I recently read a book entitled I once was lost by two IVP guys: Don Everts and Doug Schuapp. I was challenged to think about how to reach people with the Good News around me who have been exposed to all that has happened in the last twenty to forty years. Their work primarily centered on college students, but I felt the five thresholds they identified from working with students apply as much to everyone and every generation. They concluded that individuals cross five thresholds as they come to faith in Christ.
Each of these thresholds must be crossed before individuals can work through the next threshold. Ironically people can become stuck in one threshold for decades and then quickly move through another.
Their five thresholds are:
- Trusting a Christian
- Becoming Curious
- Being Open to Change
- Seeking after God
- Entering the Kingdom
We’ve seen many examples of these transitions over decades in working with people who are far from Christ. The book nicely treats the process of individuals becoming followers of Christ as both organic and mysterious. It is far from a scripted or rigid plan. While these thresholds are simple and easy to understand, the process is rather complex because we are dealing with individuals and life transformation.
Their objective in writing the book is to help Christians identify where a person is in their journey or walk toward entering the Kingdom of God. So often, we assume they are ready to enter the Kingdom, so we blurt out the four spiritual laws, Romans road, the bridge, or some other prepared presentation. It is like a salesperson asking us to sign a contract to buy a house before we have even decided we want to move. When that happens, I feel put off, as do those who feel the gospel is being shoved down their throat.
I have worked hard at building trusting relationships, but I’m not sure I have promoted curiosity in the lives of those who trust me. The authors discuss how questions promote curiosity, not answers. Ouch! I am often too quick to give answers. They write:
Jesus is asked 183 questions in the Gospels. He answers just 3 of them—and he asks 307 questions back! As our friend Tom says, “Jesus does not have Q and A sessions. He has Q and Q sessions.”I Once was Lost, p. 54
I realized that when I am insecure, I give answers. When I am secure, I am free to ask questions. I need to be more secure and ask a good question. I don’t have to have all of the answers, I need to be able to ask good questions. I find questions really aren’t hard to think of or ask, but I must be fully present with the person and not think about myself.
It happened last night. We had dinner with a couple, and the husband went on and on about his current job. I listened and asked questions. I affirmed and listened more. Eventually, I felt my interest wane, and my mind wander. I was done with him. I tried to bring the conversation back to something personal. Eventually, I shared how Jack Shitama’s book (If you met my family, you’d Understand) has made a significant change in the way Mary Kay and I communicate within our marriage recently. I said it was built on Family Systems Theory. He said, “Oh yes, I understand that and use that all of the time.”
I had just sat through a very difficult dinner listening to him talk and watching him almost abuse the wait staff, who had told us it was her first-time waiting tables. She had asked for patience and understanding. But I felt the husband unloaded inappropriately for new or inexperienced staff. I was so uncomfortable, I wanted out. I tipped the wait staff a lot.
The point was when he made the statement about understanding Family systems, I was trying to think about how to respond with lessons we have learned. Instead, I should have asked him, “What in Family Systems has helped you in your relationship with your wife?” But I wasn’t engaged, so I copped out.
I am good at building trusting relationships with those far from Christ, but still learning how to bring them to be curious about the Gospel. It is a great book and one that I highly recommend to all who sincerely want to be an effective ambassador of our Lord.