I began preaching at a really early age. When I was just 14 I began speaking in local youth groups, in chapel at my Christian school, in my home church on Youth Sunday, and even at a local prison as a part of a prison ministry that taught a weekly Bible study to men. Looking back, so much of what I shared in those early days, when I was filled with tremendous zeal and was just beginning to log some much needed experience, was simple testimony. I told my story. I had met Jesus. He had changed me, for real, deep down to the marrow of my bones, and I couldn’t stop talking about him.
Do you know what I remember vividly from those early days in ministry, as a teenager who had just converted to faith in Christ? I remember how people of all ages would literally lean in and listen to me when I told and re-told how Jesus came to me, called me and saved me. The looks on faces of senior adults and my own adolescent peers are etched into my memory. They were spell bound by my story.
The power of a story is inestimable. Humans are powerless to turn away from a compelling story, particularly when it is told with passion, conviction, and not a hint of defensiveness. Do you want someone to lean in and listen to you say something important? Tell them a story. Tell them yours.
This is how Christianity spreads. It is how the church grows. It is how the gospel catches fire and consumes everything that stands in its way, from stubborn sinners to the Roman empire. Some prefer to speak of “Contagious Christianity.” So if you relate to that word picture, think not of someone who has the flu and must be avoided at all costs. Think, rather, of someone that lights up the room with their energy, who lifts people’s spirits with their presence, or who can turn an atmosphere around with a simple word. They have a contagious personality, you might say, or their positive energy is contagious, to put it another way. That’s a good kind of “contagious.”
This is how the gospel must work now, and it is how the gospel worked in the first three centuries after Jesus commanded His followers to preach the gospel and make disciples. It was the power of personal stories that toppled Caesars and supplanted an empire. Normal folk like you and me were transformed by the good news of Jesus; His love, His sacrifice, His resurrection from the dead. They talked about Jesus everywhere they went. When persecution arose and they scattered abroad, they broadcast their stories even more widely. It spread like a juicy rumor on the internet, only it was no rumor. It was the truth. The unstoppable, beautiful truth. Jesus had come as the Son of God and He had died to set people free. He was alive.
America is no Christian nation. Nations cannot be Christians, but people can. If you want to affect a nation, change her people. If you want to change people, tell your story of failure, sin, regret, shame, repentance and redemption. Everyone can relate to these. Be transparent and honest. Show your scars because your scars tell your story of salvation. Scars prove you survived. Jesus offered His scars as proof of a change. Let’s do the same in a nation full of hurting, broken, skeptical people who need to lean in and listen to a story that they can’t turn away from. People will argue with your politics, your opinions, and even your religion. But no one can challenge your story. It’s all yours. No one can take it from you, but you can give it away over and over again.
To read Clayton’s story of weakness, suffering, depression and overcoming fear, check out his new book STRONGER where he tells how he lost 9 family members in 12 years, preached his father’s funeral on Father’s day, and found God’s strength through weakness HERE.