Thursday, September 9, 2004

An offer they can't refuse...

So I've got this freaking class called Supervised Ministry I. It's a "personal evangelism" class. Basically they teach you how to sell Jesus door-to-door. And then they make you go do it, and grade you on how many people get saved. Kind of like the Fuller Brush man, or the Rainbow, or Kirby Vacuum cleaner guy. You get graded on commission.

Okay, so it's not really like that.

I actually told the professor on the first day of class that I didn't have any interest in selling Jesus door-to-door. And whatever happened to relationships? And that referring to people as "prospects" made me sick to my stomach. Actually told him that stuff. In those words. Felt pretty good about it, too.

In the class they actually teach you a model (yeah, ANOTHER model) for "witnessing" (whatever that means). Supposedly it just helps to prepare for, and get into situations where you can start a conversation with people, that may or may not lead to you talking to them about Jesus. Our assignment is that we have to spend an hour and a half a week, for the next ten weeks, involved in some kind of personal evangelism effort. Not by myself, though. I'm in a group. Group of 4. That's not intimidating to people or anything. It would freak me out to look out my window, or be at the coffee shop, and here comes the "God Squad" to cut off all my exits, read my nonverbals, and launch into a conversation that is only designed to lead one place.

Modern evangelical witnessing is a one-night stand. It's cheap, and it's impersonal. Think about it. It centers around knowing the right lines to say, and the right situations to put yourself in so that you can start a conversation with a predetermined target of your choosing. A conversation that has one purpose, and one purpose only - to get you to the point where you've softened them up enough to hit them with what you really came for. Then its all about "closing the deal". If you can't - then you just walk away, mumbling something about how they just weren't ready for what you had to give them, and then what? You pick a new target and start over. Even if you are "successful" - you don't stick around long after the deed is done. You're out the door, hoping they don't need any kind of long-term commitment. After all, you got what you came for, right? You didn't have anything invested in that prospect to begin with.

That being said - tonight is the first assignment for my group. We split up, and me and another guy are going to the coffee shop, and we've only got one thing on our minds. All day long I've been trying to come up with a gimmick. Something to get me in the door. To start that all-important small-talk exchange that will lead to the conversation that will change someone's eternal destiny in a single evening. Maybe I will bring a puppy with me. Or a baby. People love to talk to/about babies. Then again, puppies don't usually cry and poop during the conversation. They do slobber, though.

Seriously, though. What does it mean to "share your faith" with someone? Does "share" in that context mean to make a presentation? Does it mean to share, as in, you divide it up between you? Can someone share their non-faith with me? Maybe it means that you come alongside someone in their life, and let them come alongside you, and you do life together. No matter how different those lives might be. In the end, hopefully they see you making choices different than the choices that they have made, and they want to know why. And it's not because you're better, or smarter, than them. It's just because you've found something that actually works. It's one beggar telling another beggar where he can find some bread. There is relationship involved. Community between 2 or more people. There is history, and there is future. There is an investment.

I realize that the thief on the cross received salvation instantly. He had never met Jesus before. He was never discipled. He didn't even "bear any fruit". Yet that very day, he was with Jesus in paradise. At the same time - I really have to ask myself whether or not I believe that someone today can be "saved" in a single encounter. Most of the time I think I would say not. I honestly think that we do people a disservice when we try and distill what it means to be "saved" into a nice little package, give it away to strangers, and then walk away. It may be that we have a country full of people who think they are Christians because they have made it all the way through a gospel presentation, felt too uncomfortable to deny the person giving it, and ended up repeating some silly prayer after them.

I think the Chinese would disagree with us. The church in communist China is blowing up! It's illegal to be a Christian there, except in formerly British-controlled Hong Kong. The Chinese meet secretly in house churches, and fear for their lives - but not so much that they would be dissuaded from Christ. At the seminaries here, we have classes that teach you how to play games with teenagers, and how to plan a budget for your megachurch youth group. In China, the seminaries have classes called "How to get out of handcuffs in two minutes or less, if you ever get caught being a Christian" and "How to jump out of a second-story window during a raid without breaking your ankles". I don't think you can convince someone to choose that kind of life with a single conversation about the "4 Spiritual Laws". This Christianity thing really means something to them. And if it means so much - can I really justify how cheap we have made it? No. I guess that, like life (as the saying goes), salvation is a journey, and not a destination.

I'm sure you needed to hear all of that. I guess that yesterday I shouldn't have wished that I would be inspired toward more substantial thinking. Although some visitors to this site won't know what to do with something like this. Most of them probably won't even read it. If you do read it, leave a comment. Nothing big, just "I did." or something. Anyway - wish me luck tonight, that my convictions about faith, and my responsibilities for this class will somehow be reconciled. Maybe tomorrow will bring something less cerebral for both of us. Maybe it will be a story about a new friend.

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