Andrew G. didn’t stand a chance. Pinned up again the girls toilets just off the main quadrangle near the school canteen, I didn’t intend on giving him one either. As he shifted weight nervously from one foot to the other and looked with mild fear to see whether anyone was around to witness the ambush, I kept my eyes steadfastly on his. He may have been taller than me, pretty tall for a Year 5 actually, but I had the fear of God on my side. It was an upper hand no-one could come against.
In what seemed like twilight darkness, but in reality was probably 3:45 in the afternoon, I badgered Andrew about his eternal destiny. If he got hit by a car on his walk home from school, where would he spend eternity? The fact that his commute was exceptionally short, living one street away from Mount Pleasant Primary School, was irrelevant. Andrew needed to answer the question that would determine his eternity, heaven or hell, and I didn’t plan on letting him go home until it was settled. Actually, I’m not sure I was letting him go home until it was settled on the heavenly side.
Andrew needed to invite Jesus into his heart – we all do – but my zealous, evangelical, and slightly ulterior heart, needed to seal the deal right then and there.
And so, as darkness fell, a tentative, slightly nervous and no doubt petrified Andrew Gilbert, said ‘yes’ to Jesus. Or perhaps an even bigger ‘yes’ to getting home before dinner.
My motives may have been mostly pure but I think in the 21st century we might refer to my method of sharing Jesus as more akin to bullying than bearing witness to the good news about Him.
I also have to add, to my shame, it would have been partly motivated by a strong desire to come home to my sister, Kylie, and nonchalantly mutter, ‘Yep, just led someone to Jesus this afternoon. Praise the Lord.’
I often wonder what become of Andrew. And what came of that moment in time. Is Andrew still following Jesus? Was it a decision that he continued to follow or was it forgotten by the time Year 6 rolled around? I know that he became part of the hoard of young kids that would illegally pile into cars and be carted off to my church youth group but, beyond primary school, I don’t know what came next.
It turns out that in 2016, I don’t have to wonder for too long. A rudimentary Facebook search produced someone called Andrew G that looked close enough to what the 10-year-old version may have become at 47, to convince me. He’s married to Carly, has a gentle face, studied at Curtin, and has 178 friends. His profile proffered the thoughtful comment: “only when a mosquito lands on your testicles do you truly learn to solve problems without violence”. Or that could be another Andrew G.
Either way, my track record as an evangelist seems patchy at best.
Perhaps that’s the reason we end up too tentative to try. Failure makes us look bad or stupid when it was supposed to be about Jesus the whole time.
As our church community enters a series on gospel-telling, I’m struck all over again by two things.
First, the news about Jesus is history-changingly Good News. Life-transforming, destiny-altering, grace-filled, love-driven Good News. News that is so good that to withhold it from a friend would cause the status of ‘friend’ to be questioned. If you’re any sort of friend, it’s not News you’d intentionally withhold, right?
Second, I/we do a lousy job of sharing this Good News because I can often turn conversations into far more complex, all-base-covering encounters than they need to be.
Some of the best conversations are the long, on-going ones that unfold over the life of a relationship with another, but the very best is the one that shares the love of Jesus with another person – quite simply, because you love them that much. I’m up for reasoned, wise, bible-driven conversations, but more than this, I want to affirm my love for the other person and, in turn, Jesus. I don’t want to turn a conversation into a big-tent revival meeting, but be open enough to share how God has acted in Jesus and why it’s forever changed me.
So often, we stop talking because we’re not sure what words might come out. We’re not certain that we’ll ‘get it right’. We don’t want to let Jesus down. Believe me, if you’re talking about the goodness of God in Jesus in any faithful shape or form, you’re wearing Him well.
Our current series has the by-line ‘Go. Set. Ready.’ It’s the opposite of how we usually frame our gospel-sharing.
‘If I finish that theological degree, then I’ll be ready to open my mouth’; ‘If I finish reading the Bible cover to cover three more times, then I’ll be able to recall that verse under pressure’; ‘Once I have an acceptable, theological response to a question about same sex marriage, I’ll say something’; ‘If I come up with the erudite, irrefutable, logic-filled argument for Jesus, then all be well’.
Here’s a liberating thought: it’s not all about you and what you know. It’s all about Jesus and what the Holy Spirit can do through your insufficiency.
Sharing the Good News of Jesus is not a task to be out-sourced, it’s an outworking of following Jesus. It’s the product of love that overflows in testifying to the goodness and graciousness of God. Your revelation of that grace will continue to open doors to gospel conversations. I’m sure of it.