Sharing Your Faith--the Right Way
"Jesus told us not to focus our energies on fighting sin but instead to do everything we can to encourage good growth. He is less interested in what we are against, and more interested in what we are for."
I got to thinking about what Lawrence wrote, and decided to do a bit of research on my own on the power of positive vs. negative reinforcement. Every psychological journal that I found on the topic all came back to the same notion:
Positive reinforcement is much more effective in changing behavior than negative reinforcement. And by much more, I mean so much more it's not even funny.
When I was serving as a youth director in Chicago, we took our junior high students on a mission trip to urban Nashville, TN. Unbeknownst to me, the organization that ran our mission trip was the kind of "mission" organization that was much more interested in aggressive evangelism than mission.
As part of our training, we were asked to divide into groups and go to the local mall for "cold witnessing." The basic idea was that we were to walk around to find people to talk to Jesus about in the mall. Let's just say that I was not just way out of my comfort zone, I was suddenly reintroduced to a ton of the baggage I thought I'd left behind when I fled the fundamentalist Baptist churches of my youth.
The young adults who led our witnessing expedition essentially taught my kids how to strike up conversations with perfect strangers for the sole purpose of asking them this question. "Where would you like to spend eternity? In Heaven or in an eternal, burning torturous Hell?"
For the record, we had no converts to the cause that day. When it was all over and we sat down to recap the day, I quietly asked the college students who had shepherded our group in the mall, "So, how effective do you think your methods of evangelism are, really?"
They weren't too happy with my resistance to their negative reinforcement techniques, but it needed to be said.
Jesus had this habit of being present with people, meeting them where they were. He had infinite patience and grace for anyone who just wanted to have a relationship with God and very little patience for those who chose to embrace religion over relationship.
Jesus didn't condemn people or treat them as objects either. He just loved them. His heart broke for them. He put himself in harm's way to be with people no one wanted to be with--to eat with them, laugh with them, and lift them up.
He used positive reinforcement to show them the kind of life that God had always dreamed for them to live. I believe Jesus wants his followers to do the very same.
May you have your eyes opened to new ways to share your faith--ways that highlight the positive, abundant and hopeful aspects of what it means to follow Jesus. May you be a safe place to land for those who struggle with their faith and who desperately need hope and peace.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.