I’m currently ambivalent about the weather conditions down here as I’m away for “work” in Florida. We are in the middle of a thunderstorm with a tornado watch in effect. I’d love to be on the beach enjoying some warm sun rays, but I appreciate this time to sit down and reflect on my experiences of the past few days. The distinct focus of this week has been on sharing one’s faith. There is a lot wrapped up in this topic and I hope that I can succinctly express it all in one post.
Honestly, the thought of “sharing” my faith or evangelizing as some might call it scares the ever-loving crap out of me. There are multiple reasons for this, but to keep it brief, my own insecurities in my ability to communicate clearly, my overwhelming desire to be accepted and the number of times I’ve seen or heard about evangelism going…well, poorly. In case you haven’t gathered yet, I’m a whore for acceptance. If the language offends you, I apologize, but there are many things I’ve sacrificed (not the least of which morals) for acceptance’s sake. Also, I can be the champion of speaking vaguely about things especially when I’m caught up in my desire to be accepted. I can gloss over the more controversial aspects of my point, the most crucial aspects often, in order to keep the other person’s interest in the conversation and avoid disagreement. Finally, let’s face it, I think we all get a little uneasy when someone mentions the word “evangelism”. I don’t know your mental process, but I immediately think of street corner “preachers” spouting condescending messages of fire and brimstone condemning every passerby to hell for some perceived shortcoming or another. I don’t want to be lumped in with those people.
I’m learning that the first side of the pendulum (in no particular order) people tend to swing toward is the abrasive approach where they overwhelm the listener in a form of shock-and-awe approach. These people go into the conversation preparing for it like a soldier going into war. From the moment they say, “hi,” to the final word, they are in the conversation guns blazing tossing spiritual grenades ensuring they have shared the Gospel in its entirety in each and every conversation. The other person’s point of view, beliefs or personhood all are irrelevant. The conversation is simply tactical; get in and get out, eradicating unbelief in their wake. Far be it from me to call these people wrong, because there are people who respond best to having their luxurious cage rattled, and hard. However, I don’t feel this works on average in a postmodern society built on individuality and philosophy.
The other side of the pendulum that I have seen (and, unfortunately, find comfort in) is a sort of universalist approach. Here, the “evangelist” is cautious to make any definitive statement that might alienate the other person. They are all about the other person’s spiritual background, experiences and point of view to the point where their own is relatively inconsequential. They merely are a friend to the person at the cost of their own spiritual identity for the sake of “preserving” the relationship. This person provides and under-defined picture of their own faith and end up not sharing their faith at all. In fact, they aren’t sharing at all, but absorbing and providing a false sense of agreement in the relationship (spiritually, at least). Once again, I’m not saying this approach is altogether wrong, as some people really just need to get their views out and understand better what it is they truly believe in the first place before they can go refining that view. And of course, this doesn’t often accomplish the purpose of explaining the individual’s belief and does not provide for much more than a one-sided conversation which few people I feel are really looking for in the spirit of continual mental stimulation.
Here’s my perceived happy medium. Sharing in any context has to be a mutual exchange. Sharing implies there is some form of relationship. Therefore, I feel sharing should be the cultivation of a relationship, even one that started five seconds prior. If I am sharing about a God who I believe to be a good God, a God of love and grace, then my method of sharing Him should be a mirror reflection of that God. In following, I need to seek to understand the person and appreciate who they are first as a human being. The purpose of these conversations is not to convert the other person, again it’s to share. Get to know how they think, what they think, their story, and just what makes them who they are like any other friend you have had in your life. I think it comes down here to a matter of motivation. The point is not to “add one more to the Kingdom”, but to value the other person and show that as an outpouring of love from the God who supplies it in abundance we care significantly for their eternal well-being. The most important thing here is that we are caring for the other person. There is no question of “did I do enough?” because it is not our job, nor is it in our ability to be able to change hearts. There is no part of this act that is thrust upon the shoulders of the Christian believer in this situation, but there is a confidence in God and the Holy Spirit (Galatians 1:10). The believer has to be going in with the mindset that they are stepping out lovingly in faith to have a real conversation whose result is entrusted to God.
My view of being an “evangelistic” Christian, in short, has been violently shaken this week. It has not been without an inkling of reticence on my part, but in fact it’s proved liberating. Evangelism, or sharing (as I feel is obvious at this point that I prefer), is not a weight that I must bear as a Christian, but an outcropping of love whose source is the trinitarian God of love and grace (1 Corinthians 3:7-8). It is sharing what I can never lose as a means of expressing the ultimate concern for others that a person can have in this life. Eternity is a long time, so why should one’s eternal well-being not be a significant concern? Most importantly, sharing is personal and caring. Sharing is relational and a respectful conversation that celebrates the characteristics that make each person unique. It is a conversation that is both fulfilling and insightful into both the spiritual and personal realms that provides a safe and encouraging environment to swap world views challenging both and pushing each party toward a better understanding of God and life as a whole. Evangelism is beautiful.