Discipleship, Part 5
by Jared & Laura King
In the previous blog we mentioned how listening is the starting place of discipleship. Listening is critical in having a successful discipling relationship in a post-Christian world. However, listening is only half of discipleship. The other half of discipleship is sharing.
While I am a huge advocate for better listening in our world, and particularly in our churches and discipleship relationships, without sharing the truth of Jesus we will only ever have a group of people who feel very well heard but still have no framework for a life of faith. Sharing is discipleship when it builds off the listening you have already done and begins to answer the “Why, What, and How” questions of being a disciple of Jesus.
When I was in college I read a lot of books, listened to a lot of lectures, went to a lot of conferences and classes that taught the idea of evangelism or sharing our faith. In nearly all of them, I felt inspired to share my faith, yet I walked away still asking the question, “So what am I supposed to do again?”
There are times within theological education where we get deeply specific about the theory and wildly generic about the practice. I don’t think this is necessarily a fault of higher education, but rather, more a window into the reality that theory can be easier to describe than practicing that theory in real life. Church growth books will detail out a broad understanding of why churches are not growing and how our churches can begin to reverse the trends of decline. And they do all this in maybe 200 pages or less. Reading the book takes a few days, but implementing the theories of growth in churches that exist within ever changing cultures, peoples, seasons of excitement or pain, can take years. This in no way implies we shouldn’t read or educate ourselves on new principles or methods. It simply means that a healthy understanding of timeline and pace concerning things like people’s faith journeys is deeply important as we begin a conversation about sharing our faith with others.
Sharing our faith can feel oddly generic. What do we do to share our faith? What do we say? To answer these, and the myriad of other questions you may have regarding sharing faith, I am going to give a framework for shaping your life so that everything about you begins to share the truth of Jesus in you. Which is a big task. And while what I want to share will feel like “theory,” my hope is that you will be able to take the theory and slowly make it a natural part of the way you live your life.
Aristotle believed that the key to a persuasive argument stemmed from 3 arenas at play with each other. These three arenas are “Ethos,” or the character, credibility, and ethics of the speaker, “Pathos,” or the emotions and passions of the audience, and “Logos,” or the logic, creative language, and evidence used in the message itself. These three arenas are constantly working either together because of the intentionality of the person trying to persuade, or they are working against each other because of the lack of understanding on the part of the speaker.
I don’t want you to get tripped up by my use of words like “persuade” or “argumentation.” These words carry a lot of negative connotations in our world today. However, everything you do in life has some elements of persuasion or argumentation. When I am training people in fitness, part of my role is to convince them that they are out of shape and that what I am doing is going to help them get into shape. It’s the same with discipleship and sharing our faith. Part of sharing faith demands that we believe that following Jesus is the best life for all people and then we must step out into the world to convince people of that truth. Aristotle believed that the three arenas, Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, are constantly at work to either persuade for or against the thing being argued, or discussed.
Let’s start with Ethos. Aristotle believed this was the most important part of persuasion because it lays before people the power of your life. You’ve probably heard the cliché, “Preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words.” They are talking about allowing our Ethos to speak the truth of our faith to those around us. Ethos involves things like your character, your ethics, integrity, and credibility. Aristotle said that there are three principals at work in a person’s Ethos: Intelligence, character, and good will. His argument was that to be a persuasive person, your life needed to reflect that you know what you are talking about. Which seems important in discipleship. If we expect other people to live the Way of Jesus then we'd better know what that way actually is. But it’s not enough to simply know about Jesus. Our lives need to reflect that we are living the way of Jesus. Our character and integrity need to match what we say is true of Jesus. And finally “Good will” is perceived when people actually know that we are for them. Most of the time we will never convince people of the beauty of a life with Jesus if they get the sense that we are not actually for them as human beings. These three principles--intelligence, character, and good will-- determine our Ethos. And our Ethos speaks volumes to the people we are sharing our faith with.
The second arena, Pathos, generally refers to the emotions and passions of the people you are discipling. This arena takes into consideration how a person hears, responds to, and feels about you, the speaker or leader or discipler, and the message you are sharing. We sometimes view this arena as pandering to people’s emotive responses. However, understanding the pathos of the person you are discipling means deeply understanding how the message of hope and love, joy, and peace will connect to their story.
Pathos assumes that the simple transfer of information is not enough to help people hear, accept, and respond to your sharing of faith with them. We have to do the hard work of understanding how our faith story will inspire them to see the hope of a better, more perfect, future. We have to become aware of the things that will spark their imagination to see and believe that life with Jesus not only can change things but will change them.
Understanding the Pathos of the person you are discipling will help inform the final arena, the Logos. Logos simply means “word” and has traditionally been the thing we have focused on most--perfecting the sermon, teaching, elevator pitch of faith--and rightfully so. The words we use to communicate our story of faith have the power to engage the imagination of the people around you. The saying I learned as a kid, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” has been debunked on numerous levels. Words carry immense transformative power, for better or worse. Sticks and stones will break your bones. Words will too. At least your metaphorical bones. Words have the ability to start fights, even wars, but also to inspire movements, and to heal unseen wounds deep within people’s hearts. And if this is true of the power of words, maybe it is something we should pay more attention to in church and with sharing our faith. Logos, then, can’t simply be about apologetics.
Apologetics, which is the systematic argumentation of a perspective or belief, certainly engages the left side of the brain, the part that is analytical, likes logic and concepts, and is rational. But it ignores the right side which is where our emotions, imagination, art, music, poetry, and more come from. This is where your understanding of a person or group of people will aid in your ability to craft the Logos in such a way that will connect to who they are and how they perceive information. Understanding who people are and what will break through the rough exteriors of their doubt or fear will help us then as we think about sharing our faith.
Sometimes we assume that as long as I share my faith in the way I am most comfortable doing, then I have done my job. Speak it, let it land on people, and if they accept it then great. But if they deny what I say, it's on them, not me. This posture ignores the understanding that it’s not just what you say, but how you say it, and whether or not your life actually lines up with what you are saying, that people tend to hear best. We have too often assumed that our words are enough in sharing our faith. But the truth is that your words are only a portion of what people hear when you are near them. The way you live your life will oftentimes affirm or negate the words you say to a person regarding your faith.
Sharing faith is much more than a formula of words that speak to a certain point or two. Sharing faith IS words, but it is ALSO your life, your character, your good will toward the people around you. Sharing faith is understanding what the people around you will hear. When you speak about your faith, you do so in a manner and with the LOGOS that will land in the hearts of people. Sharing faith is about inspiring people to imagine the potential of their life with Jesus. We do this by speaking, but also by living the goodness of our faith in front of people.
Listening is the starting place of discipleship. But sharing is the other half that helps create an image of Jesus’ transformation in people’s lives. The Ethos, Pathos, and Logos of sharing can help create a framework for how to shape our lives around sharing our faith with people around us.