Commentary: Faith is caught, not taught

“Many Voices, One Faith” is a forum for sharing theological perspectives on topics of interest in The United Methodist Church. We are a global community rooted in the Wesleyan tradition, yet diverse in views and experiences. This forum is designed to put the voices of the church in conversation with one another and build understanding of what it means to be United Methodist today.
Courtesy photo of the Rev. Kimberly D. Reisman.

The Rev. Kimberly D. Reisman.

I come from a long line of artists. My grandfather was an artist; my mother and sister are artists. I am NOT an artist. I enjoy making jewelry, but it would be a huge stretch to call what I do art.

I’m convinced my sister stole my artistic gene. She paints and creates pottery. She works with metal and textiles. She has more creativity in her little finger than I have in my whole body. I say that with both awe and joy.

Every time I’m with my mother and sister I’m reminded of a wonderful truth: Particular talents may be genetic, but creativity is contagious. When I’m around my sister and mother, I catch their creativity. My job makes it hard for me to make jewelry on a regular basis, but every time I return home from being with my mother and sister, I seem to experience a burst of creative energy. I become excited to reconnect with my love of jewelry-making.

The reminder that creativity is contagious points to a deeper truth: Human beings are all together contagious. Everything about us is contagious, and people are going to catch whatever it is we have.

That’s profound.

People are going to catch whatever it is we have.

They’ll catch life from us or they’ll catch death from us; there is nothing in between. Most of us think we’re neutral, but there is no such thing as a neutral person. We will be a source of blessing or a source of curse.

Here’s a related truth: I can only infect other people with whatever it is that I have. I can’t give away what I don’t have. My sister and mother give away creativity because they have it in abundance. They’ve cultivated that in their own lives so giving it away is as natural as breathing.

But if I’m not healthy, how can I give health? If I don’t accept myself, how can I give self-acceptance? If I can’t kick the demons out of my own life, how am I ever going to help somebody else kick the demons out of theirs?

If I’m not emotionally and spiritually available to the people around me, what are they going to catch?

We can’t give what we don’t have.

When it comes to sharing our faith — evangelism — one of the most common mistakes we make is to believe we can teach Christian faith; but Christian faith isn’t taught, it’s caught. Yes, there is a place for sound teaching, but more often than not, people come to faith because of the contagious way others live. They have encountered someone who lives with an openness that allows God’s Holy Spirit the freedom to move infectiously, contagiously.

Many people look to the Great Commission — go and make disciples — as the foundation for all evangelism. No doubt this is a significant reminder of the importance Jesus placed on sharing our faith. And yet, Jesus also reminds us that if we keep a seed in our hands, clutching it with a closed fist, it will never grow. We have to open our hands and let go of the seed.

That is, in fact, the secret to implementing the Great Commission: opening our hands. Recognizing the only way to receive the gift we have been given in Jesus in its fullness, is to turn around and give it to others. To open our hands.

The problem is that many of us are living with closed hands. Keeping this marvelous gift of abundant life — not just in eternity but now — to ourselves. When we live like that, nothing can grow, within us or within others.

Years ago, when our son was about 2 years old, my husband and I had a picnic lunch by a pond. We told Nathan not to eat all his bread. After lunch we gave it to him to feed the ducks. He was confused because there were no ducks in sight, but within moments he was surrounded. The ducks came out of nowhere when he opened his hand and let go of his bread.

Each of us has the power to bless and the power to curse. We can be the means through which the Holy Spirit works, or the barrier the Holy Spirit must overcome. We can live with open hands or closed fists.

Each of us also lives with what we caught from someone else and others will live with what they have caught from us.

The question is, what will they catch?

—The Rev. Kimberly Reisman is executive director of World Methodist Evangelism in West Lafayette, Indiana.

"Many Voices, One Faith” is a forum for sharing theological perspectives on topics of interest in The United Methodist Church. The forum is designed to put the voices of the church in conversation with one another and build understanding of what it means to be United Methodist today. Read more commentaries.

Sign up for our newsletter!

SUBSCRIBE

Latest News

The Rev. John Yeaman.

Commentary: Are United Methodists ignoring Wesley?

Methodism founder John Wesley implored us to ‘do no harm.’ John Yeaman feels the denomination’s stance on homosexuality ignores that rule.
General Church
The Rev. Althea Spencer Miller. Photo courtesy of Drew University.

Commentary: The plan of 'gracious inclusion'

The Simple Plan would relieve The United Methodist Church of the burdens of discrimination and the responsibility of enforcement by punishment, writes a Drew University Theological School professor.
General Church
The Rev. Edgar De Jesus. Photo courtesy the Rev. Edgar De Jesus.

Commentary: Keep the main thing the main thing

Citing the church stance on homosexuality as a mostly U.S. concern, the Rev. Edgar De Jesus writes that Filipino United Methodists are more focused on how to make the Gospel relevant.