Minutes ago my wife received a phone call from a charity we are very familiar with. The fundraiser was a third-party who was not knowledgeable about our donations to that charity and the scripted conversation rambled on with a pleasant but unhearing person on the other end of the phone determined to get something out of us.
Yes, we’re very familiar with ______ … For your information we’ve experienced it in our family … No, we have already made a donation to ______ … No, I’m not going to give another, smaller amount now … Yes, I know that, but we have already given all we plan to … Yes, I agree that it is worthwhile … Listen to what I’m saying – we have already given to that charity! … No, we won’t neglect to give again; we have a history with ______ in our home … You’re not listening! I want you to hear what I’m saying – we have personal experience with this in our family and there’s nothing more for us to talk about!
She turned and sat, flushed, staring at me in disbelief, a bubbling conviction of equal parts anger, guilt and sadness. What just happened? She was angry at the unyielding force and insensitive deafness of the caller. She felt badly that, in spite of the good cause he was promoting, she had to resort to hanging up to silence him. And she was saddened as a personal reserve of emotions surfaced from the unexpected invasion of a sensitive, inner place.
Our fundraising friend was unsuccessful. And what, really, had he accomplished for his cause?
There was a time, long long ago (’80s), when the church I was attending undertook a program that had evangelism at its core. The idea, popularized by an organization in the U.S. (aren’t they all?), was to travel in pairs and knock on neighbourhood doors to enquire about the status of the souls of the residents. If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure where you would spend eternity? Literally. Once inside their home, the object was to engage in friendly conversation to help convince the person(s) of their need for God. Literally.
In a diverse audience like we have here, there will be some who find that a perfectly reasonable question to ask someone. Others will understand the purpose of the question but be uncomfortable with its use. Others, maybe most of you, can’t even imagine why someone would do this to a stranger.
Me neither – that’s why I didn’t.
There is no end of books, programs, mentors, trainers who train Christian leaders in the specific field of church-growth. In this mind-set, building God’s Kingdom involves strategizing, organizing, marketing, training church staff and leaders. My observation is that adherents of this approach are very similar to each other in their energy, personalities and views of the church and the world.
You see, evangelicals believe there is nothing more important than ‘sharing the Gospel’, which involves telling people that they need to give their hearts to God in order to have eternal life. Evangelicals are motivated to share God with as many people as possible because God loves them and so do we. Don’t get me wrong, that all comes from a sincere place and may be true, but I can’t say that it is fostering a deep heart connection with God.
Time is short, stay busy! Souls to save, places to go, people to do! Pray this prayer, stop doing those things, start doing these things. Feeling badly if you don’t belong, feeling badly if you don’t convince others to belong. Somewhere deep in my soul, the dots didn’t connect.
Christian life is a relationship, not a transaction.
Faith should be more like falling in love and less like buying a used car.
I’ve learned that the work of the soul is not formulaic; it’s not a straight line. If I’m not a close friend or confidant, I don’t have permission to shove Jesus into your space and you can’t be cajoled, scared, sold, tricked or reasoned into being a disciple of Jesus. Jesus certainly never took that approach. Faith is organic, relational. It’s like, well … marriage. To try to scare or convince an unwilling person that they should marry someone else isn’t the way to go. The timing, setting, orientation has to be appropriate and then it takes time and conversation and learning and reflection and conviction and emotion and growth. And God’s Spirit, which reaches mysteriously and miraculously into the souls of those who listen.
By making faith mechanical, Christianity has unintentionally separated faith from the rest of life. I can’t help but wonder if cheap religion and shallow conversions are the reason we have such a frightening, un-christian Christian Right in our society.
Before some of my Christian friends condemn me for saying this (inevitable) let me also say there is nothing more important and enjoyable in my life than talking about God; it’s what I do. You see, I believe relationship with God should be organic and flowing in every facet of life. Some people have never had a God-conversation with me because there has been no reason to; other people will confirm that God slips naturally into our conversations from time to time; and others will tell you that our primary topic when we’re together is life and faith. I love helping others to see how valuable, embracing, loving, relevant Jesus is to real life but I just don’t feel right forcing someone to listen to some sort of formulated God-talk and frankly it’s not respectful or appropriate. Oh, and it doesn’t work.
Markers and moments are good but faith is too precious and deep to be turned into a prayer or crass decision so I just hang around and try to be a friendly resource. No more running, no more guilt or trying to force people into a box. I want to leave generous space for people to come to God and to grow into Him, but I also want to help uncap the ceiling of their Creator’s potential for them.
Here’s Saint Peter’s thoughts in 1 Peter 3:15-16: ‘But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.’ (NIV). As Micheal Spencer said, ‘Live so people will ask. Don’t force feed them the question. Live the life. Live it plainly, but there is no guilt trip put on anyone for not accosting their co-workers once a week.’
Relationship with God should be like a good coffee or tea: considered, anticipated, then measured carefully, brewed patiently, shared pleasantly, sipped gratefully, enjoyed fully, left wanting more.