Looking to Share Your Faith? Slow Your Pace

We live in a culture that wants to move faster and faster still. But, is faster always better? There are some things about going slow that you cannot get when you are moving fast.

When I was serving as a youth minister, I took the youth group hiking to the top of a small mountain. At the end of the trail was a vista with a beautiful view of the city below. I had hiked it before, and I was eager for the young people to see the breathtaking view for themselves. As we quickly unloaded the vans, I rushed the youth to the trail. Once on the trail, we were soon met with a large fog bank. It appeared that we were not going to get to see the beautiful view at the end of the trail after all. We hiked on, mostly to keep with our planned program of holding devotions there, though at a slower pace because of the fog. Because of that slower pace, and because I was forced to carefully watch the trail beneath me, I began to notice things that I had not seen before. I found the tiniest, most beautiful flowers. I marveled at fascinating trees that I had missed before. We reached the trail’s end and had our time of Bible reading and devotions in the thick fog. Afterwards, we all closed our eyes for a time of prayer. When we all said “Amen” and open our eyes, we discovered that the fog had lifted during those few moments of prayer. There before us, splashed by the colors of the setting sun, was the most beautiful view of the city. By slowing down, we got to see the flowers on the trail immediately at our feet and the beauty that was still far away.

Slowing down can have a powerful effect on Christian discipleship and on faith-sharing alike. When we slow down, it is not just the deeper connecting with creation that we notice, like on my hike. Moving at a slower pace allows us to stop and speak to our neighbors, to meet new people, or to renew old friendships. Remember that Jesus and the disciples did not zoom in to a community, stay a few moments, and zoom out. Rather, they walked from village to village with one another. And once there, they frequently remained with the people. Additionally, many of gospel accounts take place inside a relatively small area and mostly in small villages. Jesus and his followers were known to one another and the residents of those communities. Not only did the disciples know the townspeople, but they would have known their family members, how they made their livelihood, and what they enjoyed doing. Jesus and the disciples did not hide behind a busy schedule, a social media profile, or a forced public persona. Rather, the people of Galilee knew Jesus and the disciples to be people who lived what they preached and preached what they lived.

Admittedly, there can be something a bit unnerving about moving at such a pace. We might be afraid to let people know us for who we are. In our modern world, it is easier to hide behind the screens of our devices or the impersonal nature of emails or electronic posts. It is easier to hide behind the busy pace of life to not allow others into the spaces in which we dwell. But these are not the exemplary principles of the Bible. Rather, abiding in the presence of God, waiting for the Lord, and being still before God are what we are taught to do. In much the same way, being present with others is key to faith-sharing. Such a presence includes active listening, lived compassion, and embodied empathy. This sort of things can only come when we move at a slow and deliberate pace. This allows us to join God in what is going on in someone else’s life.

Moving at such a pace in the modern world — literally and figuratively — forces us to live out a key component of faith-sharing: integrity. Not only will you get to see people around you with great clarity, but they will get to see you with greater clarity as well. For this reason, personal holiness is a key aspect to any sort of social holiness in missional service and/or faith-sharing.

I often hear people say that they are waiting on God. In a world that is moving at such a break-neck pace, maybe waiting on God is not so much about stopping and waiting for God to show up. Maybe waiting on God is, spiritually speaking, slowing down to God’s pace and walking together. A slow, deliberate, and faithful pace can impact our own discipleship, and impact those with whom we seek to share our faith.

Faith-sharing as a Way of Life

The word “relational” gets thrown around a great deal when discussing evangelism. Just what that means deserves a closer examination. Allow me to illustrate one way I have in mind. I had many questions about faith before I made a decision to follow Jesus in my early 20s. One of the things that compelled me to become a disciple of Jesus Christ was the honest and open engagement with Christian friends who cared about me. Just such a relationship was as much a force in my Christian conversion as anything else. Maybe I am not alone.

As I reflect on those days, one incident sticks out. I was out for dinner with a group of friends. As we sat out on the balcony enjoying a beautiful fall evening, we could hear someone preaching on a nearby corner. We could not make out much of what he said, but it was obvious that his message was one of condemnation for all in earshot. I listened to my friends ridicule him and the message he was offering.

A few days later, these same friends and I were having deep conversations about faith with a Christian neighbor. Her steady, calming, loving answers to our doubts and questions about faith told us that she cared about us. You see, my friends and I were not disinterested in faith, as our dismissal for the street preacher may have suggested. Rather, we wanted to engage in discussions of faith with someone who cared about us and was willing to be involved in our lives to prove it.

A recent survey (see Bryan Stone’s work at Boston University’s Center for Practical Theology has affirmed that the role of relationships is paramount in faith sharing. Across all major streams of American Christianity, mainline, Catholic/Orthodox, and evangelical people frequently reported that making a decision to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is an inter-personal matter. The survey revealed that the three most influential things that lead to Christian conversion are:

  1. A spouse/partner
  2. A minister (especially that minister’s preaching)
  3. A particular congregation

Near the bottom of the list were things like television/radio and evangelistic events. Notice that the more personal and relational aspects of the life of faith have a greater impact on one’s decision to follow Christ. The more programmatic or impersonal seem to be less effective. I share this not to cast aspersions on the efforts of those who hold large-scale evangelism events or broadcast a Bible study over the radio. However, I do offer it to challenge some of the assumptions about who are the evangelists in our churches and our communities. It often is not the “professional” who is all but unknown to the members of the audience pushing people to make a decision. Maybe the cliché has credence: “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

So how can we translate such findings to our own ministry contexts? First, the role of a spouse in the role of faith formation can be vital. For those of you who are praying for your spouse, keep it up! Be encouraged as you minister to your spouse and know that you are not alone. Lean on your pastor or a trusted friend to walk alongside you in this journey.

Second, if you are a minister serving a church, your relationships with the believers and unbelievers in your community (and the pews) are so important. Stone also reminds us of the importance of preaching in evangelism. The opportunity to preach week in, week out is a gift. While there are dozens of pressures that may demand your time each week, preaching is tantamount. Be intentional about the time you set aside for the sacred space of sermon preparation. Notice the difference between this type of preaching and one I mentioned earlier is the personal relationship of the minister. Take time to unpack your sermons through conversation in the public spaces: the coffee shops, soccer fields, and park benches in the community where you serve.

Third, the culture of the congregation is crucial. Many visiting a church will decide if they are coming back long before the notes of the first song are ever played. Rather, the greeting they received at the front door, the help they got finding the nursery, or the handshake they got as they found their seat all go a long way to helping them determine if they will return.

Thinking of faith-sharing along these lines also leads us away from looking for another off-the-shelf program to try next month in our churches. It encourages us instead to think of faith-sharing as a way of life. I am thankful for my friend who saw it that way. I pray that someone sees you and me that way too.

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