Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; [. . .]1 Peter 3:15 (NRSV)
In 2016, St. Joseph UMC – the church I was pastoring at the time – participated in an IGRC-sponsored discipleship growth process called The Journey of 10×10. (In case you were wondering, the model hot air balloon I have hanging in my office is a reminder of that important journey.) It was a church-wide, intergenerational discipleship process based on John 10:10 – “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Its purpose was to engage the whole congregation by inviting all participants to focus on 10 spiritual disciplines for 10 months (Feb – Nov), which help individuals live abundant lives in Christ Jesus, and help the local church grow in its spiritual vitality.
During October of The Journey of 10×10, the spiritual practice highlighted was “Tell Your Faith Story.” As this is such a vital spiritual practice and one that most persons are uncomfortable practicing, it is this month’s “Just A Thought” focus. First, I will share some practical suggestions offered by the authors of The Journey of 10×10 that I pray will help you to become more comfortable in telling your faith story. Then, I will share with you my personal faith story that I give during Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis weekends. (If you aren’t familiar with Walk to Emmaus and/or Chrysalis, please see me. I would love to share with you what they are and how they can transform your spiritual walk with Christ.)
The Journey of 10×10 guide says this: “To witness to others is to tell your own story. To tell your story you must know your story. This outline will help you put your story in a form that is relatable, while helping people see the gift of God’s grace. 1) Pray that God will give you insight on what to share. 2) Prepare: God will honor the time it takes you to prepare the way you share Jesus with others. 3) Keep your story short and to the point. Many refer to it as an elevator speech. You should be able to share it in the time it would take you to ride up a tall elevator, 2 – 3 minutes.”
Focus on these four points: “1) My life before Jesus. 2) How I realized I needed Jesus. 3) How I received Jesus. 4) How Jesus makes my life full and meaningful now. The first three points are the history. They tell a person how you got to where you are today. The fourth point lets people see the power of God in your current daily life.”
Also, remember the Five W’s: “Who needs to know your story? Everyone. What do I tell? Tell your story and give the glory to God! Where do I share? Wherever you might be. God will lead you to share His love and sacrifice to the world. When do I share? The moment you feel the presence of the Holy Spirit prompting you to share how Christ’s love has been transformational for you. Why tell my faith story? So you can be a part of Making Disciples River to River in His name.”
This is my faith story: “As for me personally, I have no dramatic conversion experience to share with you, no bad- guy-turned-good-guy story to tell. In fact, you’re looking at the poster boy for an ordinary person, leading a typical Christian life. While it may not make for good drama, I have come to consider myself extremely blessed by God for the consistent, Christian life I’ve lived. However, I need to tell you that I would not be here [. . .] had I not experienced early and often in my life, God’s pursuing love, and had I not said “Yes!” repeatedly to God’s offers of a relationship of love in Christ Jesus.
“If it weren’t for God’s pursuing love working through other persons in my life, my parents would not have planted those first precious seeds of faith within me. The Catholic Church, in which I grew up, could not have prepared my heart to receive God’s persistent offer of love and grace. And, I would not have heard or responded to God’s voice, which first called me into ministry back when I was sixteen years of age.
“If it weren’t for God’s pursuing love, I would not have considered becoming a Catholic priest (and dare I say, the first American Pope!) before God led me to a calling as a lay minister instead. I would not have had the great fortune to meet a dear, Christian woman who would be my wife and introduce me to the church in which I now serve. And, I would not have been bold enough to assume church lay leadership roles in Bible studies, worship services, and the like, during my 20-year pharmacy career.
“If it weren’t for God’s persistent desire for a relationship of love with me, I would not have listened when over twenty years ago now; God’s call came to me again to tell me the time was right to retire from pharmacy practice and enter pastoral ministry in The United Methodist Church. I would not have been so willing and able to make a major change in my life, and cause my family to do the same, by accepting an appointment as a fulltime pastor. And, most important of all, I would not have been so blessed as to receive and experience God’s gifts of amazing grace, and to live each day faithfully fulfilling God’s purpose for my life, as I strive to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.”
Regarding my personal faith story, you’ll note that it isn’t perfect. It doesn’t need to be. And it isn’t long. It ought not to be. The same with your faith story: It doesn’t need to be perfect or long. It just needs to be sincere – from the heart. So, I encourage you to know your faith story, and share it with as many persons and as often as possible. Just remember: Don’t complicate it or be wary of it. It’s as simple – and as important – as sharing with others how Jesus, as your Lord and Savior, has changed your life forever. Just a thought . . .