The 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".