For a writer, it sounded like a dream assignment: sit down with eleven strangers, interview them about how they became a Christian, and write up their stories into an evangelistic book of testimonies for our partner organisation, Christianity Explored Ministries.
It turned out to be as fun, and as fascinating, and as stretching a project as I anticipated. Over three or four months last spring, I had the privilege of meeting some fantastic people and hearing their wonderful stories of God’s grace. In the process I drank a lot of coffee—in cafes and churches and at kitchen tables. I chatted to their kids and nosed around at the artwork in their homes. On one occasion I also ate some incredible fried chicken.
And like all the best projects I work on here at TGBC, the experience made a mark on me. Nine months later, here are my reflections on what writing Finding More taught me.
Apologetics are important, but secondary.
Was Jesus a real person? Are the Gospels reliable historical records? These are questions that several interviewees said they looked into as they were exploring Christianity. But while robust apologetic arguments were often important in removing a roadblock, it was never the main thing in their story. The main thing was always encountering Jesus through the Scriptures; his words rang true, his character was compelling, and eventually, his claim of that person’s life was inescapable.
Take home: when it comes to evangelism, there really is no substitute for opening the Bible with someone and showing them Jesus in the pages of Scripture. This is how the Spirit works, so we must not lose confidence in it.
God redeems personality.
Before David became a Christian, his overworking contributed to the breakdown of his marriage; now that hard-working streak is being used in God’s service in his role at a church community centre. Jason said he learned how to pastor people on the rave field in the 80s—that sense of loyalty and looking out for your friends is what he now tries to cultivate in his church family. Neither of their personalities changed when they became Christians; instead, those natural tendencies have been redirected from destructive behaviour to fruitful labours.
Take home: God is gracious, and truly can weave stories where all things are redeemed.
Your 20s are formative.
Research has shown how effective childhood exposure to the gospel is (hence why many churches plough so much volunteer time into outward-facing youth and children’s groups). But young adulthood is also an extremely formative window. In the US, the National Association of Evangelicals found that 63% of Christians accepted Jesus as their saviour while aged 4-14 years old and 34% did so aged 15-29. Just 2% of Christians came to faith while over the age of 30. Our experience of finding interviewees for Finding More showed something similar. We were only looking for people who came to faith as an adult, but it was striking how many of those who came forward were young adults when they became Christians—students at university or 20-somethings in their first job. This makes sense sociologically. Your early 20s are a time when you’re still figuring out who you are and what you want from life. And perhaps it makes sense theologically. But for the grace of God, each passing year hardens the heart.
Take home: Are we making the most of this formative decade in the way that we do church? How could churches better partner with work going on in universities and colleges? What sort of resources are needed among this age group?
People are fascinating… but you have to be intentional.
I’m not a particularly perceptive or reflective person—but for this project, I had to be both. For each interview, I had just an hour or two to get a meaningful sense of the participant’s personality and capture it for the page. What was it that made them tick? What events in their past had shaped their character? How would I describe their appearance and mannerisms? This exercise in looking and listening intentionally proved to be absolutely fascinating. I took notice of things about these strangers that I wouldn’t even be able to tell you about some of my friends, simply because I was looking for it. It struck me that if I applied the same level of interest and intentionality with every person I meet, my relationships would prove a lot more fruitful.
Take home: People are complex and fascinating. But it’s only if we’re intentional that we’ll have eyes to see their deeper motives and longings, and be able to speak the gospel into them.
Life is hard and death is scary.
Broken family relationships; depression and anxiety; the death of a parent. One of these three issues came up in almost every interview I conducted. These were both the sorrows that drove people to first look for answers in the gospel, and the struggles that have marked their Christian walk since. You don’t need to sit down and interview eleven people to know that life in a fallen world is hard—but doing so brought home to me just how hard it is.
Take home: Every person we speak to is carrying a (usually unseen) burden of sorrow. When we remember that, we’ll look at people as Jesus did—with compassion—and speak of the Shepherd they need (Matthew 9 v 36).
National tragedies can create gospel opportunities.
Two people I interviewed talked about the impact that the 9/11 terror attack on the World Trade Center had on them. They couldn’t be more different. Deb was sitting on a couch in Cape Town, recovering from a drug-fuelled birthday party the night before; she saw in the news footage a terrifying picture of where her heroin addiction was going to land her—in total destruction. Nicky was a teacher and saw the footage on a TV at school; she was angry that her sisters could believe in a God who would let that happen, and took up the invitation to a Christianity Explored course just to prove them wrong. For both women, the scale of the tragedy provoked deep spiritual questions and a re-evaluation of where their life was at.
Take home: When tragedy hits the headlines, are we ready to engage with peoples’ vulnerabilities and questions? How could we do this better as churches and as individuals?