The first time I remember hearing the story of Jesus was around a Christmas tree as a child. I also remember hearing it again when I was baptized in junior high school. I remember thinking about it again as I was confirmed. I remember hearing it many times in high school at the church my family was part of. But I never believed it. In fact, I thought at best the story was a fantasy.
But I heard the story again in my third year of college and this time something clicked. I started attending a campus ministry and joined a small group Bible study. I remember having numerous conversations with the guys in that group about faith and what it meant, at least in part, to follow Jesus. And finally, I remember, after having been confronted dozens if not hundreds of times with this story of Jesus, saying, “Yes. I will follow you.” I said “No” many times and I’m very thankful people kept telling me about Jesus and inviting me to say “Yes.”
In this six-part series I’ve touched upon six key practices that I see in people who share their faith well in a multi-religious world, be they South African, Nigerian, German, British, or Brazilian. (See here, here, here, here, and here.) These practices are evident across the centuries, in various Christian traditions and around the world. I’ve used the acronym REVEAL as a tool to help us remember the practices:
R Repeat the story of God in Christ
E Examine the story of God in Christ
V Verify the story with your life
E Encourage others to take the next step of faith
A Announce the story of Christ
L Listen to others share their story of life and faith
The six are not sequential but each practice works together, in various orders, sometimes distinctly but often in concert with each other. The final letter to discuss is the R, which stands for Repeating the story of God in Christ over and over as we converse with friends and family about our faith.
As I’ve conversed with Christians around the world, I’ve found that how common it is that a person hears the story of Jesus many times before they actually commit to him. In fact, I’ve only met one or two people who commit to Jesus the first time they hear about him and are invited to follow him. Many will start off a conversation believing they responded the first time; upon further investigation, they recall that they actually read the Bible sometime previously, or had a family member tell them about Jesus years before, or went to a Christmas Eve or Easter worship service where they heard the story. The reality was they had heard about Jesus many times, but then one time the story clicked for them.
One of the tragedies of evangelism in the West is that many churchgoers think of evangelism as a one-time, confrontational conversation with someone they’ve never met. The image of an evangelist is, more often than not, someone yelling on a street corner at passersby. The result is far from evangelism, if evangelism means to share the story of Jesus in ways that encourage people to respond to him.
The image people should have of evangelism is the one that involves actually sharing the story of God in Christ. It is an image of sitting with a friend or family member for numerous conversations, sometimes over years, where we tell the story of God in Christ again and again, knowing the Holy Spirit is at work and praying that during one of our conversations the story sinks in.
Effective faith sharers today recognize two key elements of evangelism. The first is that evangelism is a communal activity. Most people who come to faith have numerous conversations with various people. When I share my faith with someone it may be the first or the tenth or the hundredth time a person hears the story. I don’t know when they will respond, I just know I am part of a great cloud of witnesses whose task it is to share the story.
Second, faith sharers today recognize that hearing the gospel story does more than just help people repent and believe. These two, which lead to conversion, are critical. But hearing the story of Jesus helps someone first “awaken” to God’s goodness, and then long after conversion, Christians grow in their sanctification as they hear the story again and again in new and different ways.
For those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers, may we never forget that one of our responsibilities is to reveal this beautiful story of Jesus to the world. It is not a story people will intuit. If we can tell it again and again, especially with people who trust us, some will have the privilege of claiming faith in Jesus themselves and continue announcing this good news until the very end of the age.