I must confess I’m glad they subtitled on the cover at least in the new edition of the book “The power of everyday conversation” replacing the “evangelism as dance in the postmodern matrix”. Now, before I go on I need to say that I like the picture of “evangelism as a dance”. What I like better about the new title is bringing the whole discussion back to the ordinariness of what I learnt most from Brian through this book … the value of the ordinary encounters – especially the conversations we have with people. I think this is not whether it’s modern or postmodern (even though some may argue the general cultural shift in terms of postmodernity would make it even more important), it’s about being human.
One of my treasured little email conversations I had with Brian years ago (which I don’t know whether he remembers) is when I innocently asked him as a young pastor & church-planter is “How do you preach during your sunday services when there are ‘seekers’ as well as ‘believers’?” (during that time I was working with this “seeker sensitive” way of thinking with the intention to be more outreach oriented in all that I do – including preaching. I’ll never forget his reply which in my paraphrase is …”I speak to humans … and I don’t see them as ‘seekers’ and/or ‘believers’ first they are humans. And even the so called seekers and believers essentially face the same human problems ….” That made me think about what I asked for a long time and has changed the way I view people and see preaching in general.
More Ready than you realize is I think one of Brian’s least known books (perhaps that’s why some misunderstand him as one who doesn’t believe in evangelism which again intrigues me). And yet it’s a wonderful book describing how he re-looks at the whole idea of “evangelism” (which some of my friends find it hard to use that term anymore) and repaints a fresh vision and connects us to what I see as more biblical values of relationships, conversation, process and patience back into the bigger picture of “disciple making”.
As usual in this series, I should let Brian speak for himself …
“On the street, evangelism is equated with pressure. It means selling God as if god were vinyl siding, replacement windows, or a mortgage refinancing service. It means shoving your ideas down someone’s throat, threatening him with hell if he does not capitulate to your logic or Scripture-quoting. It means excluding everything from God’s grace except those who agree with the evangelizer (a.k.a. evangelist).”, p. 12
I can’t help but have flashbacks on some of the “evangelistic” efforts that I’ve done – and they were out of sincerity and a noble heart no doubt … but even then I recall a sense of uneasiness but then I supressed my questioning because I thought there was only certain fixed ways of “evangelizing”.
“Consider for a moment if it is not evangelism, but rather late twentieth-century styles of evangelism that deserve our disdain and avoidance. What if evangelism is one of the things that our world needs most?
After all, most people want to talk about things that really matter — their sense of God, their experiences of meaning or transcendence, their attempts to cope with their own mortality, their struggles with guilt and goodness, their dreams and hopes and deepest longings. They want to talk about these things because without them, all that is left in life is reruns and shopping, copulation and digestion, earning and spending and saving, culminating in estate sales and probate.”, pp. 13-14
The question was so liberating for me … because even as a guest speaker at “evangelistic meetings” where I was expected to give altar-calls which should result in “decisions”, I recall very often having so much “pressure” on stage to see “something must happen.” What really happens is perhaps we have missed the whole point of what evangelism at its best is really all about. Lord have mercy!
“Let me offer this better vision of good evangelism and good evangelists: Good evangelists — the kind we will talk about in this book — are people who engage others in good conversation about important and profound topics such as faith, values, hope, meaning, purpose, goodness, beauty, truth, life after death, life before death, and God. They do this, not because they like to be experts and impose their views on others, but because they feel they are in fact sent by God to do so. They live with a sense of mission that their God-given calling in life is not just to live selfishly, or even just to live well, but to in fact live unselfishly and well and to help others live unselfishly and well too. Evangelists are people with a mission from God and a passion to love and to serve their neighbors. They want to change the world. They are mutants in their planet’s spiritual evolution, if you will — good mutants whose new genes are desperately needed by the gene pool at large.”, p. 14
I’ve always seen myself as an “evangelist” (this was what excited me about being a pastor in the first place – sharing Christ and leading people to him). And yet, so often I know that I’ve done a mixed job at it (Ok! many a times I’ve done a lousy job or have not done anything). There were times when I was wondering whether “evangelism” was one idea I needed to forget about and I hear from many people their guilt of not “evangelizing”. But, if what is needed is first really to not get too stuck with the methods which often clouds the essence of what evangelism is really about (so eloquently re-described by Brian above), and when it’s truly in the context of genuine relationships … and part of God’s revolution of hope and love then this really is what our world needs most …
Then, the altar call today is a call to alter the way we think about, the way we talk about and the way we go about – evangelism. And that starts with us hearing the “Good News” as Good again … afresh!
And the big take away for me is to not get locked into an either/or way of thinking when it comes to “evangelism” – whether it’s about styles or methods, but to go deeper into the bigger picture of “disciple making” and the “message” I’m actually sharing with those whom are engaged in conversation with me.