I Love to Tell the Story (Oh, Really?)
[The giveaways from last week's post go to Jodie P (book), and Charity C (earrings.) Congratulations!]
If there were awards for Kitchen Evangelists, I’d be a contender.
For sixteen years of our marriage, we lived in a century-old home in the Midwest that had “potential” when we bought it. All the rooms needed work, but none more so than the kitchen – a tiny galley with beat-up white laminate cabinets and mirrored backsplashes (to ensure messes were magnified). It was so small, you couldn’t turn around when the dishwasher door was open.
We loved that home, though, and were determined to offer hospitality to friends and strangers alike despite the fact that, just like its owners, it had serious deficiencies.
With kids in college and minimal funds for renovation, we lived with that kitchen for years until a miracle happened – a family in our neighborhood gave us their old cherry cabinetry when they remodeled. Keith, a gifted craftsman we dubbed our kitchen cardiologist, transformed the heart of our home by pushing out a wall and retrofitting the old cabinets into our expanded space. When visitors commented on our beautiful new kitchen, I loved to tell the story of its spectacular transformation.
So why am I practically mute when it comes to sharing the story of spiritual transformation?
Generations of Christians have sung a Civil War-era hymn that joyfully expresses our desire to share our faith:
"I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true; It satisfies my longings as nothing else could do."
But is that true? Do we really "love to tell the story?”
Recent studies indicate that half of millennial Christians, those born roughly in the 1980s and 1990s, say it’s wrong to evangelize. They are enthusiastic about Jesus but not necessarily about the older evangelism approaches.
Our prevailing Western culture discourages speaking out about others’ personal choices, including their spiritual faith or lack of it. Despite the confidence we have from Scripture, how can we tell others that Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6) without seeming to make a value judgment that smacks of exclusivity?
It’s not only millennials who struggle with this. It’s rare to find American believers willing to hand out tracts or go door-to-door to present the gospel to strangers. (What if they think we’re “one of them”?) In the past, tens of thousands attended evangelistic crusades, but both the name and the practice have fallen out of favor. Revival services take place primarily in rural pockets of the Bible Belt. Even global programs designed to provide space for exploring questions of faith struggle to gain a hearing in many areas.
What I've observed with younger friends is that many do express a genuine desire to share their faith with others, albeit in ways that are organic and within the context of a relationship where they know the other person feels cared for for regardless of differences. They are not resistant to evangelism but rather to what feels like inauthenticity or "turning people into a project." The postmodern context in contemporary culture prioritizes relationship, and if that's not present, we won't get a hearing for conversations about spiritual matters.
But even as we wrestle with the right way to share our faith, let's not forget that each person we know has a profound need to hear the grace-filled gospel story of redemption.
In the past year, the three largest Christian denominational bodies in the United States have come under the media spotlight for issues revolving around clergy sexual abuse, hierarchical cover-ups, and questions of sexual ethics. Commenting on the stories in the news, my own pastor challenged our congregation to remember the central tenets of our faith, pointing out that many twenty-first- century churches are performing more funerals these days than baptisms.
While it’s imperative for the church to authentically confront issues of morality and social justice, it’s too easy to overlook the fact that Scripture teaches those without a personal relationship with Jesus are bound for a Christless eternity (2 Peter 2:4-9).
I am preaching to myself here, friends, not pointing a finger at anyone else. I travel often by plane, but do I seize the opportunity to respectfully speak with my seatmates about my hope in Jesus? Am I actively involved in organizations designed to help believers share their faith winsomely? Do I support friends who have emotional or physical needs but fail to address their spiritual ones?
And, given the dynamics of our postmodern culture, how do I build relationships with eternity in mind?
How do I love people without turning them into projects? How do I remain sensitive to the Spirit so that I can be both courageous and discerning when it comes to evangelism?
And how do I keep the relationship priority from becoming an excuse to not share my faith?
These are difficult questions in a postmodern, secular age, but they’re critically important. Most of us are happy to share bargain buys, our own resources, or fun experiences with our friends, yet we often shy away from speaking about the most important decision of all: where we will spend eternity.
Jesus put it this way: “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” Mark 8:36-37
I loved being a Kitchen Evangelist, repeatedly telling the story of the transformation of the heart of our home. But when it comes to the heart of the matter, the renovation of someone’s soul, how can I remain silent?
How can any of us?
_________________________________________________ Taken from This Life We Share by Maggie Wallem Rowe. Copyright 2020. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
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