the book of Acts. Compelled by the love of Christ, Wesley would head to the Kingswood coal mines at 5 a.m.
(Meet the Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith by Roger Ross; p. 19)

At the very heart of Methodism is a conviction that people need to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. Famously John Wesley said, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always, not only to those who want you, but to those who want you most”  (Minutes of Conference, 29 June 1744, revised 1745). The painful reality of the current United Methodist Church is that we are excessively reluctant to engage in faith sharing and witness – what we might classically call evangelism.

I have had the joy of serving a number of wonderful churches. On one occasion at Asbury United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi, we consciously geared up to teach evangelism and faith sharing. This wonderful congregation had a history of conversion growth. There were a number of years in which adult professions of faith exceeded the number of people who joined on transfer from another congregation.

The associate pastor taught a course designed to help people discover their personal best style of evangelism  She used material from Willow Creek Community Church entitled Becoming a Contagious Christian: Communicating Your Faith in a Style that Fits You (written by Mark Mittleberg, Lee Strobel & Bill Hybels). As the class, started participation was high. People were eager to discover how to share their faith. Slowly the class built on the learning until the time when people would actually share their faith with a non- or nominal Christian friend.

As the time for faith sharing came closer attendance steadily decreased! Anxiety palpably rose. Excuses for not being able to complete the course grew with creative reasons. It became obvious that many in class (most of us!) were afraid. Fear of faith sharing, rejection, and ridicule was a mind killer and a spirit drainer. Assisting the associate pastor in teaching, she and I over and over tried to address the fears present (both those articulated and those that remained unspoken).

One of the first steps at recovering a personal witness is to honestly face the fear of doing so. The fears we have are often (almost always!) far greater than reality. Amazingly, if shared respectfully in a gracious natural way with attentive listening, most people are eager and hungry to talk about their deepest beliefs, highest yearnings, and soul gnawing spiritual hunger. We need to appropriate the advice of I Peter 3:13-16: “Who will harm you if you are zealous for good? But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Don’t be terrified or upset by them. Instead, regard Christ as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience.”

A second key element in recovering personal witness is a willingness to share your own experience of God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit acting in your life. People want to know how you experience the Lord Christ in your life far more than they want to know about God in the abstract. Share your story!  It doesn’t need embellishment. In fact, dressing it up weakens the beauty and greatness of God’s presence. Have you had a “God-sighting” this past week? Share the story!

A third basic part of first steps for a congregation recovering personal witness and faith sharing is that the pastor has to practice what he or she is preaching. Put differently, the pastor must – absolutely must! – be a player coach. At a minimum this involves spending time and making friendships with non-Christians and not just residing in a church ghetto. Friendships and relationships have to be real and not just done to get a conversion. One of our deeper struggles is that many Christian people don’t know many non-Christian people. Make some friends and be a friend without expectation of reward. God will offer the opportunity for sharing. (Bob Farr, Doug Anderson, & Kay Kotan have written an excellent basic book titled Get Their Name that can help.)

A fourth basic step at recovering personal witness is to engage in recommending. Jim Ozier (Clip In: Risking Hospitality in Your Church) notes that we are “hardwired to recommend.” We recommend all kinds of things – restaurants, stores, people, hairstyles, doctors, etc. American culture is geared more to recommending than inviting. A crucial first step in faith sharing is simply to learn to recommend Christ and your church to others.

One of my treasured books is an old copy of D. T. Niles classic That They May Have Life (copyright 1951 [currently out of print]). D. T. Niles was a great evangelist, pastor, leader of the World Student Christian Federation, President of the Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) Methodist Conference, and President of the World Council of Churches in the middle part of the 20th century. He opens his book with the following assertion. “Evangelism is the call of the hour, as it has been the call of every hour when Jesus has been taken seriously” (D. T. Niles, That They May Have Life, p. 11).

Better remembered and often misquoted is his famous statement found in that classic. “Evangelism is witness. It is one beggar telling another beggar where to get food” (D. T. Niles, That They May Have Life, p. 96). Rev. Niles continues in the same paragraph: “The Christian does not offer out of his bounty. He has no bounty. He is simply a guest at his Master’s table and, as evangelist, he calls others too. The evangelistic relationship is to be ‘alongside of’ not ‘over-against.’”

I overheard the conversation; so too did others. In setting you really couldn’t help it. The puzzled plaintive questioning in the voice was unmistakable and the dialogue surfed the edge of embarrassment. It involved a young woman talking to a close and obviously treasured boyfriend. I cannot remember the dialog word for word but it went something like this.

“I don’t understand? If it meant this much to you why wouldn’t you share it with me?”

His response was muffled and awkward. “I didn’t want you to feel pressured or put you on the spot.”

Her earnest, almost heated, reply came back. “But if it meant that much to you; you could at least share your convictions.”

He mumbled something about being embarrassed and fearful of rejection. She respond by saying something to the effect of “if you love, as you say you do, how could you not share!?”

Can you guess what the topic was?  It was about her boyfriend’s failure to share his deep convictions of faith in Christ with his girlfriend. Apparently, he had told her that he went to church but never added much more to his low level, low key sharing. For her, it was a test of love. If you really love me, you will share.

Faith sharing is at the very heart of the Wesleyan Way. More importantly it is at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is Lord and Savior. We live in the midst of a people who desperately need to hear that fullness of life, salvation, comes in relationship to him.

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