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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Talking about Christ

Faith never private project, even with some highly personal dimensions

A girl came home from Sunday school expressing disappointment to her mother about the experience of the morning. "The teacher kept telling us to go out into the world and make disciples of all peoples," she said. "But all we did was sit there ... and for a whole hour."

Name any Christian tradition and you're apt to find large pockets of adherents who are, in the words of our little Sunday school friend, just sitting there. It's not uncommon to find churches packed with faith-filled people reticent to share their faith. The whole idea of expressing faith commitments in any public manner can make even the most genuine believer shudder. Lifelong Christians often struggle to articulate the most basic significance of what Christ means to them. Confidence in finding the right words to describe their spiritual journey is slow to come. While many sit peacefully on the sidelines of a hurting world, plenty of non-Christians question whether a life connected with Jesus makes any difference at all.

Not all Christians are noiseless. Some interpret evangelism as a gritty sales pitch with a coercive twist. These more fanatic disciples want to scare others into some kind of compliance. As far as they're concerned, following Jesus is more requirement than invitation. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 isn't simply our charge to "go and make disciples of all peoples." It's more like divine permission to "go and make all people think, act and behave just like I do." That's how to free someone else from the prospect of doom! Yet aggressive evangelism misses the invitational character of Jesus. No one I know wants the gospel arriving on their doorstep packaged as a heat-seeking missile.

The best way of discipling other people — to use an important word in verb form — is to employ the same methods Jesus did. He blessed others. He loved them. He came to their aid. Whether other people accept all those gifts is beside the point. Offering them graciously is what counts.


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April issue

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Faith traditions

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