Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Crossing the Bridge

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In my last post I introduced Matt Thomas, bishop of the Free Methodist Church, whose intimate relationship with the Lord, ease with people, sharp wit, and unending supply of stories make him winsome and his message compelling.

Tom and I attended his break-out session at Leadership Summit last weekend, where he instructed us in "How to Cross Bridges You are Building." There is a basic assumption here, and that is that we are building bridges with people that will lead them to a relationship with Jesus Christ. But many of us get stuck in bridge-building and aren't sure how to help others across the bridge. We feel inadequate or afraid to invite people to receive Christ. As a matter of fact, Bishop Matt shared the top three fears that hold us back from sharing Christ: fear of failure ("I can't do this"); fear of rejection ("What if the person says no?"); and fear of loss ("Maybe I'll lose my relationship with this person"). Listening to Bishop Matt, though, helped ease those fears.

People cannot serve God without committing to him. Every disciple that followed Jesus made a commitment to do so. You have made that commitment. How do you assist people in making that commitment? (Bishop Matt Thomas)

Among the many helpful insights the bishop offered about the people we are trying to reach and how to successfully share the good news with them, there were three points that came through again and again in his presentation. The first is that people are hungry and open; the second is that we can discover how to reach out to them if we really listen; the third is that we show them how to come to Christ.

1. People are hungry for and open to Christ.
Maybe not everyone feels hungry at the moment, and they may not be willing to hear the good news, but we live at a time of chaos and distress. Most people are facing personal crises, not to mention the cataclysmic events that are happening around the world. Peace and order elude most folks, and they are looking for them.

Before we can offer them the answer to their deepest desires -- Jesus Christ -- we have to get to know them. If you find yourself in an encounter with someone, whether you're just meeting them for the first time or you have known them for some time, you can ask a leading question that will give you a chance to become more familiar with them. Some of the questions Bishop Matt asks are:
- Tell me about your life. I mean, if I were to tell people who ask about you, what would I tell them?
- What is most important to you?
- What have been your biggest disappointments? How did you handle them?
- Tell me about your spiritual journey.

There will be people who give you one word answers, stare off into space, or have other reactions that tell you they are not interested, and that's fine. They are not interested. But for many people, this will be like taking the lid off a simmering pot and giving it a good stir.

2. Listen. Really listen.
We listen to understand others, not so that we can appear interested, but because we truly are interested. Common good news killers that Bishop Matt mentioned are self-absorption (just waiting to tell our own story), feigned concern for the other, poor listening, and cliche responses.

As we listen, we can pray and ask the Lord for guidance and to reveal himself to the one with whom we speak. Since it is important that we clearly understand, we can ask for permission to summarize what we've heard. They will know, then, that we have truly listened and care about what matters to them.

3. Show them how to come to Christ.
It is time to share what we know about Christ and have experienced as his follower. Of course this is not to dump on them, but to answer their concerns with truth from the Bible by sharing appropriate parts of our own story. Share Christ lovingly. Ask for their feedback and response with a question like, "Does this make sense to you?" or "Do you have questions that I did not address?"

Then move from communicating about God to addressing him directly. "Would you like to address this issue with God rather than us just talking about it?" would be a good question to ask.

This is about leading a person to Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. This is about introducing someone to the God who makes all things (and people) new, when given the chance.

Lord, we live in a world full of hurt. May we be available to help people find wholeness through Jesus. Help us as we build bridges, and as we cross them. For your glory, Amen.

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