How is Your Conversation?

shoes3Today’s post is from a guest writer, Mark Gray.  I met Mark many years ago when he was a counselor at a camp I was speaking at.  He has gone from a brash counselor to a wiser program director for this same camp’s teen program for at-risk teens (my heartbeat).  I’ve been honored to have been along the way with Mark all these years.

I’m not sure what inspired Mark to write this but he sent it to me on a whim for me to read.  I thought it was worthy of sharing with a bigger audience.

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Truth is essential for us to know, understand, apply to life, and communicate to others. Christians, especially those involved in paid ministry, generally do a good job identifying basic truths about the gospel. We adequately unpack details and store them in our minds so, when the argument arises, we can be “ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us a reason for the hope that is in us.”
Of course, we often forget the end of that instruction… to provide the reason “with meekness and fear.” Christians also do a great job verbally communicating truth to others by sharing the gospel with strangers or correcting the inaccurate theology of peers. Despite these frequent interactions with biblical concepts, I have serious questions about how effective we really are at sharing the gospel. Here are a few of my questions:

Question One: As we identify basic truths, how do we know we have identified the right truths?
Question Two: As we unpack theological details, do we allow the nitty-gritty elements to change our hearts, or do we use them to win arguments?
Question Three is a two part question: Part A, Do we communicate the gospel outside church the same way we do inside church? Part B, If we do, does our communication advance the kingdom of God or does it annoy our family, friends, and neighbors? Are we evoking thoughtfulness and genuine interest, or are we provoking frustration repelling souls who are already distant from Christ?

Our generation is part of what sociologists call the Postmodern generation. Even though Postmodernism is quite different from our parents and grandparents world, our current government, election process, economic system, and other social structures still reflect our parents’ and grandparents’ ideals. Those ideals drove the period of Modernism. Modernism was largely based on the idea that right and wrong are clearly discovered through authority, logic, reason, and debate. This mindset encouraged the last generation to choose positions, learn arguments, and develop defenses for ideas. These habits are still practiced in church.

Influenced by Modernism, the church has attempted to fit God’s Truth into logical boxes that can be reasoned out and defended in debates. In other words, the Bible is often used as an answer book instead of a love story. Some of the boxes Modernism created are labeled Calvinism, Armenianism, Conservatism, Liberalism, heresy, or systematic theology. Of course, these classifications can be helpful for sorting out theological details; but let’s quickly ask, “How often has winning a debate about the sovereignty of God, the unpardonable sin, or even abortion helped a friend grow closer to Christ?” From another angle, “How often have such arguments actually created tension and frustration in otherwise healthy relationships?”

There is a reason Paul tells Timothy to avoid foolish questions knowing that they start trouble. Like it or not, our generation is no longer in the Modern Era. We no longer think that winning an argument is equal to discovering truth. Our generation is officially Postmodern, possibly even post-postmodern. Postmodern thinkers seek truth through experience instead of logic – not through a set of facts, but through a story that makes sense of the world. Many stories about the world are available: an Islamic story, a Buddhist story, an Individual Experience story, an Apathetic Story, a Christian story, and more. And no amount of Modernist debate or logical defense of the gospel will persuade a Postmodern mind to choose one story over another. This is evident in statements like, “We all worship the same god,” or, “I’m so happy you found something that works for you.”

Let’s ask another question. In this Postmodern age where arguments leave individuals, at best, unconvinced and, at worst, repulsed; what is our plan? The gospel remains perfect; but our method for sharing it is severely flawed, because it often reflects Modernism more than it reflects Christ. So, how do we plan to effectively present the gospel in a Postmodern world? Is our conversation good?

Let’s step back to answer our initial questions:
Question One: As we identify basic truths about the gospel, how do we know we identified the right truths?
Pontius Pilot asked, “What is Truth?” prior to the crucifixion of Jesus. In our world where many stories are available, where logical arguments are no longer convincing, and where we are encouraged to accept multiple paths to truth, this is a vital question. If we continue defining truth as a set of concepts, or if we search for truth by dissecting ideas, our conversation is ineffective; because truth is not an idea. It is not a concept, and it is not a set of beliefs.

Jesus makes an incredibly Postmodern statement in John 14 – “I am the way, the Truth, and the Life.” Truth is a person! Truth is Jesus Christ, the God-man. This is why Modernism had so much trouble fitting truth into neatly labeled boxes, and it is why our generation’s Postmodern mind rejects the idea of neat boxes. People sense that truth is bigger than the box, and He certainly is. Jesus is the ONLY story available to the Postmodern mind in which truth is not an idea, He is a person. Knowing truth is not a doctrinal study, not the result of tranquil meditation, and not believing in ourselves. Truth is a vibrant, fulfilling relationship. For Christians, knowing the truth does not mean having a set of well-packaged answers, it means having an intimate relationship with the God who made us. So let me ask, how is our Conversation? Have we identified truth properly? Are we in relationship with Jesus, or are we still looking for the right combination of “Christian” concepts?

Question Two: as we unpack theological details, do we allow the nitty-gritty elements to change our hearts, or do we use them to win arguments?
As we enter deeper relationship with Jesus, He gives us insights about how we should live, how we should think, and how we should speak. It is very easy, as we receive these insights, to pass them along to others in unhelpful ways. The insights are good. They are things like: adultery is bad, smoking is unhealthy, and wearing booty shorts may not be the best way to glorify God with our bodies. But instead of readily applying these ideas to our own lives, we set out to tell the world about our new resolutions. In doing so, instead of drawing closer to Christ, we allow our pride to alienate the people around us. Winning arguments and inducing morality is not the point, because the Bible does not call us to illuminate our lost neighbors with the moral insights. It does tell us stories about how we should apply those insights to our own lives.

One of those stories says that we should remove beams from our own eyes to see clearly before removing specks from our brothers’. And, just in case we think our beams are taken care of, Jesus says, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” These passages do not condone sin, but they do recognize that God hates pride. They also remind us that pride and self-righteousness actually have far more potential to make our witness ineffective than do extramarital sex, cigarettes, or booty shorts.

Think about it. Self-righteous Christians with all the answers can make a lot of people angry–including other Christians; but broken sinners sharing real stories about real struggles and real change can attract people to Jesus. Isn’t that what happened with the woman at the well in John Chapter 4? Jesus chose the most broken person available to tell others about the truth–and they listened. As Christ reveals insights and theological principals to us, how are we doing with them? Do we care more about sharing moral details with others than about changing our own hearts? Once again, “How is our conversation?”

Third Question: Part A – Do we communicate the gospel outside of church in the same way we do inside of church?
Ministry settings are incredible places to explain what the Bible says. We are encouraged by leadership staff and peers to share what God is teaching us; and those in attendance, receptive or not, are a captive audience. Suddenly, sharing the gospel becomes easy; and when our pastor asks, “In the past year, how many people have you led to Christ,” we feel good because our quota was filled during the charity dinner. In ministry settings, Christian conversation is easy. At least, we think it is.

Third Question: Part B – If we did share Christ outside of church in the same way we did inside of church, would we actually advance God’s Kingdom, or would we just annoy our relatives, friends, and neighbors?
We should certainly take what we learn at church and apply it when we get home. But, as with any learning, good practice and training are required for true development. Be honest, are we training properly? If we witnessed at home like we were at a church function, how effective would it be?

Consider this. If our witness is primarily based on talking to people about Jesus, speaking to assemblies, or participating in Sunday school; our witness is incredibly ineffective – especially when we try it at home. Just talking about Jesus, in any era, but especially in this Post-modern era, is an insufficient method for sharing truth with the world.

When Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men,” He did not say, “So they can hear what you say and be convinced.” Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men so they may SEE your good WORKS and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.” I ask again, How is your conversation?

Some versions of the Bible use the word conversation in an interesting way. Not only does it apply to the words that come out of our mouths and to the ideas we express; it includes thoughts, actions, general attitude toward, and interaction with everyone around us. The rest of the Bible supports this concept of LIVING the gospel. Ephesians 2:3-10 says we are created for good works, Ephesians 4:21-32 reminds those who know Jesus to be renewed with true holiness, and be KIND, tenderhearted, forgiving – just like Jesus. Philippians 1:27 tells us our conversation ought to match the gospel and we should “Stand fast in One Spirit.”

Now consider, even at church, how is our conversation? Jesus knew what it took to have authentic, effective conversation; which is why He said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who use you despitefully and persecute you.” It is why he said in John 13.34, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” It is why John spends an entire epistle reminding us “Let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” This is how we must demonstrate Christ to the world.

How is your conversation? Sharing the gospel now, more than ever, means more than presenting a well-formed argument or neat set of facts. It means demonstrating, through love that comes out of a relationship with Christ, that the Jesus story works. Please do not cheapen the gospel by counting the number of people who raised their hand, were emotionally moved, or had a great experience. Instead, count the number of people who are all in – who want to be part of the Jesus story we invite them to join.

Brian McLaren in “A New Kind of Christian,” (which, like every book, you should read carefully , be a filter not a sponge) laments about modern church culture:
“If you want a useful plastic kitchen article, you go to Wal-Mart, If you want a fizzy sugary drink you go to Coca-Cola, and if you want a spiritual pick-me-up you go to church. This puts us in a situation exactly opposite to–as I see it–Christ’s intent. For Christ, his called ones were also his sent ones. He trained those whom he called to follow him as apprentices so that they could be sent in his ongoing mission to teach the good news. In this line of thinking about the church, we don’t recruit people to be customers of our product or consumers of our religious programs, we recruit them to be colleagues in our mission. The church doesn’t exist to satisfy the consumer demands of believers; the church exists to equip and mobilize men and women for God’s mission in the world.”

So we ask, “What is God’s mission?” God’s mission is to make much of Himself, to bring glory to Himself, to return the world to the perfection it experienced before humans first decided that our ideas were better than His. His goal, because He loves us, is to restore total righteousness to our conversation so that we can exist with Him forever in eternity. We ought to be practicing. We ought to spend less time arguing about what truth is and more time allowing The Truth, The Way, and The Life to change the way we think, speak, and act.

How is your conversation?

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About Be Brave

Brenda Seefeldt began life in youth ministry in 1981. That is before the internet, YouTube, texting and even before PowerPoint. (But it was after flannel boards.) Brenda has written and shared much of what she has learned through the resource of Wild Frontier and in many youth ministry publications as she continues on in youth ministry. Brenda is a brave one. She stutters yet is a national speaker. She loves teaching so much she’s also been a substitute teacher for over 20 years. She’s brave enough to enter any classroom at a middle school. She also simply loves teaching groups, whether they are teens or adults. Due to the many years of youth ministry, Brenda has “coached” many grown teens in dating. She finds herself very opinionated on that with lots to share. Brenda loves her God-given family–four sons and 4 grandchildren. They are God-given, not birthed. That alone is a brave story, one she tells here and there as the story really belongs to her sons.

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