At a recent Saturday morning men’s fellowship meeting, we were discussing ways to share our faith.
“I’m always looking to help someone,” said Wayne. “For example, recently I stopped to help a family change a flat tire on their car. After the car was ready to go, I told them I stopped because Jesus would have done the same thing, and that he loves them very much. This led to a brief conversation and I invited them to our church.”
“I’m careful of my behavior at work,” added Tom. “People are watching me, so I remind myself that I belong to Christ and everything I do represents him. When people say, ‘You’re always in a good mood’ or ‘How can you be so patient when you’re under a deadline?’ I try to say something that will let others know that Jesus is Lord in my life.”
The subject of witnessing then turned to our families, and everyone was silent. Finally, Pete let out a deep sigh and said, “I’m at a loss to know what to say. They know I’m a Christian. They’ve seen the work Christ has done in my life and how I’ve changed over the years. But no matter how I share the gospel, they either quickly change the subject, or they smile and tolerate what I say, then add something like, ‘That’s fine for you, but it’s not for me.’”
The guys in attendance all agreed that when it comes to sharing the gospel with family, it’s one of the hardest things to do—not because we don’t want to, but because of the ambivalence and/or the unpleasant retorts we often face.
For many Christians, some of the most difficult people to reach for Christ are our family members. Here are some things to keep in mind.
When I was first saved over 30 years ago, I wanted everyone to know Jesus—especially my family. I had the gospel message down pat and shared whenever I could. However, my family said things like, “He’s going through a phase,” “He’s lost his mind,” or “I don’t want to hear that religious stuff.” I had been given the best gift anyone could receive, salvation, and I wanted those I loved to have this gift as well. Instead, I was turning them away and I didn’t understand why.
I now look back at my early attempts to share the gospel and chuckle at myself. My zeal for God had been misdirected. My words were more about me: I wanted to get my family saved, I wanted the blessing of leading them to Christ, I needed to know where they would spend eternity. Given that fragile foundation, when my attempts fell short, I became discouraged.
We want our families saved, and rightly so. The great commission tells us we are to go into all the world and preach the gospel, making disciples, and teaching people to obey God (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-18). The struggle, as I see it, is that we forget our efforts must be founded not on our own desires, but on God’s love as expressed in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
My early actions toward my family were focused on “getting them saved” instead of sharing—and demonstrating—God’s love. I neglected Scriptures such as John 16:8 that make it clear it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin, righteousness, and judgement. I failed to acknowledge that I am to “plant and water” but it is God who saves (1 Corinthians 3:6).
A Place to Start
We all agree on the importance of sharing the gospel with our families. However, there are common fears that hinder us such as:
- Our families know us the best and we don’t want to be labeled as hypocrites.
- Some family members are critical of anyone “religious” and we don’t want to face their contempt.
- We are fearful that if our gospel conversation goes bad, there will be ongoing tension.
While these are realistic issues, how can we overcome them?
Prayer. It is important to pray specifically. We can express our thankfulness for each person, asking God to work in his timing, and to increase our patience and love as the Holy Spirit does his work in their lives.
Humility. We should never lose sight of the famous hymn, “Amazing Grace.” At one time, we were no different than our family members and as much in need of Christ and his grace. We were once the wretch this hymn tells us about. Though we are now found and can see, we must not forget that we were lost and blind. Humility helps us to see that we are “sinners saved by grace” and our family members are “sinners in need of grace.”
New Creations. Sometimes our shame or guilt over our former lives holds us back. Who knows our intimate details better than our families? When past memories bring condemnation, we must remind ourselves that we are not who we used to be; we are new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Actions and Words
When sharing the gospel with family members, there are two common tactics used by most Christians: 1) Argue them into the kingdom, and 2) Share the gospel without saying a word.
To avoid either becoming a pitfall, I suggest that a combination of the two is the best.
Argue them into the kingdom. Paul told Timothy to, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). Peter exhorts believers, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). The common theme here is that we are to be ready with a defense, not an offense. Instead of arguing, we can prepare ourselves to share our faith by memorizing Scriptures that lead to salvation and be ready to share the gospel, with the Holy Spirit’s leading, in a way that is natural to us.
Share the gospel without saying a word. “Preach the gospel, and when necessary, use words” is a saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. We can also incorporate that saying into our lives. We can display wall quotes and Scripture passages in our homes. Decorations such as doves and crosses can stand as silent witnesses. We might place a Bible or Christian books and magazines on a coffee table. A mat at the front door with a Scripture imprinted is a great witness. Consider adding a Scripture or encouraging thought to emails and other social media posts. Send out cards that depict your faith for any family occasion. And whenever you are at a family meal, always say grace, whether out loud or to yourself, depending on what is appropriate. The most critical part of witnessing without words, however, is making sure that your actions—and your life—line up with the gospel you are attempting to convey. Nothing will turn someone away from God faster than hypocrisy, and nothing will draw them more strongly to the truth than when you consistently live out the teaching of the Bible.
Witnessing to family members is not easy. But when we temper our zeal, focus on God’s love, push past our insecurities, and have a plan in place, we can put Paul’s words into action: “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (Colossians 4:5,6, NLT).
Simon Presland is a freelance writer and publisher (www.authorsourcemedia.com) in Clinton Township, Michigan.