i've been thinking a lot about evangelism/outreach/proselytizing/whatever you want to call it because in two weeks i am slated to teach on this topic and i need to get my shit together. okay, i confess that is not the only reason i've been thinking about it. i am also quite concerned that sinners and saints as well as the majority of churches and communities that are a part of the emergent conversation* are fairly clueless and/or ineffective at introducing people to the way of Jesus.
anyway, since i am teaching on this topic, which i've taken to calling "spiritual accompaniment," in two weeks and since i am also committed to miah's axiom that "all of us are smarter than any of us" i would like for you to offer your opinions, enter into dialog and explore this essential practice of the christian faith with me so that the community of God will actually benefit from my/our collaborative teaching.
are you willing to enter into this process with me? i hope so. in order to facilitate the discussion i am going to organize my thoughts under the following headings, what i'm reading, what i'm thinking, what others are saying and what do you think?. please not that this conversation is open to anyone and everyone...i am interested to hear what christians who are more conservative/traditional than me think, i am interested in what people who do not follow Jesus have to think, i'm even interested in what the authors of scripture had the gall to think. so, dear friends, if you're interested in this conversation and have something to add please do not censor yourself or hesitate to speak.
i'm really excited about this open source idea and i hope you are too. here we go...
what i'm reading
- our journey home, by jean vanier. i started this volume, which i had failed to complete in the past, in hopes that jean, who is the founder of l'arche, would have something to say about my new work with those who have ability and are seeking employment. although, up to this point anyway, this book is more of an exploration in spiritual development for those who are longing for maturity and fecundity** i think that it will help me in a general sense.
- hannah coulter, by wendell berry. this is another volume in berry's fantastic port william cycle of novels. these novels celebrate the simple, yet beautiful lives of reflective individuals, the importance of "membership" in one's community and the essential role "place" plays in the meaning of one's existence. i really enjoyed jayber crow, another volume in this series, so i decided to give this book a shot. it has yet to disappoint.
- five streams of the emerging church, a CT article by eminent theologian and friend of emergent scott mcknight. in this article, scott fashioned my fear concerning our church's apparently inadequate approach to evangelism into words. i'd say more, but i've provided an excerpt below
what i'm thinking
i suspect that it is time for us to set aside the term "evangelism." i don't know about you, but for me this term brings to mind fear-based dawson mcallister altar calls, late night church camp viewings of a thief in the night and the hilarious encounters my friends fletch and tuxedo ken have recently had with street preachers. i am not interested in introducing people to Jesus as a proposition as much as a person and i suspect that one is not saved by believing certain propositions about Jesus but by living incarnationally in the way of my Lord. so i've started to talk about the practice of introducing people to Jesus as spiritual accompaniment. for me, the latter term implies an approach that is more focused on partnering with people, listening to them and, God-willing, helping them to see the places that God is intersecting with their ordinary lives than it is upon convincing them that they've broken the ten commandments and are going to see a gory movie of their lives in heaven before they are quickly shuttled to hell for not saying the right things about Christ.
that being said, i don't think that spiritual accompaniment is a practice that simply focuses on spiritual conversations. i think that spiritual conversations are good and we need to listen to people's stories without judgment and with real interest (i.e., not just looking for a crack under which we can pour the blood of Jesus). however, i think it is also important for those of us who follow Jesus to remember that we believe the way of Jesus is the most good, beautiful and true way to live now and in the fullness of the Kingdom that is to come. my friend tim hawkins recently told me that he hated a certain, well-known "emergentee" book because he thought it had encouraged young people to see initiating spiritual conversation as almost an end in and of itself. tim - and he can correct me here if i am wrong - thinks it is important for believers to have open, authentic spiritual conversations with people without giving up hope that all will be intrigued with and perhaps even decide to walk in the way of Jesus. i think tim is onto something here. merely having spiritual conversations is not enough. as my friend rags would say, we need to enter into spiritual conversation and the way of Jesus with the end in mind. or maybe that was steven covey who said that...i always get those success oriented mormons and ozark christian college professors confused.
one last divergent thought, i think that it is important for churches to create a culture of life into which prospective Christ followers will be welcomed and nurtured and out of which these believers will bless and serve the world. as i mentioned to my buddies at the s & s men's breakfast on sunday, i suspect that the existence of such an inclusive, well-defined culture is one of the reasons that so many people are drawn to mega-churches. i don't think people want to be a part of all-encompassing institutions that tell them exactly how to think, act and believe, but i also do not think that a group that is dedicated simply to spiritual conversation and artistic/intellectual expression are cohesive enough to offer people a since of belonging. so i think that s & s and many churches like us would benefit from giving due considerations to the following questions: what kind of culture is our church creating? what is the purpose of our church culture? what are the intended and unintended consequences of this culture that we have created?
what i've found
here's that statement from mcknight's article that i found so intriguing:
"This emerging ambivalence about who is in and who is out creates a serious problem for evangelism. The emerging movement is not known for it, but I wish it were. Unless you proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, there is no good news at all—and if there is no Good News, then there is no Christianity, emerging or evangelical.
Personally, I'm an evangelist. Not so much the tract-toting, door-knocking kind, but the Jesus-talking and Jesus-teaching kind. I spend time praying in my office before class and pondering about how to teach in order to bring home the message of the gospel.
So I offer here a warning to the emerging movement: Any movement that is not evangelistic is failing the Lord. We may be humble about what we believe, and we may be careful to make the gospel and its commitments clear, but we must always keep the proper goal in mind: summoning everyone to follow Jesus Christ and to discover the redemptive work of God in Christ through the Spirit of God."
in becoming human vanier has a number of fascinating things to say about the exercise of authority. a topic which is more than fitting for church leaders to consider. here are a few excerpts:
"At L'Arche I have discovered two kinds of authority: an authority which imposes, dominates and controls; and an authority which accompanies, listens, liberates, empowers, gives people confidence in themselves and calls them to be aware of their responsibilities (pg. 110)."
"True authority does not seek to impose an ideal, but rather to guide reality towards an attainable and possible end. It does not impose, it guides (115)."
what do you think?
do you think that we should set aside the term "evangelism?" what would be the potential benefits and/or weaknesses of doing or failing to do so?
what does the mega-church movement and main-stream evangelicalism have to teach emerging communities about evangelism/outreach/spiritual accompaniment?
what are the negative consequences of the traditional approaches to evangelism that emerging communities should avoid?
do you share scott mcknight's fear concerning emergent communities and evangelism? why or why not?
is there any other reflections you would like to offer?
what color is miss lippy's car anyway?
* read that last part again. emergent is a CONVERSATION. not a movement, a potential denomination, a threat to traditional evangelicalism or even an ekklesia of mega-church haters, but simply a conversation between those who are committed to innovative theology, evolutionary missiology and the ascendancy of the democratic party.
** jean uses this french word all the time to speak of the fruitfulness and life giving potential of one's existence. i think that it is a strange, yet beautiful word, even if it was coined by the dirty french.