Justin Bieber inks it on his calf. One-armed surfing inspiration, Bethany Hamilton, wears it on her would-be sleeve. Bono wears it in (RED). And former Denver Broncos quarterback, Tim Tebow, displays it on his knees after every infield victory. This is how some of today’s biggest figures in sports and entertainment publicly display their faith. When it comes to Jesus’ instruction to, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19a) it seems like these guys have it made. So, how does the faith of the famous bear any relevance to the average Jesus-loving citizen? How does the average person share his or her faith with friends, family and coworkers?
Spotlight or not, coming out Christian is a bold move. And if you’ve been in Christian culture for a while, you might have felt (or still feel) the pressure to go big and loud with your faith. The Tebows of this world might make us think if that’s how he does it, maybe I should too. But sharing your faith—much like living your faith—is not a one-size-fits-all experience. God created each of us uniquely, right down to the pads of our fingers and toes.
The Tebow Approach
For Tebow, the spotlight works. For better or for worse, kneeling in the middle of a stadium to thank Jesus for a victory is effective. It caught your attention, didn’t it? Sure, some are leery, and rightfully so. We’ve seen our share of public figures claim Christianity while secretly wrapping their arms around sin.
In a recent article in Relevant magazine, Kent Woodyard writes, “Tim Tebow isn’t the first Christian luminary to garner attention from the national media. Others have tried it, and, more often than not, the results have not been pretty.” Woodyard says whenever a well-known Christian uses faith as a marketing tool he becomes the spokesperson for all Christians. If he falls, we all fall. But Tebow says he doesn’t pray in public for the sake of anyone except himself. I daresay it isn’t a publicity stunt when he can boldly thank “my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” in one breath, and in the next, make an innocent admission about something as private as his virginity to a sea of shark-like reporters. His approach may puzzle some people, but one thing is certain: openness is integral to effective faith-sharing.
The Tebow approach works for my friend John too. As a percussionist for the St. Louis Symphony, John thrives in the limelight. He’s not a quiet man. Yet he’s not quite loud either. John exudes a peace and confidence that makes people tilt their heads in curiosity. And if you hang around him long enough, you won’t even have to ask him about it. John walks around saying things like “It’s not the Saints come dragging in, it’s the Saints go marching. Get moving, people!” And if you give John about five minutes, he can make you laugh in one and weep in four (don’t worry, he sticks around past five). This happened the first time I met him and he said to me, “Do you know why you’re crying? Because the Holy Spirit is talking to you.” I wanted to tell him, “No! It’s because God read my journal to you!” John mentions God almost as much as he breathes. And you know what? People listen.
They Shall Know We Are Christians By Our . . . T-Shirts?
Other Christians, who don’t have a celebrity platform, might turn to Christian swag as an evangelistic tool. Do you like clothing from popular retailer Abercrombie & Fitch? Take a closer look, because that shirt might actually say, “Abreadcrumb & Fish.” Are you a fan of the iPod and iPad? Consider picking up an iPray hat. Got milk? What about Jesus?
Yes, you can rock t-shirts, bags, bumper stickers, and jewelry with popular slogans or brand names cleverly hijacked by the Christian market. Some see this as an ingenious strategy to share Jesus’ message in culturally relevant ways. Indeed, throughout Jesus’ ministry he spoke in ways that made sense in his culture. He used stories and commonly recognizable illustrations to make a point and reveal the deeper meaning of life on earth and beyond.
Sharing your faith—much like living your faith—is not a one-size-fits-all experience.
Charlotte McGinnis, a mother of two, says she’s seen some “seriously cool old dudes” wearing message-bearing t-shirts. She appreciates their confidence and unapologetic attitude toward their fashion and their faith. “More power to you, if you’re not a Bible thumper and truly have the heart behind the attire,” says McGinnis.
My friend Joy can make even the brightest, tackiest, neon-Jesus-shirt look like the latest underground fashion. Joy says, “I used to think my ‘Christ Supreme’ shirt that looked like the Krispy Kreme logo was cool!” More than her attire, though, people are attracted to Joy’s charismatic personality and genuine interest in them. And since I’ve known her, I’ve seen her successfully engage people and tell them about Christ.
On the other hand, you can’t rely on a shirt, a pin, or a cross around your neck to save someone’s soul. In an article on WorkLife.org, author John Fisher tells the story of a young man who bought a t-shirt with a blatant Christian message, hoping it would generate curiosity from strangers. He wore the t-shirt a lot over several years, but realized no one ever asked him about it. The day one of his shirts broke the ice was the day he wore his Fender guitar tee. Three people asked about it and the man shared his faith with one of them. “The lesson here is pretty simple” writes Fisher, “T-shirts don’t witness; people do.”
Speaking the Truth Doesn’t Always Mean Wearing It
On the other side of the faith-sharing spectrum both Christians and non-Christians roll their eyes at en vogue expressions. While the non-religious folks might find these outward expressions just plain irritating, some Christians criticize them as a second-rate marketing campaign that draws more attention to ourselves than to our God.
Twenty-eight-year-old Leilani Squires was insulted when she saw a shirt on a Christian apparel kiosk in a mall that said “Trust me, it’s huge” in large letters and then in smaller font beneath, “God’s love for you.” Squires says, “Why would we want to represent Christ in a way that at first look is something crude and then piously back it up with ‘God loves you!’?”
Allison Banks, a college student, doesn’t like to see faith symbols glammed up as decorative or fashion statements because she feels it devalues the cross. Banks says, “It shows that we spend too much time trying to make Christianity, the cross, the Gospel look ‘cool’, instead of truly sharing its deep value and necessity in our lives . . .”
While we should be less worried with how cool we look for Christ, perception still counts for something. Our concern with image might be better repositioned to examine how such unabashed messages negatively impact culture. Perhaps the eye-rolling, irritation and criticism stem from the notion that “those who shout the loudest have something to hide.”
What about Introverts?
For those of us who prickle at such outward expressions, the spotlight just doesn’t cut it. In fact, the spotlight sends us into a mad, sweaty-palmed dash for the nearest closet. I know; I am one of those people.
Several years ago, when I worked for a Christian organization, the director asked me to read a passage of scripture in front of a large audience. Who knew 300 expectant faces could give me cotton-mouth and blurred vision? I recited the passage with all the eloquence of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man then slinked off stage, curtaining my red face behind my hair.
Now swap that stage for a small table and a cup of coffee; whittle that audience down to one or two and I will share with you my latest epiphanies on life and faith, and I might even make you laugh in the process. This is the setting where I am most comfortable sharing; no Tebow-ing, no “WWJD” bracelets—just you, me (and coffee).
The key is to be comfortable enough with your faith that you can share it in ways that express who God is, through how he made you.
My friend Amy wears her faith like a skin. Amy and I were in a class together and I wanted her high energy, girlfriend-no-you-didn’t attitude to rub off on me. She never really spoke about her faith, but I could tell there was something special about her by the way she cared for people. I remember sitting in a classroom when several classmates arrived visibly upset. They just received news their friend was in a car accident and had been taken to the hospital. In that moment of sick-dreaded hush, Amy asked almost casually, “Is it OK if I pray for your friend?”
“Please!” the girls said.
The prayer was not long or grandiose. Nor was it stilted or awkward. Amy talked to God like she talked to anybody. That’s how I want my faith to look, I thought. Fun-loving and natural, with a dose of discernment and timing: that’s what works for Amy.
But maybe you’re a platform and lights kind of guy or gal. And maybe you find this approach too passive. Certainly there is a danger for the more introverted to make excuses like “It’s just not my personality” or “Oh. No, no. Evangelism is not my spiritual gift.” Sorry friends, that doesn’t cut it either. The Bible is pretty clear about this (see Matthew 28:19-20). Where it’s a little less clear is in how we share our faith.
After Jesus gave the Great Commission, the book of Matthew ends with him on top of a mountain promising his eleven remaining disciples (Judas, the twelfth, betrayed Jesus) that he is “with them always.” Story over. Flip to the book of Mark.
I imagine the disciples were a little confused about the next step. Maybe even a little scared. Perhaps they rubbed their stubbly chins and shared a round of bewildered glances as they thought, Great, Jesus. That’s cool. But what should we do now? To fulfill his promise, Jesus sent them the Holy Spirit to guide and empower their steps. But whether they walked, ran, or leaped forward was entirely up to them and the condition of the ground beneath them.
The Bible says to both revere Christ in your heart and be prepared to give an answer for the hope within you (1 Peter 3:15). So perhaps we can learn both from those who wear their faith on their sleeve and those who keep it closer to their heart. The key is to be comfortable enough with your faith that you can share it in ways that express who God is, through how he made you. Faith is not relative. But as long as we hold fast to scriptural truths, how we share can be. Try that on for size.