A great turnout last Thursday, and some very good conversation. With a pint from the cask in hand, we set out to respond to six questions I took from an evangelism questionnaire that I had used in college.
The questions surprisingly created a lot of good conversation and sharing about things, prompting us to wonder about the effectiveness of such a questionnaire, not to mention the idea of accosting random people to talk to them about deep personal matters.
The questionnaire is as follows:
1. How would you describe your life in one word?
2. What three things do you most desire out of life?
3. What do you think “God” is like?
4. Who, in your opinion, is Jesus Christ?
5. If you were to die tonight and found yourself standing before God, and he asked you, “Why should I let you into My heaven?” How would you respond?
6. If you could know with 100% certainty how you could get into heaven, would you be interested in hearing about that?
The first two questions created opportunity for us to share some things about ourselves that our normal questions didn’t necessarily prompt. So that was very cool.
The third and fourth questions began to lead us into theological territory – also somewhat revealing in the group, and certainly would be in an interaction with a stranger.
It seems, though, that it is all a warmup to no.5: the evangelical zinger. Give me the password that gets you into heaven. Answer correctly and you win! The prize: eternity in heaven. Answer wrong, and (cue the Price is Right wrong answer theme), sorry friend, the flames await you. Which made us wonder about the typical evangelical understanding of salvation, of evangelism, of faith, and all that. Is life really just a big prelude, and the goal, after all the major events, life learning, relationship building, personal growth, etc, is simply to answer a question correctly? And if I didn’t study adequately for the test, or if I somehow was never properly prepped, I’m doomed? That all seems like a cruel joke.
Perhaps a short answer might point to something deeper and and true in a sense, but the idea of having to answer a question at the gate seems sort of silly, and falls right into all the old cliches about St. Peter manning the door.
And of course question no.6 makes the whole thing seem like a sales gimmick. If you could be 100% certain of how to get no.5 right – would you be interested? In fact, we have a money-back guarantee! (Too bad you’ll be too dead to claim it though!)
We then began wondering about the whole idea of street evangelism, beach evangelism, door-to-door evangelism, etc. Can deep and serious matters be discussed or entered into at a meaningful level in a random encounter with a stranger? Should the gospel be peddled like it’s the next-best vacuum? Where do relationships come into play? Where does community fit in? What about discipleship? What about going forward?
Ocean City boardwalk
I noted that in my experience of two summers doing beach evangelism in South Jersey, at its best, we had meaningful encounters with people and then encouraged them to find a local church to connect to. Even better were our relationships with locals through our summer jobs. But you wonder how effective this ‘drive-by evangelism’ really was for some random person on the boardwalk who was simply trying to figure out how best to devour the delicious elephant ear they were holding to suddenly realize the more pressing matter of hell was being shoved down their throat. As they stared dumbfounded at you, the eager college student with all the answers and the salvation guarantee, you wonder if there were moments we actually did more harm than good.
There’s a great post on the blog Slacktivist about evangelism (thanks, Steve!), where the following is noted:
Without relationship, it’s not really evangelism, merely sales. Evangelism should never be anything like sales. This is not a transaction, not commerce.
No doubt. They also note the important point that listening is key. Too often we are armed with ‘the answers’ and enter into a conversation so that we can tell someone what’s what. This is not a new tact:
The Cherokee Baptist theologian Bill Baldridge tells a story about white missionaries who arrived at the Indian settlement. “We are here to tell you the story of our God and of salvation,” they announced.
The elders welcomed them, brought them food, and gathered around to hear this story. The missionaries, pleased by this enthusiastic audience, decided to go with the Long Version. They started at the beginning and over the next several hours they told the whole great Christian saga of creation, fall and redemption.
When at last the missionaries were finished, the elders thanked them. “This is a good story,” the elders said. “Now we would like to share with you our story.”
The missionaries were furious. Hadn’t these people been listening? Didn’t they realize that they had just heard the One True Story and that their old story, whatever it was, no longer mattered?
The missionaries abruptly left, shaking the dust off their shoes and heading out to find some other group more receptive to to their message.
Sad, but I’m sure I could dig back and find similar instances from my own evangelistic efforts.
So it was a good night at the Pub last week, and I look forward to the next one, as learn to share our stories, our perspectives, our lives, and as we do so, may we remember that ‘our stories are not an argument.’ They are us. May we give them the respect they deserve, and not merely use (or abuse!) them to win a debate, but rather share them with one another, even as they are unfolding at that very moment.