A while back I was asked to think about evangelism in our present-day context. Friend and pastor Aaron Fuller pondered, “how do you get Mainliners to do it, particularly the older ones?” This is a great question.
Before I say anything though, let me offer an admission, I am NO EXPERT at evangelizing. I wouldn’t say I am any good at it either. But what strikes me in my experiences of doing some evangelizing in my own ways, are that there are four things which are necessary for effective evangelism. What I have noticed though is that the church as a whole often loses sight of these and doesn’t effectively train, teach or equip for these.
- The Question or Invitation
- Openness to the Conversation
- The Willingness to Listen
- The Ability to tell the Story
To unpack this, let me use a real life example. Recently, my wife and I and two friends went out to dinner at a local restaurant. We had a wonderful server. Little did we know at the start of our evening that we would be having a conversation and some real life lessons and experiences with evangelism.
Our server started off by asking if we were celebrating anything? That was a good question. We decided to take the bait and responded that, “well sort of.” I know what you are thinking, that’s not much of an evangelism step. We admitted that we were eating out to celebrate and spend some time together before saying good bye to two friends who were about to leave Minnesota for their home state the next day. That seemed like a safe answer, but the server persisted, asking if we had just graduated from some place. To this, we admitted that we were all seminary graduates. That little question and invitation led to a conversation.
The conversation didn’t happen all at once. It came at spurts when she refilled our drinks, delivered food, and checked on us and how our meal was. She asked us about our senses of call and ministry expressions. We knew based on the questions that she wanted to hear, but she also wanted to share. I have never quite had such an experience with a perfect stranger in a restaurant. But the four of us were delighted. In asking her about her story, she told us how she had had a hard life including having to go through Rehab as a teenager, but in the midst of her brokenness and challenges God broke in and she sensed a call. That led her to college and school to be a youth minister. She is now awaiting a call and opportunity within her denomination and tradition.
It was a beautiful story. It was a courageous story. And it took a great deal of courage I would think for her to be willing to share it with us. Needless to say we left her a nice tip, we felt inspired and could sense the Holy Spirit at work.
In the midst of this real life faith conversation, there was a sort of evangelism taking place. You see, us four Lutherans sitting around a table aren’t by tradition the best at being evangelists. This is so, even though in my biased views, I think we have such a beautiful story to tell and such wonderful expressions and understandings of God’s infinite love, grace, and promise. To help express these more openly, we learned from our server that day a few things about evangelism.
First, like in any conversation, there usually needs to be a question or an invitation to start. This opens the door and allows room for a response and an ability to gauge whether or not there will be more conversation or just the usual simply pleasantries between strangers.
If there is an invitation that is accepted, there has to be an openness to conversation. We saw this in our server as she appeared willing to talk more with us, and she sensed that we were more than willing to share with her. In some ways I have seen and heard about this from those serving in organizations abroad. The best faith-based organization workers abroad generally do their work without obligation. However, if they are asked why they do it and have a passion for it, that is the question that opens a door for them to tell their story and to evangelize in their own way.
Even if there is a willingness to share, it is a two-way street. There needs to be a willingness to listen. If you have that, you are golden. Not only do you have the opportunity, the different participants are willing to be vulnerable to listen and share as a sign of mutuality and respect.
The trick then is to be able to tell the story. If the story is engaging, passionate, honest, and authentic to the person telling it, then its amazing to see what can happen. One of the roles of faith communities needs to be the ability to help its participants be able to articulate and share their own stories and to be able to express what they understand about the gospel and their faith. Some congregations have really figured this out, others are still grasping at straws.
So, what do you think? Do these four ideas resonate with you as important parts of evangelism? Have other approaches worked for you?
In case you are curious about story telling, I am not sure I have an answer as to a best practice. But I do know that my wife Allison is working on a curriculum pilot right now meant to help others be able to share and tell stories that express how they understand themselves as children of God. You should check out more as she blogs about that. I also know that Julian Stodd is writing quite a bit right now on his blog about story telling. Check out his blog for some ideas.
Moving forward, there is much more to unpack in regards to Aaron’s question but this was a starting place. In an upcoming post I will offer some more pointed suggestions about how to encourage your community members to do evangelism. What are some suggestions that you might offer based on your experiences?