If I were to bump into you at a coffee shop today and we were to strike up a conversation, I might ask you something about yourself. Maybe where you work or if you live in the area. If the conversation moved far enough along I might ask you to tell me your story. Tell me who you are. Typical elements of that story include things like; where you were raised, how you were raised, basic family dynamics, home life, religious background, education, degree, career field and where you are now. This is telling your story and it's relatively simple, because, well, it's your story. You've lived it. You know it. No one else can tell your story. Here are the 5 components of a Gospel conversation.
With discipleship in the background, the temptation is to put too much pressure on ourselves to tell our story well. So it sometimes comes out sounding like this...
"Yeah, so I work at a local retail store. Well, let me back up. I got my degree in business management from (local university). I mean, I moved here from Wisconsin where my dad's business was. Oh, right, I have a dad and a mom. Well, I mean, so my mom is…"
The pressure seems to build, we get really nervous and the story ends up sounding like a record skipping under the needle. Maybe you've been there before. Maybe you have heard someone tell a story this way. Typically, the story is hard to follow and it takes fifteen minutes for them to tell you what could have been told in two minutes.
When it comes to disciple-making, we want our story to be simple. It should be simple enough to share in fifteen seconds while sharing an elevator or in two minutes while waiting in line at a coffee shop. Our stories can't dominate the conversation because then the whole moment becomes about us and not what God is doing in our lives. So let's take some time and walk through the art of telling our story with discipleship in mind.
“Our story should be simple enough to share in fifteen seconds while sharing an elevator or in two minutes while waiting in line at a coffee shop.”
The Most Powerful 13-Word Story Ever Told!
This story is found in John 9. It's an incredible encounter Jesus has with a man born blind. If you want to refresh and read the entire encounter, you definitely should.
Jesus heals a man who was born blind on the Sabbath. This man is likely in his 30's or 40's. He is old enough that he can speak for himself while being questioned by the religious leaders. An unbelievable moment you would think they would celebrate. One of the children of Abraham they were responsible to care for has had his sight restored. Cause for celebration, right? Wrong! It happened on the Sabbath so they are ticked off.
As they investigate, they even include the man's parents. They tell them to let him speak for himself. The former blind man is called back in. This is where it gets awesome. They tell him that he needs to give glory to God for this miracle, not to Jesus. They tell him Jesus is a sinner. The response they get from this man really gets under their skin. He says, "whether he is a sinner I do not know.
"One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see."
With those thirteen words, we have the baseline for a great story. This is how to tell your story in a powerful way that points to the fact that your life will never be the same because of your encounter with Jesus. This response sends the religious leaders reeling as they try to get back ahead of the conversation. They can't do it. They get frustrated and eventually kick the guy out. Congrats on your eye sight, by the way.
This man born blind doesn't even waste time arguing about who Jesus is or what he's about. We so often think that in order to have a conversation with someone, we have to be ready to argue them into submission. 1 Peter 3:15 really gets in the way here because we are tempted to think we have to be an intellectual giant. I have to be as calm as Ravi Zacharias with the passion of Francis Chan and the theology of R.C. Sproul mixed with a little Francis Schaeffer. But it's not about intellectualism. 1 Peter 3:15 says to have a reason for your hope. That means being able to tell your story in a way that shows the hope and life that Jesus has given you. Intellectual answers may sometimes come into play, but my hope isn't in the evidence of a 6-day creation, or global flood. My hope is in the risen Savior who is daily transforming my life. That's the story we need to be ready to share.
The blind man didn't argue Jesus' deity or Old Testament prophecies with the religious leaders. He simply gave them a reason for his hope. "I don't know if he is a sinner. I just know I was blind, but now I see." Simple. Powerful. And no one could argue with his story. He was a changed man. There was no denying it. This is the kind of story we want to be equipped to share.
“The blind man didn’t argue Jesus’ deity or Old Testament prophecies with the religious leaders. He simply gave them a reason for his hope.”
how to tell your story effectively!
Your story should contain four key elements and should be able to be shared in as little as fifteen seconds but no longer than two minutes. Again, you might be in an elevator with someone and only have a short time if a conversation strikes up. And you don't want it to be so long that someone loses interest while you ramble about yourself. Use the following flow as a template for your story. Practice it. Learn it. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. These four elements are meant to give you the proper framework for your story, not to be a legalistic script.
1. There was a time in my life when...
Every one of us have had seasons of brokenness. I grew up in the church as a 4th generation pastor. Three generations before me were all church planters. This is the part where the assumption is that I was born with Jesus and my life has never had to be transformed from anything.
However, my background is one of legalism. Rules were in place to control the outer behavior so that everything looked proper. I was so afraid to mess up because of how it would make the family look to others in the church. It wasn't a place of genuine life transformation because of the Spirit's leading in my life. It was a place of behavior modification.
When my father moved us away from this type of thinking, I had to learn from the ground up. I struggled in a major way knowing what to do with this new, strange thing in my life called freedom. I wasn't equipped to make right decisions and I was most definitely not equipped to hear the Holy Spirit because for so long, that voice was drowned out by the family's voice of do's and don'ts.
We all have that story. A time in life when we were broken. Maybe it was a form of addiction. Maybe we simply were angry or frustrated with God. Maybe it was living life for ourselves because we were king. And all of that may have lead to pain, hurt and brokenness. There was a time in our lives when we were all there and that's common ground with an unbelieving world.
2. Then someone showed me...
My father died when I was 18. I didn't have a good relationship with God. And I was trying to do ministry. It was a terrible combination for me. Over the course of a 5-year period, three different men in different seasons came into my life. They walked with me and showed me what it meant to follow Jesus. They helped me see a fruitful life in ministry and how much God had in store for me. These three men walked with me and kept me in ministry. They are a part of my 15-second story.
This element is crucial because it's going to show them the importance of someone walking with you. Someone who is one or two steps ahead who can disciple them. When the disciples would go into a village they would look for a person of peace. They would then stay with that person and build a relationship with them. And in the course of their relationship, they would show them Jesus and share with them all that Jesus had taught them.
This element is also crucial because you are going to invite yourself into their life soon and you want them to see this is a crucial part of that journey. Anyone starting a life of faith starts by drinking milk. Babies don't drink milk on their own. Someone provides it for them. So this new disciple needs someone to walk with them for a season.
3. Jesus changed me and now...
The three men who poured into my life during that 5-year span all pointed me to the same person, Jesus. They viewed themselves as conduit but wanted me to discover Jesus for myself. Jesus became a very real part of my life and I never looked back. Recently, in the disciple-making conversation, Jesus has exploded onto my life. There is nothing like walking with Him into the great unknown of talking with a person you don't know and introducing them to Jesus. It is the greatest adventure I can think of.
Jesus is changing me daily through Scripture reading and prayer. Every day when I read, the Spirit is revealing new things to me. I'm seeing stuff I never saw before. Jesus not only changed me then, but He is continually changing me now. Day by day conforming me to His image.
“There is nothing like walking with Jesus into the great unknown of talking with a person you don't know and introducing them to Jesus. It is the greatest adventure I can think of.”
This kind of life purpose and laser focus on Jesus is 100% crucial. You are not trying to become a bottleneck for this new disciple in how they learn. Your responsibility is to connect them to Jesus. To show them how Jesus has transformed you and then to begin showing them how that can happen for them. This is the part when the blind man says, "I was blind, now I see."
I encountered Jesus and my life will never be the same.
I have meaning and purpose. He has given me direction. It's not all unicorns, rainbows and Casting Crowns on K-Love, but life has radically transformed for me. My marriage was saved. I'm free from addiction. I'm living for a cause; the Kingdom of God. Your story doesn't have to be as dramatic as a guy like Brian "Head" Welch, but it needs to be your story and the focus of life transformation has to be Jesus.
4. Has anyone ever showed you...
When I share my story using this flow, my wording here is closer to, "And now [because of all the other stuff] I walk with other guys to help them discover an incredible life in Jesus." The wording again is not a legalistic script, it is simply meant to get you to a very purposeful place.
This element is necessary because it opens the door to find out if they are a person of peace. If they are open to spiritual conversation. It allows them to lead in the next step. It is a call back to number 2. They remember that you had someone walk with you, connect you to Jesus and now these amazing things are happening in your life. If they are interested at all in how that happens, they will likely want to walk with someone also. And here you are making yourself available to walk with them.
In this moment you are making yourself available to walk with and lead them. To disciple them for a season and to help them walk in a whole new life. This is also a good spot to remind you that not all soil will accept the seed. If they decline or walk away, don't beat yourself up. Not everyone followed Jesus either. You can keep their contact info if you have that and stay in touch with them. Pray for them. Let them simmer. God may show up in their lives and you never know that they won't reach back out to you.
Here's how my story sounds using this framework:
"My life was wrecked by shame and guilt caused by a legalistic upbringing. I struggled to know the real Jesus outside of my ability to simply obey rules and look the part. Then three men came into my life and began to walk with me and show me a new way of thinking and leading. They pointed me to Jesus and He began to become real to me in a whole new way. The real Jesus changed everything for me. Now, I simply walk with others to help them discover this Jesus. Would you be willing to explore spiritual questions and walk with me for a season?"
So, what's your story? How have you shared it with others before?