I’m not sure it’s always beneficial to answer questions. For one, our cerebral satisfaction perhaps isn’t the noblest endeavor. Our minds are limited and making sure when understand everything or have some good answer seems arbitrary. For another thing, sometimes the questions are intended to trip us up. In fact for Jesus, he often did not answer a question directly. And there were times, five times in particular, that he didn’t answer at all (many of these times were at the end of his life when he was being addressed by Roman and Jewish authorities).
Although he creatively answered most questions, he still did his askers the dignity of answer them. You might think Jesus is “unquestionable,” but really what makes our God so compelling is how personal he is. He is a gentle listener, ready to respond.
When we asked our leaders what questions they were hearing one was: Do I have to tell people about Jesus?
Well, this is a great question. First, let’s talk about why someone would ask this question. Jesus is clear in the Great Commission that it’s important to tell people about him. So for some of the “good students” in the room, the answer is “Of course!”
But what Jesus said to first-century Palestinians is one thing and how we apply it today is another. In fact, for many of us, we are Christians in spite of the bad evangelism we’ve experienced. Those who are the most evangelistic among us hesitate to even use the word to describe themselves. They actually think the word “evangelical” or “missionary” has such a negative connotation—it’ll make people think of the Crusades, televangelists, or the Scramble for Africa or something.
Evangelicals have been coercive and manipulative. I was telling my story to my cell on Friday and it was littered with guilt, shame, and condemnation—things that took me years to overcome to become a Christian. I remember in college I said the last thing I want to do as a Christian is convince someone to be one! I was afraid of ruing someone’s potential conversion because I just reminded them of a crusader. So I understand if someone is hesitant about sharing the Gospel because Christians have sometimes not done a very good job of it.
Jesus has no problem including in his story the evils in the generations that have come before him. Part of his prophecy was declaring the new message in spite of the bad telling of the old one. In Matthew 23, Jesus is fed up with his antagonizes. The worst ones are the ones that are supposed to be his friend.
The story hasn’t changed much, and for many of us, rather than declare the story of the Gospel and fight the people that ruin it for others, we recoil and let them control the faith while we just dissociate as much as we can. There is a cost to that, but it is understandable too. Jesus is brave and he’ll lose his life over it, but even death can’t hold him down.
Part of our message has to be the restoration of those injured by the modern-day Pharisees. We have to tell the truth and love those who have been hurt. Part of telling the story of Jesus is bringing that prophecy that might heal the injured and might give them Hope in something better.
For many of us, Circle of Hope is a place that is safe because we don’t need to have all of our stuff figured out. We are still wondering whether we want to follow Jesus for the first time or even if we want to do it again. What’s there to tell but a story about doubt? I’m not ready to tell people about Jesus because I’m not sure what I think.
I think that’s a valuable story to share too. There’s no shame in your doubt and uncertainty. There’s room at the table for you. If you needed to have all of your stuff together before you could share of yourself, we’d be doomed. Because, one, that would mean that some people think they do have it all together (which is totally untrue), but also that would exclude most of us. Led by the liars isn’t the best way to do it. The realer we are the better we witness, in my humble opinion.
The best way to tell people about Jesus is to do by being the church. It’s by doing it by being the Body. We call it “incarnationally.” Just like Jesus. He came to earth in the form of a person to convince us of his love.
Spread the Word by just being a friend. We can all do it, and when we do it for Jesus, I think people can ultimately get closer to him through us. But you have to be a real friend. Intimate, connected, unafraid of both loving and affirming someone and telling them the truth too.
It’s hard to be friends in this landscape, as I make new ones I realize how thirsty people are for a connection that doesn’t stop and end at the bar, or in the bedroom. They want real connection and for us, I think we can offer that. Ultimately, even if you stuff isn’t figured out or your reticent to even utter the name of Jesus, just being friends with someone and listening to them and caring for them, meanwhile sharing of yourself, is a great way to apply the Great Commission while still not doing what seems to be impossible.
Our relationships need to be born out of genuinely love, not just another motivation, even if it is a noble one. The best missional relationships are the real ones, not the ones that are so obviously meant for a purpose. I really think being real takes some self-awareness, but more than anything it takes a risk. Unfortunately, we have been made self-conscious about our faith so often. David Bazan in Pedro the Lion writes an album about his faith crisis (wait, just one? Try four albums and five EPs!) but anyway, in Achilles Heal he describes a perfect example:
You were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord, / to hear the voice of the Spirit begging you to shut the F’ up. / You thought, it must be the devil trying to make you go astray. / Besides it couldn’t have been the Lord because you don’t believe he talks that way.
Bazan is cynical, but he’s talking about a clear manipulation of a friendship. I think people do this kind of stuff. But I suppose I could accuse Him of steering the conversation away from the Lord. Unfortunately, it’s the anxiety that something like might happen that makes us steer clear of any honest discussion about our faith or community. David’s telling his story and evangelizing in his own way, the Gospel of losing your faith. I have another story I want to tell.
For many of us, Jesus is a real part of our lives. And though we all want to be St. Francis with his alleged, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” It might be more necessary to use words than we think. Not because of it’s a rule, but because that’s also real. You do it because it’s part of you. For some of you, you aren’t there yet, and that’s OK, but for those of us who sit on the truth because of fear or shame—well, that’s trouble. Jesus might say, “Woe to you!” too.
Do I have to tell people about Jesus? Well, the truth is you don’t. You don’t have to do anything. Jesus made it so that we don’t need to. But why wouldn’t you want to share that freedom with someone? I suppose if you are asking it, it is your thought. You might have to if your tassels are getting tugged to do it. God might have given you the question and you might benefit from responding to him.