"You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak..." - James 1.19, NRSV
Finding that middle ground
I'm a big fan of a blog called Fr. Jake Stops the World, but it shut down for a period of time last year when Fr. Jake was brought on as chief evangelism officer of The Episcopal Church. However, he started another blog called "Fr. T. Listens to the World" that as I started reading, I fell in love with as well. While I love Fr. Jake for his slant and his willingness to get angry and emotional about things (and not be cool or calm about it), Fr. T has some really good stuff on evangelism, that just makes sense. It's a lot of common sense things, but things that the Church isn't doing a good job at. I shared a number of the Facebook entries with members of my campus ministry's leadership team. Although they were from an Episcopal perspective, they were applicable to all types of Christian bodies which, by virtue of being just that, should be doing evangelism. He says early on
We begin evangelism by listening. And then we listen some more. It is only when we really hear the stories of others that we will know how to proclaim the good news in ways that can be heard.
The truth of the matter is that the way folks "did" evangelism 50 years ago simply does not work in most cases today....
Beating people over the head with the bible and telling them they have to turn or burn is the best way I know to turn most folks away from Christ. I can't recommend it.
So, what can we do? We meet people where they are in their spiritual life, and avoid the temptation to drag them to where we think they should be. And so, we begin by listening. We listen to the story of another person, and then share our story, always looking for the places where God's story touches them both.
There are those who will claim that such a deviation from the pattern that previous generations used to do evangelism is a watering down of the message of the Gospel. I disagree. The message of the Gospel, the healing power of God's redemptive love made know to us through Jesus Christ, remains the same. What has changed is the packaging of that message. And the most prominent new element of that packaging is a big dose of humility.
This is the "so what" of salvation: sharing it with others, and working for it. God in Christ did the work of salvation, and now that we've been given the Good News and seen it in our lives, that's not enough. It's not enough for us to "get saved" or to just go to church every week and be "good people." We should be taking the Good News to others in a way that first, is Good News, and second, that will bring wholeness, healing, and restoration. We aren't about punching cards, we're about doing the other. But we can't do the other if we aren't sharing with others.
And it's not about bringing people into our "tribe" of Christian or our group. One of the things Fr. T hits on over and over again is that evangelism - sharing the Good News to bring wholeness, healing, and restoration - is about restoring right relationships between God and humanity...not making Episcopalians (or _______________ denomination). And that starts with listening to others' stories, not telling them the story before you know anything about them. Listening so that we know how to tell them the Good News.
And simply put I think that requires learning to look at people as humans. A big dose of humility as Fr. T says, and looking at people - respecting their dignity - not as potential converts, certainly not as "sinners" to "love" (as though any of us can call someone else a sinner, thereby implying that we ourselves are not), but people created in the image of God. And after we do that we can make a friend, be a friend, then bring a friend to Christ using what we've learned about them and how to share the Good News of God's redemptive love with them. And doing that, we take salvation to the world.