Sunday, January 18, 2009

Evangelism

I started to feel strange about evangelism a few years ago. No matter HOW I shared my faith, there always seemed to be an ulterior motive. I had noticed varied motives in the evangelistic efforts of others in the past, but now I was turning that spotlight inward. WHY was I sharing my faith? What was really motivating me? It became exhausting.

For a while I just quit. Jesus wasn’t the problem, I was. I believe the way of Jesus is Life. But until I could figure out what was motivating me to talk about him, I couldn’t speak.

I am not even sure that I was conscious of this as it was happening. It first hit me two years ago. My theology was heading towards Christian Universalism at the time. One of the by-products of this turn is that I quit dividing people into camps. There are no longer Christians and non-Christians …. There are just people.

I show movies in my backyard. I bought a projector and a blow up screen and I invite all the neighbors over for movies every few weeks during the summer. It is a great time for people to hang out, catch up, and make new friends. Why do I do it?

I was telling a friend at church about my movie setup and he said, “What a great evangelism tool that is!” Years ago, that would have been exactly what would have motivated me to do it: evangelism.

His comment, however, bothered me… and I wasn’t even sure why. It took me some time to work though my thoughts. I finally came to the conclusion that I simply wanted to be a good neighbor… and I wanted to build up my neighborhood.

But since I am a Christian, shouldn’t I want to evangelize?

I am still working through this, but I am pretty sure that I have no interest in evangelizing anymore… at least in the way we typically use the term. If evangelism means recruiting people into my religious sect so they can adhere to our political/social standards and be part of our “in” group… then I am not interested.

But, if evangelism means that I tell people about the way of Jesus: that there are to be no divisions among us, that the poor receive justice, that the rich serve rather than exploit, that God is our Father and we are ALL brothers and sisters, and that redemption and reconciliation is only a breath away…. that is something I can freely share with no ulterior motive.

12 comments:

ksdudley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ksdudley said...

Andrew, great thoughts. I personally view religious thoughts as deeply personal and intimate. As a result I am careful about how I share mine...with the same reservations you have expressed. If blurted out in the wrong context they will ultimately cause folks to squirm. I think there is a delicate balance and I know I am a long way from being able to meter that balance.

Bob said...

I like your latest viewpoint on how you share Jesus.

Steve Scott said...

Greetings, Andrew. I found you through Bruce Droppings. I've spent my entire 15 years of Christianity in "evangelical" churches of one kind or another, usually "Reformed" in some way. It was quite a while before I realized the whole ulterior motive thing, and I always felt guilty for not measuring up to the evangelism techniques pressed upon the parishoners.

There were tract distributing churches, confrontational evangelism, etc. Then there was the "steer EVERY conversation toward 'spiritual' things" type of evangelism. Prayer meetings where praying for the unbelievers meant detailed descriptions of all attempts that week at steering conversations toward spiritual things. When unbelievers turned the conversation back to the original topic, people often claimed that they could see the devil involved there, as if he were snatching that sowed seed from the soil right in front of them. Loving one's neighbor meant only witnessingn to them, because after all, what's the greatest thing that could happen than hearing the gospel and believing? Helping a neighbor for the purpose of loving thy neighbor without witnessing to him simply didn't fit.

OneSmallStep said...

I agree with everything you wrote, and those movie nights you have make you sound like an awesome neighbor. That alone would make many more curious about the type of person you are, and could spark some great dialogue.

But here's the question I'm pondering, in general. I don't care for evangelizing myself, and tend not to care for people who view that as a primary goal, because of the ulterior motive. However, in reading Paul's letters, I'm struck by the one area where he says he became a Jew for the Jews, a Gentile for the Gentiles, and basically how he ran his entire life in order to convert other people.

Would Paul have been okay with the ulterior motive, or would he have understood the discomfort behind such evangelizing?

Andrew said...

Kevin - Unfortunately, someone who is really zealous about evangelizing tends to interpret squirming as the conviction of the Holy Spirit. :) Normal social cues get run right over!

Bob - Thanks. It is definitely a viewpoint in flux.

Steve - Welcome! The steering of conversation was my last stop on the way out the evangelical door. I didn't see it clearly until I moved to Utah. Some kind and well meaning LDS friends occasionally do that to me. It has been a wonderful educational experience to be on the other end of proselytizing. :)

OSS - I too am struggling with how to communicate my values and not cause damage to the Kingdom of God. What I often hear from zealous evangelizers is that any offense is worth it if as soul is "saved". Beyond the fact that I would define "saved" way differently, I have always been confused by their math. One soul "saved" in bad circumstances with countless others turned off to the very mention of the name of Jesus does not strike me as a victory.

John Shore in his book "I'm OK -- You're Not: The Message We're Sending Unbelievers And Why We Should Stop", says that Evangelism was different in the NT, because pretty much nobody knew who Jesus was... so Paul was very aggressive. However, in America, there is hardly anybody who has not heard of Jesus or does not know where to go to find out more. Much of our Jesus talk is just a verbalizing of our need to be right.

Anyway, as always, I have lots of questions but not too many answers.

Steve H. said...

We live in a cynical society and that cynicism clouds our view. Everyone is trying to "sell" us something thus when we have been Christians a long time we tend to see our own evangelistic attempts as a bad Amway pitch.

The problem is we all resemble a rehab group sitting on folding chairs in the church basement exchanging horror stories. Jesus has told us to evangelize so to say we are not going to because ...XYZ we need to know why we are not

Andrew said...

Steve - I have to disagree with you on this. I do not think it is merely cynicism that causes us to look on our motivations. I would question if it is cynicism that causes you to interpret it that way.

I think it leads to bad practice to keep repeating a practice and lose sight of why... or not to question whether the practice is needed or effective as it stands.

Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I would add the corollary that the unexamined Christian life can be dangerous.

didymus said...

I thought I'd reenter this topic you bring up here. I'm periodically reading this book by Tamara Park, Sacred Encounters; she does something interesting. She's on this pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the book, and she's interviewing people along the way. She asks, "how would you describe God?" And I thought, hmm... that's an idea.

It's a bit methodical, but that's okay, if it gets a conversation started. By asking, "how would you describe God?", what she's doing is taking initiative to start a conversation with someone, but then have them share their faith with her. Hopefully, in the resulting conversation both can learn from each other.

The key thing is she isn't seeking a monologue, where she is trying to find some way to impart her point of view, but rather a conversation in which they both share, both listen, and both walk away possibly having learned something about God. And she's intentional about starting those conversations.

But I might be reading a bit into what she is doing in the book. She appears to be focused mostly on what she can learn from them in her conversations with people. But that might be the right focus to have if one was to try using this as a "method of evangelism".

Barb said...

thanks Andrew. I get what you are saying here. Will add yours to my list of bloggers writing on this topic.

The Snitch said...

God's Advocate:

"If evangelism means recruiting people into my religious sect so they can adhere to our political/social standards and be part of our “in” group… then I am not interested.

"But, if evangelism means that I tell people about the way of Jesus: that there are to be no divisions among us, that the poor receive justice, that the rich serve rather than exploit..."

Devil's Advocate:

Do I need to give my possessions (and to what degree) to the poor in order to be part of your "in" group?

If you have no "in" group that you believe is morally superior, why are you trying to nudge me toward your conclusions about justice and economics? I'll accept any objective, rational arguments, but certainly not those based on subjective, emotional experiences.

But if you really value subjective experience, be my brother and support my greed. It's what my experience has taught me is the safest, and most efficient, way through life. It creates more wealth for more people. Even if there is greater disparity, the total amount of wealth is greater, not to mention advances in life saving technology.

Why should I take Jesus' word that charity is better, when he has not spoken it to me personally? I can't take the Bible literally.

Remember, just Devil's Advocate.

Andrew said...

"I'll accept any objective, rational arguments, but certainly not those based on subjective, emotional experiences."

But I don't think anyone really does one or the other (objective or subjective). Everyone's decisions come from many directions... some not even consciously articulated.

But ultimately, it wasn't that I am trying to nudge anyone... I was just contrasting the difference between what I grew up thinking I was obligated to share (and all that it entails), and what I am actually comfortable sharing (and even that has changed since I wrote this).

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