It’s officially summertime! This is the time of the year for campouts and picnics. It’s finally the time of year for afternoons by the lake, weekends at the beach, or maybe just hanging out at the neighborhood pool- which means, this is the time of year when many young children will learn to swim for the first time.
How did you learn to swim? Did your parents take you to swim lessons when you were a child? Did you learn how to swim by using floaties in the shallow end of the neighbor’s pool? Did someone throw you off the diving board in the deep end? Learning to swim is one of those lessons that stick with you for the rest of your life.
Learn to swim
I was a young child when I learned to swim. The best that I can remember, it happened like this… When I was elementary age, my family took me to a local lake not far from our home. They saw me splashing around in the shallow water. Someone decided that it was time for me to learn how to swim… and in my family, learning how to swim happens in an instant.
Later that afternoon, the family went puttering around the lake on a boat. After several minutes of seeing the sights, we were heading back to the boat dock. Instead of turning the boat into the dock, the driver stopped just a few yards away. I distinctly remember someone picked me up out of the back of the boat and threw me over the side. I started to cry out for help! I begged them to help me back into the boat. Someone leaned over the edge and told me to swim back to the dock. While I was paddling furiously with my arms and legs just trying to stay afloat, I remember thinking, I have only two choices; swim to the docks or sink to the bottom. I chose the first option.
As a young child, that lake seemed to me like it was one million feet deep. The boat dock looked like it was miles away for this young, scared child. This seemed like an impossible task for someone who didn’t know how to swim. After a minute or two of doggy-paddling, I noticed that the dock started to get a little bit closer. That’s when it dawned on me… I was swimming all by myself! That’s the moment I realized I learned how to swim. When I realized this, the fear started to fade away. The dock still seemed a long distance away. The lake still seemed to be very deep. But I was much less intimidated by the situation because I began to believe that I could swim. Since that moment, to my best memory, I have never really been afraid of the water.
Teaching someone else to swim
If you’ve ever tried to teach a child to swim, you’ve probably experienced something similar. There is a moment when a child has to learn that they’re capable of swimming on their own. It can take weeks or months teaching a child how to master a swim stroke in the shallow end of the pool, but at some point, that child will have to leave the shallow end in order to learn that he is capable of swimming on his own.
Maybe you tried to teach a child to swim at the lake or the beach. It usually starts out with a child using some kind of flotation device for help. Maybe the child starts out with an innertube when learning to swim in open water. Perhaps it’s the little inflatable arm floaties that provide the extra confidence a child needs before she can move into deeper water. The challenge in teaching a child to swim is the moment she is asked to let go of the innertube or take off the floaties. This moment is usually terrifying for everyone.
Teaching children to swim means teaching them to confront their fears and let go of the side of the pool. It’s only after they have conquered the fear of letting go of the floaties that they are now ready to swim on their own. Swimming is as much about conquering fear as it is about keeping your body afloat.
Making gospel friendships
I have found that sharing my faith in Jesus with friends and family is a lot like learning to swim. It can be terrifying at first. In almost every case, we need someone to show us how to swim on our own. It is often through the patient teaching of faithful Christians that we learn how to share our faith often and well. Jesus modeled this in the New Testament. He demonstrated how to make disciples before he expected his disciples to do the same thing. Like a teacher showing a child how to swim, eventually Jesus expected his disciples to let go of the side of the pool and swim in the deep water on their own (Luke 10:1-3).
In his final instructions to his church, Jesus tells us to keep on swimming until he returns. The passage of Scripture known as the Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:18-20. In this seminal passage, Jesus hands his mission over to his church before he leaves Earth. He instructs his church to continue what he started on Earth. The ultimate expectation in the Great Commission is for us to continue to tell others about Jesus until he returns. The essence of what Jesus was asking his church to do was, go and make disciples!
The person who once taught you how to swim would be shocked if they saw you today splashing around in the shallow end of the pool, afraid of the deep water. Jesus taught his disciples how to swim by making disciples and then expected them to get into the deep end of the pool by following his example and making more disciples. If no one has ever showed you how to share your faith, seek out a pastor, church leader, or faithful Christian and ask that person to teach you how to swim among unbelievers. Look for someone who is comfortable sharing their faith in Jesus and who does it often. Ask that person to teach you how to do the same thing.
I guess it really doesn’t matter if you took swim lessons or someone threw you over the edge of the boat; swimming is swimming! It also doesn’t matter what technique you use to share your faith or who taught you how to do it. All of us have casual acquaintances that we see regularly. I challenge you today to take a few of those shallow water relationships into the deep end of the pool by sharing Jesus with them. I call these “gospel friendship”. They are friends that you are hoping to share the Gospel with one day soon. After you have taught a friend to swim by becoming a follower of Jesus, ask them to join you in the deep water by doing the same thing with someone else.