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Matt DeCola’s stomach was churning. As a pastor, he was used to leading small group Bible studies. But tonight would be different. His sister Rachel sat in the living room looking at him.
What will she think? How will she respond? Is this is a good idea? The questions turned over in Matt’s mind.
Matt, age 29 and a relatively new pastor, was growing accustomed to speaking to hundreds of people. Though he’d get nervous about telling the story of his faith journey, that proved nothing compared to reaching out to his own family with the gospel message of Jesus’ love and forgiveness.
“I can talk to a 1,000 people about the gospel and my story,” Matt says. “But to talk to my brother and sister, it’s a little different. I risk suffering when I share the gospel with my family because there is a risk that it could affect our relationship.”
Though his family has seen his life change, one of the most difficult challenges for Matt has been to live out his faith in front of his family consistently.
Many of us can relate: We desperately want our loved ones to experience the love and forgiveness that Jesus offers. Yet we don’t want to risk damaging a relationship that means so much and, worse still, unwittingly push our family members further from this good news.
“Showing vulnerability makes the gospel more attainable,” says Matt. “People need to see that we struggle. It evens the playing field because it’s not by works but by grace.” Matt discovered that when we expose our brokenness to others, it helps people see their own need for Christ and His grace.
Matt and his brother, Jake, were talking when Jake related a significant struggle he was facing. Matt, having faced a similar challenge, was able to relate to Jake in what was a pressing issue in his life. Listening to what people are most concerned about provides entry points for the gospel.
After Jake attended church one Sunday, Matt invited him to his house along with several friends. “Jake saw the life we were living and met others who were following Jesus,” Matt says. “It wasn’t just me as a crazy Christian, but he was exposed to a group of people who cared for one another.”
After relating his own experience, Matt offered to pray with his brother. “That was the first time I prayed with Jake,” said Matt. “That was a big deal for him and a big deal for me. Jake responded very well. It encouraged me to be bold moving forward.”
Seeing a change in a person’s life takes place only in God’s timing. Because we care so deeply for the people in our families, we are often tempted to push the process. Surprisingly, it may be more effective to slow the process down.
“I have a responsibility to step out in faith — we water and plant, but it’s God who brings the growth,” says Matt. “That’s such a good illustration when trusting God with our family.”
Since attending the Bible study in Matt’s home, Rachel has put her trust in Christ for the forgiveness of her sins and publicly identified herself as a follower of Christ through baptism. So has Jake.
For a more in-depth treatment of this subject, check out Randy Newman’s podcast on “Bringing the Gospel Home.”
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