There's an exercise I sometime give small groups to workshop how to articulate the good news about Jesus. It goes like this:
A neighbour on your street tells you that they are moving to the other side of the world. You know them by name and have talked a few times about work and study and the street, but never yet on the deeper things of life. Now it looks like that opportunity will never come, and you’re unlikely to ever see them again.
They are very busy packing and making arrangements to leave the next day, but you feel there is enough regard between you that a farewell letter would be received in good faith. You’re determined to keep it to a single page – say four paragraphs. A long tome would be too heavy and in any case there isn’t time. But you want this neighbour, whom you’ve come to know by name and care and pray for, to know the difference it makes to know… well look, I’m not going to give you the answer. This is your exercise. How would you put it? Begin with choosing the theme of each paragraph.
It’s an exercise you might find interesting and helpful in your small group or leadership team. But it also gets me thinking: What a powerful little thing this could be in real life.
We often feel that we should spend time getting to know people, listening to their story and earning their trust before saying anything to them about our faith. There’s a lot of sense in that. But the mobility of our world often means that people move out of our lives before that moment comes.
There’s power, too, in a farewell ‘I just want you to know…’ note. They are read and absorbed in a different way from a regular note, email or conversation. And people who are making a big life transition often have an openness to think about the bigger picture.
And not that it should matter, but this form of sharing Jesus is reasonably safe. Your neighbour’s not going to be around to poison your front lawn if they don’t like what you (lovingly, humbly and graciously, right?) said. As they say, ‘Never criticise someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Because then you’re a mile away. And you have their shoes.’
Not everyone has the gift of the gab or the present of the pen. But it’s a good exercise to think through what is the guts – the urgent guts – of our faith, and to wrestle through how to get it out of our throbbing hearts and swirling thoughts and into intelligible words.
Get your group onto it! But also, think about who’s passing into and out of your life. Even with those we’re not closely bound to, we can make a lifetime of difference. We have more opportunities each week to change the world that we like or dare to think!