A once-popular song by the band Switchfoot declared, "We were meant to live for so much more but we lost ourselves." In the closing line of his remake of the song "Hurt" (which, by the way, was way better than the original version), Johnny Cash lamented that the one thing he'd do differently, if he could live life over, was "keep himself - I would find a way."
Most people, no matter their worldview, resonate with this kind of thinking about life. It points to something the Bible claims about how God made us, that we all have some innate knowledge of God. We think about life in ultimate categories and in terms of moral expectations, and we seek purpose.
The problem, of course, is that because we are marred by sin, so is our pursuit of the truth about who we are and what life is all about. In Christ, our relationships are reconciled, not only with God but also with ourselves and, of course, others too. The freedom, joy and beauty that result when relationships are reordered in Christ is something we are to proclaim to the wider world.
Often, however, we struggle to communicate the truth about Christ and life across worldview and cultural lines. In fact, the further adrift a culture is from reality, the more that reality sounds like make-believe. Up seems like down, and down seems like up. It is easy to get the impression that all of our efforts to present truth to others goes nowhere.
In his recent book, Mark Mittelberg tackles the challenge and our calling to communicate faith in this cultural moment. "Contagious Faith" teaches believers to communicate to a world looking for better answers to life's ultimate questions. According to Mittelberg, a big obstacle Christians must overcome is to first actually believe that our faith is worth sharing:
"I'm reminded of times in my life when I caught something that I couldn't resist and didn't really want to. Contagious isn't always a bad thing. It describes something irresistible What if instead of quietly clinging to our relationship with Christ and succumbing to the idea that faith should be private, we realized that faith is for sharing? That Jesus came not just for me and you, but to be the Savior of the world?"
While it's easy to feel intimidated by the thought of sharing Jesus with others, Mark's approach emphasizes the different gifts and skills present within the body of Christ. He describes five "contagious faith styles" we can learn to practice. Those with the Friendship-Building Style are more like Matthew, the former tax-collector-turned-disciple, who held a party in his house to introduce Jesus to his former co-workers. Friends are more likely to listen to friends.
Or perhaps you're more of the Selfless-Serving Style like Tabitha, who is described in Acts 9. She was a kind of first-century Mother Teresa, used by God to point people to him. The selfless-serving approach is particularly powerful in reaching those who are sometimes jaded toward God and the Church.
Most of us should be able to employ the Story-Sharing Style, to share our experience with Christ and point others to him. Think of the blind man described in John 9, who simply talked about his own life. "Though I was blind, now I see," he said.
Mittelberg's own approach is what he calls the Reason-Giving Style. Paul demonstrates this, as described in Acts 17, when he describes God to a bunch of philosophers in Athens. Though we hear that people are no longer interested in reasons for the Christian faith, they are - not just why Christianity is true but why it matters and why the Gospel is good. They want to know not only what Christians believe but how Christianity makes sense of the world.
A final approach is the Truth-Telling Style. We're all called to share the truth with others, but some have a God-given strength in doing that. Think of Peter, as described in Acts 2, speaking to the crowd about who Jesus is and how he fulfills Old Testament promises.
The Gospel is a message. An adage often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words," is kind of silly. As Ed Stetzer often says, that's kind of like saying "feed the hungry at all times, and when necessary use food."
Mark Mittelberg's book is a great tool for learning and planning to share the message of Christ with the world. The message is one that people need, and the mission field is right out the front door. Let's be the kind of Christians with contagious faith.
From BreakPoint, June 21, 2022; reprinted by permission of the Colson Center, breakpoint.org.