When Becky Chevis sent out an email inviting music students to a book club focusing on evangelism, I realised I hadn’t given a great deal of thought to how best to share my faith with others. I knew it was important to let people know about Jesus, but I usually relied on instinct in my conversations, and I wasn’t very deliberate in the way I tried to engage others. Reading 'Stay Salt', by Rebecca Manley Pippert (RMP), has really helped shape my thinking in this area, as has discussing the book with others on Zoom each week.
Depending on God in evangelism
One of the things that struck me as we read the book was Manley Pipperts’s dependence on God in all her efforts to reach others with the gospel. She tells many stories of times when God has guided her to people who are curious about spirituality, or otherwise given her words and opportunities to discuss faith which she would not have had relying on her own wisdom. Christians often feel inadequate when sharing the gospel, to which she responds:
Well, of course you’re inadequate! We’re all inadequate! All of us are completely dependent upon God! And isn’t it freeing to know? There is no shame in depending on God!
Shortly after reading this chapter in the book, I found myself chatting to a friend at my college. As we exchanged small talk, I felt an inner urge to continue the conversation, as if God was saying ‘pursue this!’ I changed my travel plans for the evening and kept talking. Within five minutes, the conversation had moved to the Christian response to suffering, which led to a frank discussion around our understanding of the heart of the Christian faith. I had been seeking out a chance to talk about these things with him all year, but this sense of being guided gave me so much more confidence and boldness with my words.
A compassionate person-centric approach
Manley Pippert also writes about how we must think carefully about who we are speaking to when we seek to have a conversation about faith. She reminds us that everyone is different, and so it is important to get to know people well if we want them to be receptive to our message. She calls this compassionate approach the ‘Jesus way’ of evangelising, following Jesus’ example of showing love to others and engaging them in thoughtful conversation. Manley Pippert tells how she often swaps contact details with people she has spoken to and stays in touch long term to continue their conversations. I was convicted by this as I realise it is all too easy to have a one-off conversation with someone about faith, but to let the interaction end there. Now, when I have had a conversation about faith with someone or if we do ‘cake for a question’ at my college, I make a habit of trying to remember the names of those I have spoken to, and to catch up with them when I see them around the building. It’s not much, but I hope it’s a step in the right direction.
The historical evidence
Manley Pippert describes her journey from atheism in her teens to becoming a Christian, and the research she did in order to find answers to her questions. This period in her life has helped her be more persuasive when speaking to people, as she is ready to bring historical evidence into the conversation, rather than relying only on her personal testimony. This has encouraged me to do some more reading of my own, so that I can bring more than my own life experiences into conversations about faith.
Evangelism is a form of love
Another important point Manley Pippert discusses is the feeling that we are somehow being manipulative or pursuing an ulterior motive by trying to reach others with the gospel. It is easy to think that we should love people as they are and avoid confronting them with a message which will require commitment and change in people’s lives. Manley Pippert reminds us that:
The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Manley Pippert asserts that Jesus did have a purpose, and He went to the Cross to sacrificially achieve it. It was not an ‘ulterior motive’. We point people to Jesus not only because Jesus commanded us to, but because God loves people, and so do we. This reminder was helpful to me, as I find I can be tempted to think I can show God’s love to others without risking making them feel uncomfortable by speaking about Jesus. In fact, as Manley Pippert says, I know that trying to bring someone to faith in Jesus is the way I can best show love for them. Reading these words reminded me of my own journey in coming to faith, and I remember how no amount of kind words or kind gestures could have saved me, but only being guided to Jesus, and this is now what I remind myself when I try to start conversations with others.
Hearing each other's experiences
At the end of each chapter, the Rebecca suggests questions for reflection, which formed the basis of our discussions on Zoom. It was useful to hear each other’s experiences in sharing the gospel, to be encouraged by finding that we had challenges in common, but also to share the successes we had had. The book group has been a valuable moment each week to put music-making to one side and think about how God may be using us in our places of study. Many thanks to Becky Chevis for leading our discussions, and to Ewan and Matt for their company and input.