Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Evangelism--Offending People for Jesus
Most of us cringe at the prospect of evangelism. While it’s necessary, of course, it still feels like we’re getting pressured to offend people for Jesus. Here in Northern CA the idea of encouraging someone else to convert to your religious views feels like the verbal equivalent of the Crusades.
Yet…we’re supposed to just do it, aren’t we? Isn’t that what God tells us?
I’m increasingly convinced that much of our evangelistic anxiety comes from a pretty basic misunderstanding that we make when it comes to sharing our faith. We tend to think of evangelism as something prescriptive. A person is being prescriptive when he or she is urging someone else to do something. That’s why a doctor will prescribe a particular treatment for an ailment a patient may have, perhaps even writing a prescription. We typically think of evangelism in this way: evangelism is the process through which we exhort our friends and neighbors to adopt our spiritual views. Most people, at least where I live, don’t seem to appreciate this prescriptive approach to spiritual matters. They don’t request Amway sales calls, either.
But another alternative can be found in what we could call descriptive evangelism. A person is being descriptive when he or she is simply describing an experience they’d had. When friends tell you how much they enjoyed a new movie that’s come out or how they loved the new Thai restaurant they tried last night, they are being descriptive about what they’d experienced. You can’t argue with that.
So what if we thought about evangelism in those terms? Prescriptive evangelism would then describe an effort to convince someone else to change their spiritual beliefs at your urging. (“Turn or burn!”) All too often, you’d be simply asking for a fight. On the other hand a descriptive approach to evangelism could avoid that tension by simply presenting what you or I have already experienced. Telling someone about the peace or joy you’ve discovered, or how prayer has brought noticeable changes in your life would both be examples of descriptive evangelism.
The beauty of descriptive evangelism is that it’s virtually argument-proof, when done correctly. It’s impossible to argue with someone’s personal experience—they’re simply telling you what happened to them. It’d be silly to try to convince your friends that they actually hated that movie or that they really thought the new restaurant’s food was terrible. You wouldn’t know; you weren’t even there!
Evangelism, viewed this way, would focus primarily on simply not hiding the good things that God had been doing in our lives? And at this point a lot of scriptures would begin making more sense. Just imagine if we asked God to create opportunities to “let our gentleness be evident to all” as Paul wrote the Philippians? Or what if we prepared ourselves to “give an answer” to explain the hope we have as Peter wrote in his first epistle? What if we simply stopped hiding the lamp of Christ’s love, taking it out from under whatever bowl we’d hidden it as Jesus himself challenged us?
That’d be a lot easier. People wouldn’t need to brace themselves against us. In fact, they’d probably start to get curious: “what do you mean, you’re at peace in the middle of all this stress? “ “You just prayed about this, and now you’re getting these lucky breaks?”
Question for you: if you were transparent about what you’ve experienced with God, what would other people see?