Friday, February 24, 2012

When I didn't pass out a tract but ended up talking to my butcher

Shelli reaching outThe very same week I wrote that post about evangelism and slammed mass-evangelism models, I was stuck in a fairly awkward situation.

Here I am, very convicted about allowing my faith to flow out of me and be communicated to those around me, and I happen to end up at an event where I am a small group leader and we are all told to go out and evangelize. With tracts.

This is like, my worst nightmare

A) I hate being forced into conversations with people. I totally don't mind talking to strangers, but having to force conversations with people is against every bone in my body. I am an introvert, people.

B) Having to force conversations about faith is equally is even more disturbing to me. In our culture right now, the model is counter productive. Thing is, I know people who do this well and naturally. For me, though, I am hampered by the reality that if I were on the other side I would be offended. I also picture in my head the guy that stood next to me once in Chicago as I watched an open-air evangelism group do their thing. He told me he didn't care if they believed what they believed, but that they had to force it on others in a public place was offensive and he said it made him want to throw the canned tuna in his grocery bag at them. If this is the result, are we not being counter productive and misrepresenting the gospel?

C) I was the leader. If I refused to follow the instructions, would I be sending the message to my group that we should be ashamed to share our faith, and that they should definitely not do so themselves? Geeeeeez. I was so conflicted.

To be honest, we walked around nervously as I tried to figure out what to do, and then we left.

I spent the rest of that day and the next morning pondering this. One young guy (17!) in another group told me his story. He just went to a mall and started conversations. Talked to one person who declined to talk, which was fine, and two Christians. And then he ended up talking to a peer his age, a kid who eagerly talked about faith. He went to Catholic church twice a year on Christmas and Easter but didn't know anything about what it all meant, and so they happily talked and exchanged phone numbers to talk more. Now - how cool is that??

So, if that sort of conversation is possible, how do you pursue those and avoid in your face pushiness? If I don't like the walk-up-to-a-stranger-and-evangelize-with-a-tract model, what should I be doing instead? If my response to not liking that sort of thing is to simply be quiet and never say anything, I'm really missing something.

I concluded that, like I wrote in my last post, it's a matter of taking advantage of the relationships you do have and the conversations that naturally happen with people around, and simply sharing when you get a chance. When someone is really looking for answers about life and God and meaning, you can tell in how they respond to basic small conversations. Am I truly looking for this in my daily life? How can I encourage my group to do this in lieu of something perhaps less effective and more offensive?

The very next day as I pondered all of this, I walked into the very same public space where my group had not followed instructions the day before. Isaac and I were simply doing our weekly shopping. I walked to the meat section to pick up some tilapia, and the butcher that sets out the meat came over to say hi to Judah (people talk to you when you have a baby. It's weird and cool). We started talking about the cost of having kids, which led to talking about the cost of health care, which lead to him demonizing Obamacare and Obama. I asked him his opinions on the current candidates (he likes Santorum and says he'd never vote for a Mormon because they're a cult), and then he went into a massive rant about politics, the economy, foreign policy (apparently we are pulling out of Iraq too soon and leaving "our oil fields" vulnerable), etc. We just kept chatting and I found out all about his life. Turns out that he's newly back in the US and angry at everyone - the US government, his current job, his former job for not taking care of him when he returned from overseas, his wife and kids for abandoning him, and pretty much everyone else. He's lonely and hopeless and angry with life.

So I invited him to church with us.

And I thought.... geez. The point was just driven home that while I may not like some peoples' models of evangelism, there are broken and hurting people around us that want to talk and know "the reason for the hope we have".


harvey said...

One guy I read about offended people with the Gospel so much that they killed him. He got very personal and harshly criticized unbelievers and turned others away that did not choose to act the way he thought believers should act. He never handed out any tracts, but he did approach total strangers on a regular basis. Who would want to be like Christ? (Is it fair to call these people strangers, since Jesus knew about them in advance? Is it fair for us to call people strangers who share the same basis for their needs and weaknesses as us?)
As to tracts, they serve two important purposes. First, they are a convenient way to leave the Gospel in the receiving hands of people who are not well suited to having confrontational conversations, or are otherwise inclined (by the Spirit) to read something that comes into their path (I like leaving tracts to be found.) Second, for those people who have not organized their thoughts well enough to articulate both their own story (the “catch” – being a witness) and the Gospel (the truth and the way), but have still decided to witness, tracts can be a great tool to help them learn through experience.
Everyone can witness how Jesus has affected their own lives, but part of the purpose of being in community is so that others may help us bring out what is the best in us: Christ. Hopefully you have come across those who can develop story telling skills that can be used for enjoying the telling of His story in our lives with others. As a writer, you would be a natural teacher of that yourself. Similarly, learning how to share the actual nails and splinters of the Gospel in culturally relevant ways is often aided by learning from others. (If not, I can share a course that makes organizing both of these easier.) The gift of evangelism, from my warped perspective, is the privilege and opportunity given to all Christians of the ability to share Jesus from our own personal experience.
Yet, while we are all commanded to “keep (our) head(s) in all situations, endure hardship (and) do the work of an evangelist…” and “make disciples of all…,” it is short sighted to assume there is only one way to exercise this. Granted, God will not waste even the most awkward and seemingly destructive actions of His people – I clearly remember even the most offensive “Jesus talk” that was forced on me - but it seems best to follow Christ’s example in all things. Even his own ratio of contact-to-conversions was far from 100%. Jesus spoke about the things of God to everyone he met, because that is what he is* all about on the inside. It seems that even through disparagingly critical comments, he helped people see their need for God. It seems that his motivation, even from his insightful perspective, was love for others, regardless of how their eternal decisions might develop. So, fill yourself so much with the things of God that they naturally spill out on everybody, in love, for their sake, and you will be an evangelist.

(*was/is/will be – it is difficult to make proper tense agreement decisions when speaking of God)

Kacie said...

Yes, true, Harvey.

I do think that for my generation in particular, we are very sensitive to what feel like a religious power play or an attempt to brain wash the vulnerable. And so for many in my generation especially, tracts don't work the same way they maybe did before because they are devoid of relationship and conversation. It is one-sided. Personal interaction and authenticity is crucial for this age group.

The thing is, I may really struggle to approach strangers and begin a religious conversation, but I am much more at ease with simply taking daily conversations that start naturally with strangers and then testing the waters to see if there is spiritual longing or sensitivity. It seems as though that's often what Jesus did - took natural daily interactions and pushed to the heart of the person, and then presented truth.

I've been wrestling personally with how to let the gospel flow out of my life well because I agree - we all have the gift of evangelism.

Welcome to my blog, by the way! :)