5 biblical principles about sharing your faith in a season of social distancing
Campus pastor, Sawyer Highlands Church
Point Magazine // September 2020
What do you think would happen if I put on my mask and went door to door in a strange neighborhood to share my faith? How would a person in your community respond to a masked man asking, “Where do you think you would go if you died today?” If that were how I began my evangelism, I don’t think it would go so well.
As a pastor and follower of Jesus, I am concerned about how we evangelicals evangelize these days. People are scared and on edge. Before COVID-19, sharing one’s faith was difficult. Now, it is awkward in new ways.
People need to stay at least 6 feet apart. We have to be careful about how many are in a room. We wear masks everywhere. A sniffle scares people. How are we to spread the good news in such a season?
I talked to a nonbeliever whose recent evangelism experiences were several business cards given to him that connected COVID-19 to God’s judgment for not going to church. Is that the best way to share the good news? How do we share our faith in a season of social distance?
“Faith of Christians has always shone brightest in our response to a crisis,” Converge president Scott Ridout wrote. “This present challenge is another opportunity to show that our faith is real, practical and effective.”
The global pandemic clarifies some things and makes this season a perfect time for our testimony of faith. Consider:
We can’t trust our finances.
The markets are volatile.
We can’t trust our supply chain.
Shelves are empty.
We can’t trust our health.
We have no vaccine.
We can’t trust science.
Scientists’ facts are fluid.
We certainly can’t trust politics.
What can we trust?
As a people of faith, we know it is not what but whom. We trust in the Lord, our God. He is our rock and redeemer, our fortress and salvation.
Faith of Christians has always shone brightest in our response to a crisis. This present challenge is another opportunity to show that our faith is real, practical and effective.
So, how do we make the most of this pandemic opportunity?
Jesus left earth saying to his followers, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, ESV). If we are to share our faith, we need the Spirit’s power to help us in these challenging times.
As I consider the call of Jesus to witness, I think the Spirit at this time would remind us of five biblical principles:
1. Prayer is primary
Evangelism, whether pre-COVID-19 or post, begins with prayer. We need to pray for the lost.
How many people would come to faith this week if our prayers were answered? One? Two? Three? Ten? One hundred? One thousand? Ten thousand?
Prayer changes us and others. We see the world differently when we pray, and God responds to prayer.
God ordained prayer to accomplish his will in the world. God tells us his Spirit causes spiritual growth (1 Cor. 3:6). He changes hearts, opens eyes and gives new life. He wants to lead us and to bear much fruit in us. So, we can start our evangelistic efforts by praying that God, in his mercy, will bring revival and conversion to our land.
In a recent episode of his podcast, Advance, Bryan Moak, Converge MidAmerica vice president of Church Strengthening, highlighted an initiative called All.America. It is a prayer movement with a vision to pray for every home in America to come to know the Lord. What if each of us committed to helping pray for every home this school year? What if we prayed for everyone in America to know Jesus?
A call to prayer is simultaneously a call to the Lord and to our relationship with him. We can’t share what we do not have.
Prayer can strengthen our relationship with God, open our eyes to opportunities before us, soften hearts and change circumstances around us. Let’s pray to our great God to change hearts and minds and open doors.
2. Loving service opens doors
The principle that prayer is primary relates to a second principle, which is evidenced in Converge pastor Jessy Padilla of Iglesia Emanuel in Waukegan, Illinois. Several weeks ago, his church joined others to feed the hungry. Five people from his church helped distribute food and water to people waiting in a long line of cars.
As the cars drove through the distribution point, Padilla’s small team asked the people if they could pray with them. Padilla was shocked at their responses.
In his 32 years as a Christian and 22 years as a pastor, he had never seen grown men break down as completely as they did. They spoke of how hopeless and answerless they were in light of their circumstances. Padilla knew the hope and answers they needed most.
Acts of kindness in love can be a lever cracking open the sealed doors of the soul.
This service of feeding the hungry and offering to pray led to multiple opportunities to share Christ. Padilla did not strategically plan for this to happen. He simply was helping his community and interceding.
He didn’t anticipate these men’s desperation, but God was at work behind the scenes. The Holy Spirit showed up, bringing conviction and power for Padilla and his people to testify to God’s grace and offer spiritual direction.
Acts of kindness in love can be a lever cracking open the sealed doors of the soul. God has placed us where he wants us; we can be on a mission where we live. By serving, we can demonstrate Christ’s love.
He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28, ESV). Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). We are to love those in the church and outside of it (Matt. 5:44) because Jesus loved us first.
Love sums up all of God’s commands and who he is. Let the world know we are Christians by our love.
Take a moment to answer this question: How can you express God’s love to someone today?
Wouldn’t it be amazing to hear reports back on how God worked in us across the globe in Converge this week as we answer that question? We could leave our discussion at that. Prayer and loving service are critical and defining for us as a global church body.
3. Proclamation is essential
Unfortunately, people misunderstand philanthropic service. They may conclude our care is just another do-gooder initiative. How do we avoid that? The third biblical principle helps remedy this; namely, proclamation. It is essential in sharing the gospel.
The apostle Paul rhetorically asked how people can believe unless someone first communicates the good news (Rom. 10:14-15). The answer is they can’t. At some point, a person must hear the good news if he or she is to know it.
But if you proclaim the gospel to someone, you first must earn the right to do so. People are more apt to listen if we listen first.
We should take a sincere interest in our audience. God has made the people he brings along our way in his image, too. They have families and histories, just as we do. And each has an eternal destiny.
Proclamation connects back to lovingly serving others. We can ask them several questions to get to know them better. For example:
How do they view God in light of COVID-19?
What is their experience with faith?
What was their view of faith before COVID-19?
What do they think happens after they die?
How have they come to their understanding?
I have been asking such questions these days. Understanding where people are coming from can inform our prayers, grow our need for knowledge of God’s Word and invite a follow-up conversation.
As sincere listeners, we do not interrupt or jump in with our perspective or theological corrective. We must be willing to not proclaim. The Holy Spirit might tell us just to listen. He will bring opportunities when the time is right.
God has made the people he brings along our way in his image, too. They have families and histories, just as we do. And each has an eternal destiny.
It is not by our power, wit or reason that people will come to know God, but by the Spirit. However, when the Spirit leads, let us proclaim the good news about Jesus.
4. Preparation is important
A couple of Sundays ago, I talked to a person who said he didn’t share his faith because he didn’t know what to say. That raises a good question: What are we to say?
1 Corinthians 15:3 helps us. Paul wrote, For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (ESV). That is a good start. The gospel isn’t complicated. Simply put, it is about Jesus dying for our sins. A child can share that.
Yet, preparation is important. Peter said to always be ready to give a reason for the hope in you (1 Pet. 3:15). Are you ready?
You can take time this week to prepare. How? Remember:
How God has loved us.
Jesus died in our place.
He took our punishment.
The Father forgave our sins.
He remembers them no more.
He declares us righteous, pure and holy.
He adopts us as his own by faith.
He promises an inheritance and his presence now and forever.
Another way to prepare is through study, Bible memorization, exploring spiritual disciplines, reading Christian books or taking personal retreats. Perhaps our preparation is to consider new ways to reach people for Christ.
“COVID-19 has been a challenge for many of us,” said Converge pastor Nasser Johan, who leads Lifepoint Church in Tucson, Arizona. “Yet, instead of it being a deterrent to evangelism, it ought to promote in us an even greater urgency to proclaim the gospel without fear.
“As a person who has lived as a refugee for 10 years,” Johan said, “I can assure you that the world may take our preferred methods and comforts at any moment. But it will never be able to steal our identity as the children of God, nor should it ever be allowed to stop us from fulfilling our purpose. Instead, these sorts of challenges should encourage us to become more creative and determined in accomplishing our calling.”
What is our calling? To pray, serve, proclaim and prepare brothers and sisters to give a reason for the hope in them and in us.
5. Worship God always
Finally, as dark as the days get, if we have Christ, the storms pale compared to what he has saved us from. Simultaneously, as bright as the days become, they are only a tiny glimmer of what is ours and will be ours in Christ Jesus.
Friends, sing, dance, read, write, relax, work and play while enjoying the Triune God, who cares for you beyond your wildest imagination in these challenging times. Worship him. Let praise fuel your evangelism.
2 Corinthians 5:14 tells us that the love of Christ compels us. It does. And loving Jesus back can be a witness.
For example, I visited Converge pastor Jonathan Swift, who planted Christ Community Church in Dearborn, Michigan, and I saw his church in action. This Detroit suburb is home to the largest Muslim population in the United States. Because of COVID-19, Jonathan’s church can’t meet in their regular indoor location, so they have been meeting outside at a local park where many Muslims congregate. Prayer walking, we met an Iraqi Muslim who has been watching these services.
What if God’s people’s worship results in more people worshiping God? Not only does worship drive evangelism, but it can also be evangelism. Over the centuries, many people have given their lives to Christ under the preached Word.
The reality is that the Spirit of God is on the move despite us evangelicals. God is at work. He hasn’t stopped nor can he be. Retired Converge pastor John Piper addresses this in his recent book Coronavirus and Christ:
Christ has not shed his blood in vain. And Revelation 5:9 says that by that blood he ransomed “people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” He will have the reward of his suffering. And even pandemics will serve to complete the Great Commission.
This is the day the Lord has made. He is not scared, surprised or confused with the novel coronavirus. He is still on the throne. He is in charge. He is the King.
We have hope in him. We know how the story ends. God wins, and the nations will be represented in heaven. Therefore, let us join God on his mission to keep his promise that people from everywhere will know and love him.
We are better together, especially in this season of COVID-19.
Rob Nash, Campus pastor, Sawyer Highlands Church
Rob Nash is the campus pastor of Sawyer Highlands Church, a Converge church in Sawyer, Michigan. He is the author of Last Words: Seven Sayings from the Heart of Christ on the Cross. Learn more about Rob at robertjnash.com.