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How Gospel Sharing is Like Slacklining
My friend Lars likes to bring fun things with him wherever he goes. Sometimes, it’s a hammock. Other times, it’s a slackline.
In case you haven’t seen slackliners practicing at your local park, this modern sport is similar to tightrope walking. Nylon webbing is secured between two objects, most often trees, and people try to walk across the web. Sometimes they even do tricks.
As someone who has sprained her ankle 5 times, I stick to the hammock. I don’t even try the slackline. But I love watching others inch across, arms out, eyes focused.
How do we balance on the slackline stretched between our heart of faith and the heart of another living, breathing person? How do we make it to the other side, where understanding and a legitimate chance to choose Jesus await?
First, of course, we set things up. We unwind the knots of our introversion, or our energetic self-dependence, or our fear, or our pride. We try to be the good neighbor. Every day.
We strap and cinch the slackline until it is secure. We connect ourselves and prepare to walk across.
From here, though, things get complicated. The band connecting these two old trees—our faith and theirs—may only be a foot or two off the ground. But it is so easy to fall.
And for some of us, high or low, harness or not, that feels really hard.
When learning to walk an actual slackline, they tell me, it’s essential to practice your balance, strengthen your core, and stay loose.
Could we make a connection between these sporting essentials and witnessing?
Strengthen Your Core
To strengthen our core, we get strong in our faith and in our convictions. We even work to strengthen our methods. Like a writer honing his craft, we ruthlessly weed out approaches that don’t work without taking it personally, because this is not about us, but about getting better at the task.
Greg Koukl, in his wonderfully practical witnessing book, Tactics, has this to say: “There are three specific things you can do to ‘ready’ yourself to respond. You can anticipate beforehand what might come up. You can reflect afterward on what took place. And in both cases, you can practice the responses you think of during these reflective moments so you will be prepared for the next opportunity.”
If this sounds like an enormous amount of effort requiring a huge time investment, that’s because it is. It takes time and energy to get better at sharing the Gospel.
But have you ever had a friend who was “into” slacklining? Did you ever notice how they couldn’t pass a railing without hopping on and balancing on one foot? Or how they do crunches or captain’s chair leg raises at random moments?
There can be joy in the work of getting stronger, especially when we see how strength contributes to balance.
Balance is about one thing: making constant small adjustments.
Adjustments in your boldness. In your gentleness. In the vocabulary you use. In how much you lean on your cultural understanding versus listening to the Holy Spirit. Adjustments in timing and pacing. Adjustments in how much you say vs. how much you ask questions and really listen.
And the only way to get good at balance is to practice it.
When we lived in India, we were surprised by the communal, open nature of Hindu worship. In the West, spirituality tends to be very individual, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But religion being personal and private doesn’t lend itself to being naturally observed, shared, and spread by others.
So we opened our doors when we had family worship. We prayed out loud. We practiced listening and sharing. We wanted to ask good questions, understand Hinduism, and represent Christianity in a way that made sense to people.
But we were just beginning to learn to “slackline.” It wasn’t always easy to stay balanced, either in our personal lives or in the ways we shared. We had to adjust. We had to move boundaries or put them back. We had to fight both pride and self-loathing. Sometimes we wished we'd said more. Sometimes we wished we’d said less.
We would fall off the line and wonder if it was worth the work to get back on. We were new, and balance didn’t come easily.
Yet even when balance begins to come more naturally, it doesn’t mean things stay great without effort. It just means the adjustments become second nature.
It’s hard to make small adjustments on a slackline--or to enjoy yourself--when fear has you tense and frozen.
To stay loose as we witness, we determine not to be rigid and unforgiving. We fill ourselves with grace for ourselves because we are broken, leaky vessels, being used by a holy, miracle-working God.
And we always keep in mind two things: Others have a reason for their beliefs about reality. And God is the one who takes responsibility for salvation and a change of heart.
The slackline of witnessing is a skill that can be learned, something that can even be enjoyed. It’s one part of a very large plan. And you are not in it alone, because there is more to this great commission than a rope and two trees.
So set up your line. Cinch it up tight. Connect to other humans and share from your heart. Get back up if you fall off. Keep your eyes on Jesus as you balance, and fall, and balance, and inch your way toward the other side of the rope.
And stay tuned for next week, when we’ll ask some tough questions about the mental game of crossing that chasm.
A Little Extra
I highly recommend the book Tactics for anyone, whether overseas or in their home country, who wants to get better at talking about their faith.
Teaching the Truth in Love. This version is a rehearsal by the group Acapella.
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