Sharing Christ With Your Neighbor

By Frank Decker –

When we lived in West Africa I used to meet on Tuesday afternoons with a young Muslim fellow, Habib.  After a few months he became deeply drawn to the person of Jesus, and this became apparent to his older brother (who was also his boss). As a result, Habib was subjected to a job transfer hundreds of miles away, essentially terminating our relationship. Habib’s brother felt the need to move him away because it was apparent to him that Habib was on the brink of becoming a Christian. And leaving Islam is one of the most egregious acts a Muslim can commit.

As I look back over my ministry thus far there are many things I would have done differently, and the focus of my message to Habib is near the top of my list. At that time my training, experience, and perspective led me to assume that when someone became a follower of Jesus, it followed that they would also become a member of a church similar to my own and live out their faith in a way that was familiar to me, an American Christian.

Even in my pre-missionary days when I was a pastor in my 20’s, I felt a vague uneasiness as I would periodically knock on the doors of the “unchurched” in my Portsmouth, Virginia, neighborhood. All I really wanted was for these dear people to see and know Jesus. However, many times I was frustrated by their reaction. As soon as they learned my identity as a pastor, some type of defensive response would often arise in them revealing an association in their minds that to know Jesus meant involvement in “churchy” things like singing hymns or dressing up on Sunday morning or something else that they didn’t see as congenial to who they wanted to be.

The apostle Paul emphasized the reality of Christ in us when he wrote things like, “…do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you…” (2 Corinthians 13:5). This is congenial to the New Covenant thinking that we – not buildings – are the temple of the Holy Spirit. People are more likely to be drawn to Jesus if they see Christ in us than if they think that to encounter Him they must visit our religious building.

We who live in the United States dwell in a more pluralistic society than we did 30 years ago, and we need to pay even closer attention to the things that may hinder others from coming to faith.  As the presence of persons from Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and other backgrounds becomes increasingly evident in our communities, we must ask ourselves if what they are seeing in our witness is a representation of the risen Jesus, or something else. I think this is one reason why I Peter 3:15 implies that if we live our lives under the lordship of Christ, people will actually ask us to explain why we are different. When someone leans forward with curiosity, it is indicative of a fertile soul.

I think it would be constructive if we asked ourselves what it would look like if we focused on simply sharing Jesus with others rather than implicitly seeking to convert them to our religious practices.  In fact, Carl Medearis has written an excellent book on this subject entitled Speaking of Jesus. This is a challenging and refreshing piece that a number of missionaries have informed me is one of the best books they have read about sharing Jesus with persons from non-Christian backgrounds. Medearis writes, “What’s really intriguing to me is how simple it is to share Jesus with other people as opposed to trying to make ‘Christians’ out of them.”

As I look back at my meetings with Habib, maybe I was grasping some sense of all of this. At one point I asked him, “What do you think is most attractive about following Christ?” I thought his reply might be related to a recent discussion he and I had concerning the Trinity, or some other doctrinal issue we had discussed. But I was both astonished and humbled by his brief, spontaneous reply. He simply said, “I want a family like yours.”

Frank Decker is a vice president at The Mission Society.

Comments

  1. Margaret Randerson (31140) says

    Thank you, Good News for all the really good news you send us!

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