Concluding Thoughts

May 21st, 2010

This is my last blog for our evangelism course and as I reflect on this journey and this course I still find myself in much of the same place that I started; with more questions than answers. It has been good to learn about and express evangelism as I go, but with many things of faith there is still much to learn and much mystery. In many ways it has been an opportunity to gain confidence and clarity in what I think and believe as it relates to evangelism. What is clear to me is that it has to be about the source…the source that is the one true and only triune God. If its not about that God, its not evangelism and its pointless. The church will continue to die as we continue to walk away from the source. First and foremost it has to be about the source. Secondarily it has to be about relationship. We are relational creatures and were created to be in relationships. It has to be about relationships. Evangelism cannot be a short term conversation, a cheesy contrived prayer. It has to be about relationship. What we win people with is them to. Perhaps the great challenge of evangelism is first thinking about what we are wining people to, then thinking theologically about the task itself. I think the process is far more significant than the results are. We must not be selfish and it cannot just be about us. Blessings are not to be hoarded, but to be shared. In that way I think evangelism needs to be reclaimed and we need to continue to think about what it means to share our blessings and to share the source of those blessings. We do not have to invent tactics or even figure out how to “do” evangelism. Instead, we need to tell stories…and see how our stories connect to other people’s stories…and how all of those stories connect to the larger and greater story that God has, is and will continue to write–in, around, and through us. If we are authentic, think theologically and live out our faith…God will do the work…we will see and find the connections. We need to tell our story, but more importantly we need to listen to other’s stories…we all have a story that we want to tell. In this way we honor others and allow the Holy Spirit to do the real work…and then its not about us which is the way it should be.

Evangelism is nuanced because its complicated, but its also nuanced because its not about us, its about God…and since its about God it must have some mystery, it cannot be completely figured out or mastered.

and the journey continues…

Its about story…

May 14th, 2010

We all love stories. There are the stories in movies and television. There are stories in books, in music, and in other media. We all love a good story and connect easily to stories. We love to hear stories in sermons as well. Our passion for stories is connected to the reality that we can all connect in one way or another to the story. The other piece is that we do not do a good job of listening to each others stories. We all have a story to tell, a story that we desperately want others to hear. The bible is a story..its the story of God working in the world, a story that continues. In that way, people do want to connect to something bigger than themselves. When I think about evangelism, I think about story. We need to tell THE story of God. We need to tell our own stories to others, and use story to share our faith. We need to tell a story that people can connect to. We also need to do a better job of asking and hearing the stories of others. Perhaps the most powerful evangelistic tool we can have in someone else’s story. In listening to their stories, we can help them connect to the greater story and help them see how their story connects them to God.

Celebration Evangelism

May 11th, 2010

I was officiating a wedding this weekend back at my old church in Indiana. It was for a youth group kid and it was a very special time, perhaps the most meaningful event in my ministry career. It was also very interesting when I think about it in the light of evangelism and all of the different thoughts and discussions that I have been wrestling with all quarter.
Family dynamics at any wedding are interesting, and there was a lot of diversity of faith experience and practice amongst the families.
Moments of celebration like weddings are gifts from God. the presence of the Holy Spirit at this wedding was especially powerful and meaningful for me and I realized that we do not celebrate enough. In the midst of not celebrating enough, we miss opportunities for meaningful evangelism. Everything we have is a gift from God and we should celebrate more. At this wedding, I was able to see some people experience God in this special moment. There were many questions, comments, and conversations about the ceremony that opened up opportunities for God to move. Sometimes, even in ministry we go through the motions and instead of allowing things to speak for themselves (scripture, worship, ritual) we try to explain or change things to fit what we think people need and want, instead of allowing God to take the lead and be present in the moment. How have you seen celebrations serve as evangelism?

Can it even be done?

May 2nd, 2010

Can we actually “do” evangelism? Is it even possible? I say this because I am convinced that real, true and lasting evangelism must be relational. This is true for conversion, service projects/opportunities, mission trips, prostelization, etc. Our faith is relational. It is about a relationship with the God of the universe. We were created to be in relationship with God and each other. When I think about this and ministry in general in these terms, I realize that we really cannot do ministry or evangelism outside of relationship. Take that a step further and it would seem impossible to do evangelism in a short term way, or in a momentary encounter. Faith itself is a journey, and it would make sense that even if you were to have a powerful conversion “Moment” you cannot actually do evangelism in the short term. The flip side to this is that recognizing and living the presence of the spirit in our lives is evangelism and so evangelism is not really about us, its the work of the spirit to “Do” Evangelism. So I am wondering, which is it. Do we do it, or is it the spirit? Can we do it, and if so, can it be done in the short term? Again, there are more questions than answers here. Perhaps it is our limited definition of what is evangelism. Our definition although it could seem broad might actually be limited. I also wonder if it is another case of the “both/And” instead of the “either/Or.”

Napkin evangelism

April 23rd, 2010

This sign in the napkin holders at a camp really did have me agitated. Reducing the good news and the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to the ABC’s is beyond offensive–it is in fact in my mind heresy. The use of random scriptures out of context and the packaging of the Gospel might seem like a great way to simplify and help people understand the gospel, and it might even seem like a good way to provide folks with fire insurance, but it is not the good news. In fact, it cheapens the good news. As I read it and got more agitated I took it upon myself to turn them around so no one could see them. The youth were watching me and found it all amusing, but they did not understand at first. Then they started reading and asking questions. We had some great conversations about the nature of the Good News, the life of Jesus, the Gospel and Salvation. I found it ironic actually that this twisted summary of the Good news in a place that did not seem to be appropriate (it may have been a Christian camp, but a napkin holder?) in a way that did not seem appropriate (impersonal, not at all relational) still managed to help some teenagers hear and learn more about the Good news as they asked their youth Minster questions about the message of Christ and the message of the Good News. I think this tactic is unethical and inconsistent with the reality of the good News. I find the language used here to be cheap, unethical and theologically incorrect, and yet somehow God finds a way to redeem it all as I was able to be in dialogue with my youth. Many of them had not thought much about the nature of salvation or the good news. Many had not thought about how we should communicate it. It goes to show that God can in fact redeem anything and if we are attentive we can grab ahold of that redemptive work and demonstrate and participate in the Good news. The great news about the Good news is that its not about us, we just have to be willing to participate and look for the redemptive work of God.


April 16th, 2010

What is the nature of the Good news?
Its a continuing question and a continuing journey for sure, and I find myself going back and reading my past blogs and comments on them and it occurs to me that I will never run out of stuff to talk about on this topic. The nature of this post relates to Jesus Christ. What is the nature of the good news when it comes to Christ? I would argue that without Christ; his life, ministry, death, and resurrection there is in fact no good news at all. It all centers on the reality that God came to earth in the form of the son (Jesus) and that Son was fully God and fully man. Because of our fears around truth and the nature of Christ and our bending to religious pluralism, we often do not look at Christ in this way. Forget the theological notions and issues here for a moment and focus on the incarnation. What would the story of the Christian faith (or any faith) be like without the incarnation. Now i know most faiths do not have this aspect to their belief system, and I am not trying to cast them out for that. I do however believe that this is one of the reasons that Christianity might be the primary way. The incarnation is what has made god personal. It is because of the incarnation that we can even really have our own developing images and understandings of God. It is because of the incarnation that we can even have or use relational language. KNow I recognize that as americans we would argue that we can say, do, or believe whatever we want. Point understood, but I am talking about the good news and about God, not about some argument relating to rights and privileges. While God continues to speak and reveal, and while that happens in many ways and in various forms, it all started with the in person revelation found in Jesus Christ. Without jesus its all moot. Jesus is the reality that distinguishes our faith from others. It is jesus and not our doctrine or limited understandings of God that should be our starting point. Now I recognize this is out of the mainstream view at Iliff. I accept that and accept the rejection of this view, however without the Christ, I would not have ever found a relationship with God, I would have never found the unconditional love of God, and I probably would not be alive today. So for me, this is deeply personal, experiential, and real. It is also theological, and comes out of my understanding of the nature of God and the authority of scripture. In fact, instead of trying to come up with language or transcend cultures in our evangelism, maybe we can just point people to the life and stories of christ and let the story do the talking.

More questions than answers

April 9th, 2010

When it comes to these topics and questions, I honestly have far more questions and thoughts for dialogue than I do answers. I think this is healthy, right and Biblical as it embraces the mystery that we have lost. At the same time it can be frustrating as hell as a modern american who really would like some answers because somehow we equate answers with understanding. Should we seek conversion at all? Yes, absolutely we should do it…we should say yes to that task but no to unethical practices in conversion. The question for me lies more in what practices are appropriate and what ones are not and where the lines are. One of the authors this week talked about how conversion and repentance are not equated. I agree on the surface, however it seems to me that it would be hard to have true conversion (and I speak in the Christian sense unapologetically here) without repentance. It does seem possible however to have repentance without conversion as the task of repentance itself should not be a one time event, but a posture in our lives regardless of our religious viewpoints. Again, I think the issue is not once of principle but of method. It would be naive to assume that method is isolated as one has to only look around to see how theology impacts method in this area and many others. I thought of two phrases when it comes to the issue of conversion that I hope to process and blog on more in the future. First, the act of conversion must be about imitation and not information. We have reduced much of the mysterious Christian faith to nuggets of information. Perhaps there would not be much debate about the methods and tools of conversion if we simply sought to imitate christ and help others do the same. The second concept that I am reminded of is that our faith and its expression (and foundation for that matter) is about relationship and not transaction. Again, the methods of conversion have become very transactional in our modern American culture and our churches seem no different than corporate america. Even in this age of intense amounts of information, we still crave and need relationships. The gospel is about a relationship and no matter what technology we employ, it cannot seem to substitute or fulfill our need for relationships. That Said, here are my comments on the questions posed to us above:

1. What kinds of transformation does the good news really require?
I do think it requires some level of repentance or recognition of need. It also seems to me to truly be transformed by the good news you need to believe in the bringer of the news (Jesus). This is the who do you say I am question. It also seems that you need to make some level of sacrifice and commitment, and that is more about a journey than a proclamation in a given moment. Finally, i would also assert that we must change. The Good News tells us there is more, and I question our acceptance of the Good News if we are not changed and continually changing. If the good news really is about our ability to know and be in relationship with God, we must remember that relationships are fluid.

1. How do we avoid imperial entanglements and embrace diverse expressions within Christianity?
By seeking to see individuals as God might see them instead of what we think they should be or want God wants to make them. By removing our arrogance about our own positions and theology. By focusing on dialogue, common ground and the basics. Easier said than done.

1. When does our definition of conversion become mere proselytism?
For me, conversion becomes proselytism when we are trying to make others like us. Conversion is when we try and point people (just as they are and have been created) to Jesus Christ. Proselytism is when we try to make them like us. Thats not our jobs, and it is extremely arrogant to assume that the way we are is somehow greater. I see this a lot in the American Church. Whether on the conservative side where we must become good, wealthy, republican, capitalists and on the liberal side where we must become tolerant, wealthy but Generous, Democratic, social justice workers. Neither is perfect and Jesus came to transcend it all.

1. Under what circumstances might conversion be ethical in a multifaith context?
I would argue that it is always ethical in the broader sense. In my mind, the question of ethics are not in the act or practice itself, but in the methods used. While it is always ethical, it is not always wise nor should it always be implored, otherwise we would never have an opportunity to simply embrace dialogue, be present together, or serve a greater cause together.

Turn or Burn!

April 2nd, 2010

We are all familiar with the turn or burn approach to evangelism. To be honest, to call it evangelism is a stretch in my mind since it is not about “Good news” much at all, but lets give it the benefit of the doubt. I am a youth minister and this approach is used a lot in my field. There are whole ministries founded based on this approach to salvation and the main concern is what I call fire insurance, saving people from going to hell. Recently, i got a couple calls from parents and students who were very upset about a sunday school lesson that was taught around salvation. The concerns were around content and approach, but mostly approach. The issue at hand was that the students felt scared into salvation and were starting to worry about their own salvation and going to hell. I had to navigate the situation carefully with the parents, students, and the volunteers who teach Sunday school. It forced me to think about this issue more clearly. On the one hand, salvation is an urgent matter and we need to take it seriously. We too often shy away from talking about it for fear of doing it wrong, for fear of what people will think, and other various fears. At the same time, we need to be careful not to package salvation (and I will do a separate blog on that issue in particular) and not to make it all about fire insurance. Conversely, we do not think much at all about our salvation and our participation in that, or we take the other extreme and think that our salvation is all about our action and that we can figure it all out; when in fact there is much mystery to it. Salvation is a life or death matter, but not just for the afterlife, but for our life on earth as well. As i listened to everyone’s hearts, fears, passions and concerns in this situation I came away thinking of three things:
1. This idea of salvation (and therefore mission and evangelism) is way more complicated than we realize.
2. We are not on the same page about this, but its not about that, its about the dialogue and the journey, and so its the journey nature of salvation that includes mystery that we need to focus on; however we cannot ignore these issues since we disagree or do not fully understand.
3. My undergraduate youth ministry professor once said, “what you win them with you win them to” (again another blog topic of its own) and so we need to think about the image of God we are communicating by the words and actions we use when we are in the acts of evangelsim, and so we need to be as clear and healthy as possible about our own image of God and what that really means for our faith, life, and ministry.

There are more questions than answers and even after 16 years of following Jesus and 10 years of ministry, my journey is not yet done. May the journey continue.

Ready to start wrestling

March 2nd, 2010

As I was reading the syllabus today I was amazed at the wonderful things that we will be wrestling with. Last night at youth group, I gave a “salvation/good news message.” It was the first time in many years that I had the opportunity to do that and I really wrestled with it. My kids in youth group do not know the story, some get it, others do not, some have never heard it. For many, confirmation has been the means of salvation/connecting with the good news. the thing that I wrestled with in my preparation was how to share the good news. What did i really believe about the good news and how do i communicate it? thats why I am looking forward to wrestling deeper in this course with this issue. I hate how it has been packaged in our modern world as some sort of transaction. I am disturbed that the good news has been reduced to “fire insurance” and made to be about heaven and hell, because there is way more to it than that…we do not think enough about this life! I have not liked how the evangelical world has manipulated that word to mean something other than the true meaning (sharing the good news of Jesus) and making it about a set of beliefs and behaviors. the postmodern context has changed how we need to communicate the message as well. All this said, I do not think the truth has changed, but how do we go at this…and in this case, how do I go at it in a way that teenagers understand. I wrestled for weeks. I could not get something down. when I finally did the day before, I still felt unsettled. Then I settled in. Once I got up to talk, I started sharing—and I was way off script. It was a good thing…a holy spirit moment, and that perhaps told me the most about how we do this–that it is not about us or what we prepare, and that it is never told the same way, just like all good stories. I shared that there were pieces to the puzzle. It was about what we believed, because Jesus is irrelevant if we did not believe, but that there was more to it than that. Yes, it is about relationships, but a relationship with someone you do not believe in…and we are created to be in relationships. We need God. I also shared that even that is not quite the whole puzzle. We need transformation, and we can believe and be in relationship and have nothing be different, and if that is our case, what is the point? So that was the start of my conversation with the youth. I am not sure what they thought, or if it even will result in some change, but we need to keep telling the story.