‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’ – St. Peter [1 Peter 3:15]
In 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter spends time writing about the new reality for the follower of Jesus. He spells out their new identity as citizens of a royal priesthood, and then gives specific instructions on how they are to live in light of this as the gospel penetrates their hearts and lives, transforming everything about them. And when we get towards the end of chapter 3, we find that Peter specifically instructs the churches to which he is writing to “be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you are living the way you are.”
Now, if you are reading this, I am going to assume a couple of things about you… and yes, I know what happens when you assume (!), but nonetheless:
1) You are somewhat familiar with Christian sub-culture
2) You have heard this verse before in some form or context
The Apostle also makes an assumption here of his intended readers… that those non-believers residing in community with the Jesus-people are asking questions of/about them. This is big. Peter assumes that the way that these early believers live will be so radical and different to the culture around them that they will be asked questions as to why they are living this way. He assumes that people will be observing them, and at some point, after they have watched enough, will eventually come forward and say, ‘Why are you doing this? What’s your deal? I don’t get you people, what’s this about?”
I live in post-Christian, post-modern London as a missionary to a generation of people who are frequently referred to as the ‘Lost Generation’. This generation of people in their 20’s & 30’s are the smallest demographic represented in the church and nationally are made up of 97% non-Christians who more than likely have never even met a follower of Jesus personally in their entire life. And one of the things I find most interesting about ministering to this generation in the city is that they are not asking the questions Peter is assuming in this passage that they will. Perhaps in your community or city you are experiencing the same thing.
So what do you do as a missionary who is sent to share with a generation of people who are far from God when these people aren’t asking questions about the hope you possess, you might ask?
A few years back, Awaken (the organization I co-founded and lead) released a film study resource that tackled the idea of worship as lifestyle and was created to redefine what we in the church view as worship, especially as it pertains to biblical justice. It was great. Many people are still going through it today, but what I discovered here in London is that it assumed too much of the audience to which I was showing the films. It started off too advanced. That’s not to say that it hasn’t and isn’t helping many in our churches in the western world as they examine what it means to live a life of worship to King Jesus. What I am saying is that for a people who are not familiar with church, and more than likely would not step foot inside it’s walls, it was over their heads. My audience of non-believers here in the pubs and cafes of east London couldn’t quite understand it because this wasn’t their ‘world’. They were not asking the same questions. They were outsiders to the Christian sub-culture of which I am a part.
Here’s the thing I am finding these days… most of the resources, tools, tracts, and aids that I have come across to help believers share their faith all have the same problem as the one I just described. They assume too much. They assume we are still living in Christendom in which everyone is familiar with the idea of church. Their starting point tends to assume that people realize that they have a sin problem to which they are pro-actively looking for a remedy.
Could it be that we need a new way or at least a new entry point for communicating the hope that is in us?
It has been said that in London and the other great cities of Western Europe that we live in the future in relation to many of our brothers and sisters in the U.S. What the missiologists and sociologists mean by this is that we are experiencing a post-Christendom world while much of the U.S., especially the Bible-belt, have yet to experience this dramatic shift in culture. Many believe it is only a matter of time before the U.S. goes the way of Europe (many parts in the Northeast and Northwest already have) unless the Spirit moves and God’s people respond. But, no matter which side of the pond you live on, the younger generations, the de-churched, and the post-churched are living under a different cultural worldview than that of the generation before who have produced our mission resources. We are experiencing a disconnect and are in desperate need for something relevant to the people we are trying to reach.
As I’ve been praying, observing, and engaging with those outside the walls and reach of the traditional church, I am becoming increasingly aware that in our efforts to reach more with the gospel of Jesus, we need to relate to one another first as fellow humans. No insider language. No ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. But first and foremost, we are fellow travelers on this planet who all experience the universal human condition. Once we start there, we listen. We listen to their stories, we ask them questions, they begin to open up, we build trust and a relationship, and then when they are ready and the Spirit woos and draws them, they ask us about ours.
The invitation to share your story with someone who truly wants to hear it is one of the most refreshing Kingdom gifts you can experience.
The greatest witnessing tool we have is our story. And our story is most often heard after we’ve listened to theirs.
Who might you need to listen to today?
Rob Peabody (@AwakenRob) is the co-founder and International Director of Awaken, a non-profit organization that creates resources to inspire, educate, and equip the local church to be the church outside it’s walls. Their latest resource, Intersect: Where Your Story and God’s Story Converge, is a five-week short film resource that is a missional tool for those in the church to engage those who might not yet be ready to step foot inside it’s walls & begin spiritual conversations centered on Jesus. More info at: intersectseries.com