What if God had more for our kin this Thanksgiving than the Macy’s parade, tryptophan-induced naps and NFL football? What if we saw our gatherings with extended family not as a chance to check out, but as an opportunity for Christian mission?
It should be good news to us that we don’t have to be Jedi-master evangelists to be agents of gospel advance among those whom we know best. In fact, it may be better if we’re not.
So before bellying up to this year’s turkey feast, here’s a few thoughts from a fellow bungler to help us think ahead and pray about how we might grow in being proxies for the gospel, in word and deed, among our families this Thanksgiving. These are some practical ideas for what it might mean to see ourselves as sent among our relatives. These suggestions are inspired by Randy Newman’s excellent book Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends and Others Who Know You Well.
1) Pray ahead.
Begin praying for your part in gospel advance among extended family several days before gathering. And let’s not just pray for changes in them, but also pray for the needed heart changes in us—whether it’s for love or courage or patience or kindness or fresh hope, or all of the above.
2) Listen and ask questions.
Listen, listen, listen. Perhaps more good evangelism than we realize starts not with speaking but with good listening. Getting to know someone well and specifically applying the gospel to them is huge in witness. Relationship matters.
Ask questions to draw them out. People like to talk about themselves—and we should capitalize on this. And most people only enjoy talking about themselves for so long. At some point, they’ll ask us questions. And that’s our golden chance to speak, upon request.
One of the best times to tell the gospel with clarity and particularity is when someone has just asked us a question. They want to hear from us. So let’s share ourselves, and Jesus in us. Not artificially, but in genuine answer to their asking about our lives. And remember it’s a conversation. Be careful not to rabbit on for too long, but try to keep a sense of equilibrium in the dialogue.
3) Raise the gospel flag early.
Let’s not wait to get to know them “well enough” to start clearly identifying with Jesus. Depending on how extended our family is, or how long it’s been since we married in, they may already plainly know that we are Christians. But if they don’t know that, or don’t know how important Jesus is to our everyday lives, we should realize now that there isn’t any good strategy in being coy about such vital information. It will backfire. Even if we don’t put on the evangelistic full-court press right away (which is not typically advised), wisdom is to identify with Jesus early and often, and articulate the gospel with clarity (and kindness) as soon as possible.
No one’s impressed to discover years into a relationship that we’ve withheld from them the most important things in our lives.
4) Take the long view and cultivate patience.
With family especially, we should consider the long arc. Randy Newman is not afraid to say to Christians in general, “You need a longer-term perspective when it comes to family.” Chances are we do. And so he challenges us to think in terms of an alphabet chart, seeing our family members positioned at some point from letters A to Z. These 26 steps/letters along the way from distant unbelief (A) to great nearness to Jesus (Z) and fledgling faith help us remember that evangelism is usually a process, and often a long one.
It is helpful to recognize that not everyone is near the end of the alphabet waiting for our pointed gospel pitch to tip them into the kingdom. Frequently there is much spadework to be done. Without losing the sense of urgency, let’s consider how we can move them a letter, or two or three, at a time and not jerk them toward Z in a way that may actually make them regress.