Yesterday my husband Bill and I entertained a local traveling evangelist from another (unnamed) denomination who came knocking on our door. Rather, Bill entertained and I sat and listened in the other room. I usually invite all who knock on my door into the house for a cup of coffee and conversation but I was in the midst of paperwork and that kind of stuff. I usually invite them in because serves two purposes – it allows me to witness to my faith and it allows me listen to listen to as they witness to their faith. I’m pretty non-discriminatory – I invite them all in: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon Missionaries, Baptists, non-denominational. Whatever they are, all are welcome. It boosts me up to be able to talk to people about Jesus regardless of the circumstances.
Of course I know that not everybody feels this way. Most of us consider these people to be annoying, even unwelcome. After Bill had closed the door on our latest visitor he said, “I think next time I’ll get a snake.”
It’s an inside joke - he’s referring to an incident that occurred early in our marriage when I still worked at Fernbank Science Center. I babysat two different snakes over two different summers. The snakes had a definite purpose in life – we used them as teaching tools to show kids the difference between venomous snakes and non-venomous snakes. Buzz was a Florida King Snake, mostly yellow with black stripes. I kept him quite a while but my favorite was Scarlet who was a Georgia Corn Snake. These snakes were not very docile and had to be handled everyday so that they wouldn’t forget to be “nice.”
One summer afternoon, I had Scarlet up my sleeve and she had gone to sleep curled up around my elbow. When the local traveling evangelist knocked on my door and I answered, Scarlet woke up and traveled down my sleeve to my hand. I held out my hand to shake my visitor’s hand and …. the snake poked her head out of my sleeve and started to go toward my visitor. She gave a shriek and left rapidly. To be fair to her, most of the time corn snakes get killed because they are mistaken to be copperheads. I’m sure she thought I was handling copper heads. Nonetheless, that was the last time they came visiting while we lived in that house.
So when Bill said, “I think next time I’ll get a snake,” he was really meaning, “I don’t want them to come back.” Yet I do. I enjoy it and encourage it. I find it a boost to my faith to hear their stories. And I pray for them and with them, that their journeys from house to house might be fruitful and that God use them to increase the Kingdom.
I think evangelism is the number one place Methodists fail. We are really good with the fellowship components of Christian community. We excel at Christian Education and Formation. We are superlative at Acts of Social Justice, be they right or just well intentioned. But we are not adding to the Kingdom.
Old methods and models of evangelism are just that – old. Some of them have worked and some are just well intentioned. I was trained in the late 1970’s (as a very very young child, I will have you know) in a method called Evangelism Explosion. I either was not very good at it, or perhaps the methods had seen their day because I don’t think I ever really entered into a good, rich and deep conversation about faith with anyone I approached.
I think the oldest of the methods – Jesus’ method— might work the best. If we look at how Jesus gathered people together we can start to see how we might gather them together. He first approached them as people – individuals – and not “prospects.” He made relationships with them. He ate with them, He healed them. He loved them. He took care of their deepest need and then said, “Follow me.”
We need to approach individuals and see them as unique in God’s eyes, a beloved member of God’s great creation and realize that each of them will come to Christ in their own way. Let us seek out the un-churched, the least, the last and the lost and enter into relationship with them. Invite them to dinner. Eat with them. Go to ballgames with them, shop with them, watch movies with them, get to know them and find out their deepest need. Pray with them – and pray for them. Love them as God would love them. Ask them to church, share your faith with them and things will be transformed.
And what’s amazing to me is that even if they never come to church – even if we never see the fruit from the seeds that we have planted, things will be transformed. YOU will be transformed. I will be transformed. By echoing Jesus’ methods of evangelism, we will become more like Christ. Our faith will become deeper, richer and more mature. Our lives will be enriched, we will be transformed.
So it doesn’t require special training, y’all. It doesn’t require extraordinary skill or special formulaic words. And you don’t have to keep snakes. Just a lot of love.
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
- 1 John 4:7-12 (NRSV)