The way we, the church, are doing evangelism is not working very well. Not many are coming to Christ for salvation; not many are being healed; not many are being delivered or set free.
When we, as committed Christ followers, go out into the world, what do we expect to see? What is our mission objective? Or do we have one? Public debate or public preaching ended its effectiveness long ago. The context has changed, the culture has changed, the market place has dominated and transformed culture, and our technologies have assaulted every manner of personal and family relationship.
What has not changed in the context of 21st century culture are the one-on-one encounters humans have. People still talk to people. Sometimes not so well, but conversations and the value of conversational skill is still welcomed. Yet often this is undervalued. Social skills do not seem to be as highly encouraged in family and educational systems.
These skills may be fading, but people still want to keep talking, because they need and enjoy other people’s company. Our lives seem to be hard-wired for relationships.
Yet for those who follow Jesus, though we still witness this routinely, we often pass by our neighbors with no contact, with no opportunity to share the light we carry with those who do not know us. I spend a lot of time driving around the Diocese. I have a lot of windshield time; it’s a regular part of my life. I see hundreds of cars, often filled with several people, flying by each other, thousands passing one another every day. In this culture, we pass each other by faster and more often than at any other time in history.
Jesus also passed by a lot of people, though he stopped and cared for many in extraordinary ways. He had catalytic moments of individual encounters: the woman at the well; the woman with the issue of blood; and Zacchaeus, the short rich guy in a tree. Jesus had moments of prophetic insight, healing, teaching, story-telling, and extraordinary touch. And though crowds followed and were taught by him, he still spent most of his time with the 12 disciples, and out of the twelve, he shared special moments with his three closest companions. His encounters with people, whether the multitudes or his inner circle, became stories of transformation that were multiplied in the apostolic age.
When we go out into the world, what do we expect to happen? Do we expect catalytic encounters to happen between us and those we meet, like the ones Jesus had with those he met? This is only possible if I allow my life to be interrupted, if I adopt a different set of expectations.
I should go out expecting interruptions may occur. Not that I need to blow off important appointments to have a casual conversation with a stranger, but if I don’t stop from time to time and consider the individuals around me, nothing will change for me. If I go on without a willingness to engage others for the sake of sharing my story, then my day-to-day life goes on as is, no different from any one else’s; with nothing new in my self-centered expectations that I wouldn’t share with everyone else in the world.
We, the Christ followers in every generation, carry the Good News of the Gospel. We have a story of how that Good News has changed and is continuing to change our lives. Our question is, Do we expect that our story of the Good News can still change the lives of people we meet?
I believe that we can train and form ourselves and the people we disciple to be more effective in the conversations they have with the people in their lives. It starts with encouraging believers to change their expectations when they leave their home, with showing them that being open to engage with others and allowing themselves to be interrupted is the beginning of partnering with God in sharing His story through our stories, one encounter at a time.