What are your thoughts on evangelism? We had some Christian friends over for dinner the other evening and over the course of the meal it was just this question that popped up.
It started off as a conversation about schooling - the virtues of private vs public schooling and visa versa as we try to raise our kids responsibly in a pluralistic environment - but it moved onto how we ourselves interact with people from other religions and alternate spiritual pathways.
See, the friend admitted to feeling somewhat awkward about the normal ways she knew about going about evangelism and, knowing that I mix among a lot of non Christians, she was interested in knowing how I grappled with all the issues involved, given that Christianity is a missional pathway after all.
Well it is an interesting question and one that I suppose I should share with you guys as well. In short, I shared that for me one of my guiding verses is 1 Peter 3:15:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...
Now most people focus on the 'always be prepared bit' and sure that is important. But there are two other things I find very interesting about these instructions by the apostle Peter that I'd invite you to ponder over.
The first is that we are instructed to share our stories with gentleness and respect. This would seem to invalidate a huge chunk of what passes for evangelism in contemporary Christian circles. If it's agressive and disrespectful then it's in conflict with the apostle's command.
The second is that he presumed the people reading this were being asked questions by the non Christians they were in contact with. That's a very interesting presumption. What does it suggest to you? At the very least it suggests that others perceive them as approachable. And that in itself suggests a whole load of other things.
So I said to my friend, I only shared my story when I am asked to.
Now that doesn't mean I never take any initiative, that I never offer to share it. I do. But I never do more than offer, I never push it on people who aren't genuinely interested. Pushing my pathway onto others is not on. I always hated it when people did that to me and I can quite understand why people would hate it if I did that to them.
You see, my understanding is that if you come across as bad news then the sacred story we know as the evangelion or gospel, the focus of evangelism, is hardly going to be received as good news is it?
The sharing of sacred stories should be a sacred experience.
She then asked my what my focus was in mixing people from other religions if evangelism didn't always come into it. I said there are many ways we can glorify God in the world. Reconciling different peoples who would normally only relate to one another in hostile ways, well that in itself is an act of worship is it not? Bridging the gaps is obedience enough in some circumstances. Though funny enough, that is often pricisely what prompts people to ask questions.
The sharing of sacred stories should flow out of sacred experience.