How can we foster safe places to nurture faith while avoiding inappropriate and unauthentic evangelism? How can we help people understand who Jesus is? As we are being incarnational—that is, being present in a community and practicing proximity with people—how do we proclaim that Christ is Lord?
This is a big challenge for any church, including churches that have made this shift from a consumer mentality to embracing their sentness—the idea that they are sent on God's mission. Missional churches sometimes have their imagination captured by a broader understanding of mission and get excited about service and justice, but are unsure about evangelism. Some people's understanding of holistic mission becomes not deed and word (as it should be), but deed and maybe word. We need safe places to offer people compassion and advocate for justice, but we also need places that are safe for people to explore who Jesus is and what that means for us.
We need different ways of talking about the gospel (as well as expressing church) for different sorts of people. Each person's sharing will be different, and the things we invite people to will be different, because people have different starting point and are at different points in the journey of faith. They may feel God is distant or they may be plagued by guilt; they may long for meaning or be working hard to overachieve or feel their lives are messed up beyond help. They may think they have it all together on their own, thanks very much.
Foster Safe Places
We do not have a 10-step evangelism plan. Maybe it would be nice if we did. Maybe not. But what we do have to share are a few powerful things that we believe help cultivate a spiritual search.
First, ask curious questions. Rather than speaking about what we believe or want to convince someone of, we start with questions to find out what they believe and what they have already experienced of God. We want to find out where people are coming from and ask questions that provoke their thinking. Let's plant seeds with questions rather than first giving information.
David Tacey, an associate professor at La Trobe University, researches the growing popularity of diverse spiritualities in Australia. Rather than dismissing this "spiritual revolution" as heretical or superficial, Tacey sees clues to how churches can respond to the cry for spiritual meaning. He challenges churches to be attentive and to listen to how God is communicating with people outside churches. We need to draw it out of people rather than pump it in.
We need to ask questions if we are to function as any kind of spiritual companion. Pastor and author Dan Kimball says he has never been knocked by people when he asks to have a coffee with them for an hour to ask about their impressions about Christianity and the church. Let's use questions to invite people into conversation about faith and to discover where people are at. We are not seeking arguments, but conversations about what really matters.
We collect good questions to use in different contexts. Here are some of our favorites:
- Where are you on your spiritual journey?
- Do you have a religious background?
- What were your earliest impressions of who God might be?
- What keeps you going when things are tough?
- Has there been a time in your life when you felt God was closest?
- What are some of your biggest issues with Christians today?
- What do you think about prayer and whether it does anything?