How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings Isaiah 52:6
I recently spoke to a group of insurance agents about the art of approaching people. It was pretty natural for me because next to evangelists, insurance agents come in a close second as the group people most want to avoid.
Nothing against insurance agents (I have life insurance) but how did the sacred practice of giving out good news get associated in peoples minds with cheesy sales tactics?
Is this the best those of us who’ve devoted ourselves to the innovative creator of the universe come up with?
Like it or not, that’s where we seemed to have ended up.
The question is do we want to stay here?
I don’t and I won’t.
Evangelism is to me what worship is to others.
Evangelism is to me what reading the bible is to others.
Evangelism is to me what going to church is to others
Here’s a key differentiator…
Evangelism is the only spiritual practice that can’t be done alone.
I want to wash the feet of evangelism and make it one of the most beautiful spiritual acts a follower of Jesus can practice.
Until we put evangelism back on the same level of importance other spiritual practices enjoy, we won’t understand the beauty it has on the development of our souls or the souls of those we seek to convert.
Did I just say I want to convert people to Jesus? Yes I did, but that’s really not so controversial when you consider that the attempt to change each other’s viewpoints is as common a practice among humans as breathing.
We can’t help ourselves. We’re hopelessly addicted to trying to get others to adopt our beliefs and embrace our biases. The only ones who’ve stopped doing this are dead people.
Which is another reason why I love evangelism. It makes us honest.
Evangelism forces us to stop lying about our intentions but it also forces us to be human. For example if we really obeyed our masters command to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” it would functionally eliminate 95% of all evangelism programs.
Who wants to be targeted?
Who wants to be someone’s spiritual project?
Who wants to be objectified?
I believe the Holy Spirit has been the guiding force behind a highly effective resistance movement among the people of God. For fifty years leaders have tried to get Christians to adopt one evangelism program after another. And for the most part, Christians have effectively voted with their feet and said; if that’s as good an idea as you’ve got we’ll wait you out. Go ahead and call us spiritual chickens and cowards for Christ. We know in our hearts that our evangelism reluctance is less about our lack of courage and more about your lack of creativity. Sure Christians have written checks but that’s the lowest form of commitment known to man. What the bible tells us to develop is not check writers but disciples who participate, lead and create. Using that as our standard when it comes to the spiritual practice of evangelism, we’ve failed.
Interestingly the evangelism crusade wagon got rolling at about the same time as consumerism took off in America. And both seemed to run out of gas at the same time as well. Thank God, Christians resisted and refused to do as they were told, threatened or cajoled. Now the most interesting and creative evangelism practices will emerge and this time they’ll come from the people.
Three Steps To Beautiful Feet
Beliefs are important but not as important as practices. Beliefs are understood best as internal practices, mental work. They’re the principles that inform our actions. Beliefs are the in-formation that lead to our-formation. Jesus was focused on our formation way more than he ever was on information. With that in mind, here are three things we need to do to wash the feet of evangelism and make them beautiful again.
Stop Us/Them Thinking – Start Thinking Us
Human beings resist being preached at or talked down to. We’re most open when we’re treated with dignity and respect. We don’t like parental, patronizing or contrived talk. Traditional evangelism requires a teacher and a student an us and a them. We’ve become expert at making people feel like outsiders. We need to find common ground with people, we need to become co-sufferers, and we need to admit, “what we don’t know.” We need to find the issues that make all humans hurt (including ourselves) and start the conversation there.
Renounce Conversionistic Embrace Conversionism
I openly identify as a conversionist who refuses to become conversionistic. I stop claiming that I can objectively “prove” that my beliefs are real and openly embrace mystery. I invite those with other views to admit the same. I stop pretending that I’m neutral. I admit my biases and encourage others to do that same. I lead with my life. I host the conversation but refuse to control it. I challenge my own assumptions and invite others to do the same. This shifts the nature of our interaction from debate to dialog.
The Life counts more than The Talk
Anyone who’s raised teenagers knows about “the talk. Whole industries of advice givers abound regarding when, how and where to talk to your kids about sex. Parents nevertheless continue to make it up as they go, pass it off to their spouse or more often simply let others educate their kids. It’s amazing how similar this is to how we approach evangelism. Most evangelism training fixates on “the talk” or in parlance “the gospel presentation”. Evangelism experts tell us when, where and how to give “the talk”. We, the evangelism amateurs, like parents of teenagers feel inadequate under informed and ill prepared so we avoid giving the talk and let the experts handle it for us. How about this for a revolutionary idea? In the same way kids learn about sex by watching their parents love life or lack thereof your non-Christian friends watch your spiritual life or lack thereof. Any talk you give will be more like a soundtrack to a movie – it adds color but it’s not the movie. Your gospel life counts for more than your gospel talk.