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We need to talk more about Jesus 

How can we help contacts on the fringe of the church to become inquirers seeking Jesus? Baptist minister Peter Thomas shares his sabbatical studies 

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A summer of sabbatical study has led me to one simple conclusion – we need conversations about Jesus. Churches need to be helping and encouraging Christians to talk about Jesus more boldly and wisely, confidently and effectively.

Research by the Barna Group just published at www.talkingjesus.org reports that “44 per cent of practising Christians credit their friends for introducing them to Jesus”.

However when not-yet-Christians were consulted, more than half of non-Christians who know a Christian said they had not had a conversation with that person about faith in Jesus. Clearly some Christians are missing opportunities to talk about Jesus.

Most published resources training Christians in evangelism are aimed at self-selecting committed groups, but I want to encourage and enable every member of our church and congregation. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

It’s why as part of my sabbatical I have produced a range of resources.


Background – we are all evangelists

The Good News is too good to leave to professionals or enthusiasts. We believe in the priesthood of all believers. We are all called to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

In Acts the gospel was proclaimed not only by the apostles also by countless nameless believers who chattered the Good News and gossiped the gospel (Acts 8:1-4 and Acts 11:19-21).

In the Early Church and still today sharing the gospel is a responsibility shared by every believer. Bishop of Chelmsford evangelist Stephen Cottrell writes, “According to our different personalities, gifts and circumstances each of us has a part to play in God’s work of evangelism.”

And Michael Green rightly says, “It is not until church members have the enthusiasm to speak to their friends and acquaintances about Jesus that anybody will really believe we have got good news to share.”


Dialogue reaches the hearts monologue can’t reach

Evangelism can appear distasteful. We feel pressured by “political correctness”, scared of risking friendships, causing offence or embarrassment, or being laughed at or ignored. Talking to non-Christians, the Barna Group research found that the impact of conversations about Jesus is not always positive.

Stuart Murray-Williams makes an important point about the need for dialogue as opposed to monologue: he says evangelism Post-Christendom should become “Engaging in conversation rather than confrontation – evangelism alongside others, not declaiming from an authoritative height, through dialogue instead of monologue.”

He adds, “Gentle questioning must supersede domineering assertions. Bold humility must replace arrogant insecurity. The images of fellow travellers and conversation partners must usurp memories of inquisitors and crusaders.”

Michael Green puts it like this, “Personal conversation is the best way of evangelism. It is natural, it can be done anywhere, it can be done by anyone.”

The best way to help our friends on their journey to faith is most often through conversations exploring spirituality and sharing what we believe.


Prepared to answer

So we need to talk – but how to do it?

Some Christians are disillusioned because they fear they have failed in the past. We may be scared of being asked questions we can’t answer or saying the wrong thing.

That’s why one of the fruits of my sabbatical study is “Prepared to Answer”, a ten-week programme of sermons and activities leading up to the evangelistic opportunities of Christmas. 

Our aim is to address the worries and fears that Christians face and help them to be able to explain the gospel confidently and clearly.

We are considering common objections to faith and also the Six Big Questions spiritually minded non-Christians are asking about destiny, purpose, the origins of the universe, whether God exists, the supernatural and the problem of suffering (from Nick Spencer in Beyond the Fringe, Researching a Spiritual Age).

We are discussing how to express key words and ideas in the Christian faith using language which is accessible to non-Christians. We are helping each other learn how to tell our stories of the difference God makes in our lives, of answers to prayer and our journeys to faith.

We are committing to memory some Bible verses and stories about Jesus because sometimes the best thing we can do in conversations is simply to share Scripture and “unchain the lion” (Spurgeon). We are deliberately practising talking about Jesus with each other after our services.

In all of this we are praying much more about our witness and we are seeking to “fan the flame” of passion for Jesus. When Christians are “prepared to answer” not only do we feel more confident when we speak but we are also more aware of the opportunities for conversations about Jesus as they arise.

In total my sabbatical resulted in four reports. As well as Prepared to Answer there is:

Taking Every Opportunity – Conversations About Jesus: A 12-page article on the theme.

42 Great Outreach Ideas: explaining a number of practical activities.

Preaching the Gospel Necessarily Includes Words: an essay defending this important point.

We need to talk more about Jesus

The Barna report recommends, “We need to talk about (Jesus): to more people, more often, and more relevantly. Let’s encourage our congregations to prioritise talking about Jesus to our friends and family.”

We need to pray for boldness (Acts 4:29-32), and I believe our churches can encourage and equip every Christian to talk about Jesus wherever we may be, helping overcome the different barriers that hinder us from talking about Jesus.

It’s my hope and prayer that my studies can help us do that.

We all need to talk more about Jesus.


Four reports from my sabbatical studies are online at www.takingeveryopportunity.org 

Taking Every Opportunity – Conversations About Jesus: A 12-page article on the theme.

42 Great Outreach Ideas: explaining a number of practical activities.

Preaching the Gospel Necessarily Includes Words: an essay defending this important point.

Prepared to Answer: the programme of sermons and activities helping members of North Springfield Baptist Church to talk about Jesus and discussing the rationale behind it.

Image: MaryB/Creationswap

The Revd Peter Thomas is Minister of North Springfield Baptist Church in Essex. He serves on Eastern Baptist Association Council leading the Task Group for Mission Resourcing and as Treasurer of The College of Baptist Ministers


Baptist Times, 22/10/2015
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