Rachel Held Evans is one of my favorite bloggers. She first came to national prominence with the publication of her second book, but her first best-seller, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Her best-seller’s subtitle reveals her capacity to navigate difficult topics with humor – “How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband ‘Master.’” It was a fascinating, humorous and educational read.
She has a way of blogging, writing and speaking to people navigating their way through immense cultural change, faith, and the challenges of daily life. In other words, she has much to say to most of us. I just ordered her most recent book, Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions. It is a re-release of an earlier 2010 book with the obscure but hilarious title, Evolving in Monkeytown, a reference to finding her own personal faith rather than the fundamentalist faith she was taught to parrot as a child.
I am reading the book for two reasons. First, I love the way she writes. But second, I am about to embark on a four-week sermon series on how Christians can share our faith with others. A couple of decades earlier in my life and ministry, I would have approached that topic differently than I will today. Then, I would have, and likely did, make a case in favor of invitational ministry. That’s the way most of us were wired to think about our faith.
Regardless of theological bent or denomination, Churches tended to focus on attraction and invitation to get people to come to Church. Programs preparing Church members for “faith-sharing” consisted of stressing hospitality, friendliness, and practicing a one-minute “elevator speech” about what we believe. Whether it was “Evangelism Explosion,” or “Bring a Friend Sunday,” various denominational advertising schemes, hosting low-threat events, or putting up cute billboards - the goal was to get people to come to us, come to us, come to us.
Those techniques for invitation and attraction are not invalid, but they are incomplete. Between those days and today, I have been converted to a new way of thinking. How did that happen? I actually read the Gospels! Funny things happen when we do that. I discovered that Jesus and his disciples didn’t invite people to come to the Temple with them. Instead, they went where people were. And they listened to them, talked with instead of to them, and built a relationship with them. Jesus modeled this so much that his detractors (who were people of faith) criticized him for befriending “wine-bibbers, tax-collectors and sinners.” (See Matthew 9:9-12 and elsewhere.)
As my friend David Lowes Watson says, “Our job as pastors and leaders is not so much to get the sinners in as it is to get the Christians out!” And sometimes that’s harder! Surely sharing our faith today is not about “button-holing people” for Jesus. But what is it about?
Maybe it is as simple as hanging out with people because they matter. Maybe it is as simple as hanging out in a Coffeehouse or wine bar once in a while and conversing with people without ulterior motives. Maybe it’s more about listening than talking. Maybe it's important to acknowledge that we don't know all the answers as Christians. Maybe it is as simple as being genuinely ourselves and following God’s promptings to live as a person of faith.