Among the many characters in The Simpsons is Ned Flanders, Homer Simpson’s overtly religious next-door neighbor whose over-the-top religiosity tends to caricaturize Christian evangelicalism as simplistic and syrupy. Unfortunately, when Catholics hear the word evangelization associated with our baptismal call to discipleship, we can find ourselves struggling with the question, “How can I talk to others about Jesus without coming across as Ned Flanders?” In other words, how can I talk about my faith in an authentic manner?
This notion of talking to others about our faith, or evangelizing, is still new for many Catholics who prefer to be more private about matters of faith. And yet, the New Evangelization calls for all Catholics—not just ordained Catholics or missionaries—to share their faith with others and invite them to consider the Good News of Jesus Christ. At the heart of this New Evangelization is the kerygma—a simple, yet bold, proclamation of Jesus Christ designed to transform hearts and minds. The kerygma is our core message—our expression of the central role that Jesus Christ plays in our lives.
So, how do we proclaim Jesus to others in an authentic manner? Here are five tips.
- Look for appropriate opportunities. People today do not want religion forced upon them or thrust in their faces. One sure way to grind conversations to a halt and to ensure that people walk away when they see us approaching is to begin talking about Jesus at every opportunity unilaterally. We can more effectively talk about Jesus if the topic of faith arises naturally or if we are asked to shed some light on where we stand on issues of faith or to explain what sustains us or where we find courage, strength, joy, or compassion.
- Refer to stories from Scripture that relate to a current situation. In other words, rather than just going on and on about how much we love Jesus, we can say things like, “That reminds me of the story of the Prodigal Son,” so that we are presenting Jesus within a context. It is common for people in conversation to make such references to TV shows or movies. Of course, this approach requires a familiarity with the Gospels so that we can effortlessly draw such references.
- Mention inspirational books that contribute to a conversation or shed light on a specific situation or current event. For example, we might say, “I just came across a really good insight on that from a book I’m reading…” and then mention the book title and author as we share the insight. Likewise, we can make similar references to a good homily we recently heard or a seminar we attended. The key is to introduce a Christian response into a conversation that invites people to consider a new perspective.
- Make references to prayer. In other words, we might talk about an insight or reassurance gained from an experience of prayer and, more importantly, assure others who are in need that we will pray for them. References to prayer are very important and effective, because they introduce the notion of an ongoing, affective, living relationship with the Person of Jesus rather than a strictly intellectual and sterile familiarity with things Jesus said and did.
- Stop talking and listen! This may seem counterintuitive since we are looking at ways to talk to others about Jesus. However, if we do all the talking, we will not be effective in our efforts to invite others to consider a relationship with Jesus. Think of how the Risen Christ himself, on the road to Emmaus with two distraught disciples, begins the encounter by asking them to share their experience: “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” (Luke 24:17) It is in listening to the two disciples that Jesus finds a way to invite them to see differently and to recognize his presence in their midst. And it is only after listening to them that Jesus shares what Scripture reveals about the “things that have happened.” Talking about Jesus is much more effective if we have first listened to those with whom we hope to speak.
Talking to others about Jesus can be a challenge, and if we hope to do so effectively, we need to consider our approach carefully so that we come across as authentic and not as a caricature to be dismissed.