June 27, 2013

lifestyle evangelism.

I want evangelism to be a lot easier. I want to go all "preach the gospel and when necessary use words" style and forget about bringing Jesus into the conversation and just hope that Jesus-love will emanate from my face when I'm helping out at a soup kitchen. I think probably many Christians want that. Lauren Winner does. She writes,

"I take comfort in the church's current affection for what is politely called 'lifestyle evangelism'. Being a lifestyle evangelist doesn't require handing out tracts; it just requires living a good, God-fearing, Gospel-exuding life. I like to assume that most people know I am a Christian and when they see that I am sometimes joyful and sometimes peaceful when they are not, they will want to know my secret."
            - Girl Meets God, Pg. 120

But then what? What if on a rare occasion someone does notice your joy and peace and says, "Hey, why are you so happy all the time? Can you fill me in on your secret?" Then what do you say?

Well, in my case, you give an awkward mysterious smile and shrug and then kick yourself for years afterward because you had this perfect, gleaming pearl of opportunity in your hands and then you dropped it and sadly watched it roll away and didn't even try to chase it down.

Therein lies the issue with "lifestyle evangelism". Let us be perfectly honest and admit that people aren't going to ask why us Christians are so happy all the time. First of all, it's a weird question to ask. Second, we're not happy all the time. Christians are sinners and we still have some really bad days where people will be thinking, I wonder why she's so miserable all the time, what a Debbie Downer.

And then, that one time where someone catches you on a good day and asks what your secret is -- well -- it's your shining moment. And guess what? You have absolutely no idea what to say. Why would you? You haven't had any practice with this evangelism thing. All you know how to do is collect canned goods and volunteer with troubled youth and the Holy Spirit was going to do the rest, right?

Well -- technically -- yes. The Holy Spirit is the only One who's going to be doing any converting around here. As Christians, our job is to offer ourselves as tools that can be used to spread the Gospel. We move the Gospel. The Spirit moves hearts. But where does that leave us? Do we just assume that we can parade around with Luke 12:12 slung over our shoulder, trusting that we'll be given the words to say when the time comes?

I guess you could. And I don't doubt that the Holy Spirit could do marvellous things in any situation. But I would also say that it's important to remember that Jesus spent much of his ministry teaching and training his disciples to prepare them for their work after his departure; that in Acts Paul is described several times as spending time in the synagogue, reasoning and persuading his listeners about the Kingdom of God (e.g. Acts 28:23). The importance of being able to talk about what you believe in is further stressed in 1 Peter 3:15 --

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."

...And in Colossians 4:5-6 --

"Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."

Yes, we must trust that the Spirit will give us words of wisdom when required. Yes, God is ultimately in control of every outcome of every conversation. Yes, our attempts at spreading the Gospel are futile aside from the life-changing power of God. These facts, however, do not negate the call of the Great Commission. These facts do not allow us to clutch desperately onto the excuse that is always (but wrongly) attributed to St. Francis of Assisi -- to only use words when necessary, thus saving ourselves from the humiliation of possible rejection. We must use words, otherwise,

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" (Romans 10:14)

This is really hard. I don't like doing things that make me uncomfortable. I don't like doing things that I don't feel very good at. I don't like doing things that make me feel stupid and chip away at my pride. It's much easier to hand out sandwiches to the homeless than confront someone with their sin and show them the way to salvation.

But sandwiches, pleasant smiles and volunteer hours won't count for anything after someone's heart stops beating. Together we must encourage and help each other in evangelism, celebrate victories and milestones through the goodness of Christ, pray through our defeats, and trust that God will be glorified despite our weaknesses!

{This entry is a continuation of thought stemming from this earlier post.}

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