I want to explain a theory about how to successfully share the good news. First I'll talk generally about what I've heard from people I know about their experience with the church. Then I'll talk about three of my Christian friends's experiences in their churches growing up. I'll talk about how the good news was shared with me, and then I'll tie it back to my new theory of how to share the good news ethically and successfully.
Before I talk about my life, I should share the Parable of the Sower (explanation here):
A farmer went out to scatter seed in a field. 4 While the farmer was scattering the seed, some of it fell along the road and was eaten by birds. 5 Other seeds fell on thin, rocky ground and quickly started growing because the soil wasn’t very deep. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and dried up, because they did not have enough roots. 7 Some other seeds fell where thornbushes grew up and choked the plants. 8 But a few seeds did fall on good ground where the plants produced a hundred or sixty or thirty times as much as was scattered. 9 If you have ears, pay attention! (Matthew 13:3-9, plus explanation here)
Most people I know in Canada (and the USA) have heard about Christianity (aka the "good news"). And the majority of them decided it isn't for them. It's possible I'm wrong, and I should give up my faith. But I have some reason to suspect they just haven't heard it the right way. That is, if they got a better experience of hearing about the good news, they might reconsider.
I recall being in Beijing and meeting Chinese people who were genuinely curious about and interested in Christianty. They didn't have preconceived notions of it. Whereas I know multiple people in Canada who will never touch Christianity again after attending Catholic school, my native Chinese friends in Beijing didn't have this experience holding them back from learning more. When I went to church there, I was shocked about how firm and clear the church was about sharing the details of their theology & doctrine. I was even more shocked that the people coming to visit who had never even tried being Christian were totally enamoured with and transformed by the message.
I've also been chatting recently with a few Christian friends here in Seattle about how they came to Christianity. Everyone in Seattle is in some state of questioning all their beliefs (it's a very politically diverse city), and that includes the Christians. Note in the next three paragraphs, "conservative church", to me, means that the church has less open questions about their doctrine/theology, and therefore is more clear & insistent about sharing that doctrine.
One of my friends is from a conservative church, left, tried not attending church or following God for a while, and ten years later is back in the church. He is my most politically conservative friend, but certainly also the most open to new experiences & ideas of anyone I've ever known. That will be important later.
Another is from a less conservative church, but has roughly been at least attending church her whole life. Though she questions a lot of beliefs, she is committed to following Christ.
Another came from an even less conservative church on the West Coast. Though he still attends a church, he's pretty suspicious of certainty and dislikes people who share their faith too aggressively.
I understand these three friends are anecdotes. But there is a truth here that's also reflected in my own life. I take it as given that the good news (Jesus's version, not a human's) is worth sharing, and will improve the lives of those around me. So then, given all of this and my experiences listed above, how do I successfully tell someone about Christianity?
Start with what I used to believe. I used to think that some people went to conservative churches, heard from pushy, close-minded evangelicals, and (rightly) turned away from faith. I thought that if I shared a subtler, more thoughtful message I could share the faith I knew and loved with others.
Now, what I know now. As my three friend illustrate above (and as other Christian & non-Christian friends of mine that I haven't listed illustrate), it seems more fair to say that someone's likelihood of following God is inversely correlated with how many open theological questions there are at their church. Put another way, the more questions the church has resolved, the more likely the congregant is to follow later.
I am certainly not advocating for close-mindedness here. Remember that my friend from the most conservative church is also one of the most open minded people I know. There were parts of his conservative church growing up that he hated, for being too rigid. But he heard the good part of the good news there, and still has that helping him out today. Isn't that amazing? Though his church taught good and bad things, he wasn't brainwashed or something. He found the true stuff by using his brain.
This conclusion isn't very useful though. I don't want to advocate all churches resolve all open questions and stop thinking about ideas. That would be very bad.
Now about my own story. I grew up in a church with a lot of open questions (aka not a conservative church). Then I went to a more-conservative church camp, at which I started believing in God. Finally I went to a Christian leadership camp. There they told me, in clear terms, to read my Bible every day and pray every day, for the rest of my life.
I don't read the Bible or pray every day. But from that camp until now, I've certainly tried. When I've succeeded, I've seen a lot of great changes happen in my life. When I've failed, I've known I'm still saved by grace ;)
This, along with conversations with Christians and non-Christians, informs my theory of how to share the good news successfully:
- First, someone they trust has to tell them the good news. That's the part that they're saved and God loves and cares about them.
- Then, to put down roots, someone they trust has to tell them how to be spiritually disciplined.
- They need to develop their understanding of theology through the disciplines of Bible or sermons
- They need to develop a love of God over the world, through prayer, service, or sacrifice
What I like about this idea is that it aligns with my experience, with my friends' experience, and with the parable of the sower. The three points above roughly correspond to the three groups of seeds that don't bear a harvest for the sower. But the interesting part for me right now is that the message has to come from someone the person trusts.
I don't have any illusion that this always happens for the best reasons. I'm sure there are bad people sharing a bad message, but because someone happens to trust them for the wrong reasons, they hear the good news and have their lives changed in good ways. But then there are probably more people hurt by the church, and that's not good.
The takeaway for me though, as an individual who doesn't control the global church, is how I can relate to those around me. I need to first earn trust, by being trustworthy. The Bible has lots of advice about how to be a trustworthy neighbour here, here, and here. Second, I need to be clear and unambiguous about what's worked for me. Like my church in Beijing, if I share the good news that I know, it will be as convincing as it is true.
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