In 2008 we moved from western to southern Germany. While we looked for houses we stayed for a week in a vacation apt owned by a sweet older farming couple, the Langs. We truly enjoyed our time with them, even though Frau Lang didn’t shave and never used deodorant
Frau Lang let our girls (who were 8 & 10 at the time) help them gather eggs from the henhouse every morning and pick cherries. She also gave us a tour of their orchards. Herr Lang showed me the “still” he uses for making Schnapps (see the picture above) and took the kids on a tractor ride for Ashton’s birthday. They even helped us search the want ads for houses and gave us over $15 worth of incredibly sweet cherries from their orchard!
On one of our last days with them I mentioned to Frau Lang how beautiful a nearby roadside cross was. She said it was an old German custom to bless the roads by erecting a roadside cross/shrine.
Then she shared how she was confused by the last American couple they had met (Christians) whose children went to the same school ours were going to attend. This lady had told Frau lang how Germans shouldn’t have these roadside crosses everywhere. To paraphrase this lady’s own words, “Jesus is not on the Cross anymore, so why should you have all these shrines.” It was a tactless and culturally-offensive comment, even though the lady probably meant no harm.
I shared with Frau Lang that the lady was probably only trying to point out that she would rather celebrate the resurrection, and not just the death of Jesus Christ. This seemed to make sense to her, and it opened up a short window of opportunity to share about how the Cross brings us forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection provides eternal life. This happened because we invested in a relationship with them, and were willing to accept them for who they are.
The Value Of Tact
Jesus commanded us to go everywhere and share the Good News of His forgiveness and grace. We call this evangelism. But if we don’t first do the hard work of developing a relationship with someone, he/she won’t be willing to hear what we have to say. We may complain of the message falling on deaf ears, but the true problem is that the message was lost to an unprepared heart. Israel Steinmetz wrote an exceptional article entitled “Why you should never invite people to your church… until you’ve invited them to your home” which identifies the importance of investing in a relationship before giving what has often been referred to as “the Jesus sales pitch.”
This personal knowledge should help you understand how best to connect God’s story with theirs. You’ll understand sensitive subjects that could potentially offend them and shut down the conversation.
The Gospel itself is sometimes offensive. Jesus’ claim to be the only way into a relationship with God can be quite polarizing. But let’s make sure that if a person is offended, it’s because of the Gospel and not by our lack of tact.
I can’t overemphasize the importance of tact when seeking to communicate spiritual truth to a person that is far from God.
Paul exemplified the use of tact when he was speaking to a group of philosophers in Athens. His biographer, Luke, gives us a summary of his speech in Acts 17:16-31.
In Paul’s discourse he first sought common ground, even complimenting them on their spiritual hunger. He used one of their well-known cultural symbols (an altar to the unknown god) to create a bridge to the One True God. He even described God’s nature by quoting one of their own pagan poets. Everything was going great until he spoke of Jesus’ resurrection.
As Paul transitioned from logic to faith in his speech it apparently pushed them over the edge. Many of his hearers walked away. But a few did become Christ-followers. He would have never even had this opportunity had he not learned the value of using tact in the sharing of our faith.
May God help us to build authentic relationships with people that are far from Him, and then open the door for us to share the Good News with them!