The more I travel, the more people I meet. The more people I meet, the more conversations I get to have about worldviews.
As a Christian, I'm angry with how I've been trained to share my faith.
Having lived in Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and now the Bay Area, all in the last 7 months, I've held "religious" conversations with atheists, agnostics, and Mormons. And everything I've been taught about evangelism is utterly ineffective.
In church, small groups, and various evangelism "training" sessions, I've been taught to inform, explain, and share my story and present the gospel in a formulaic way. The goal is to get the person to be saved, pray a prayer, or, at least, attend church.
The problem with this is that it's the opposite of listening. More often, it leads to red-faced arguments or shouting with fingers stuck in ears yelling bible verses. It's a confrontational, one-sided presentation that usually ends as an offensive judgment against someone.
I want to be very clear about this. The intentions of any evangelizing Christian are probably good and everyone who has taught me about sharing my faith has been pure and good in their intent. And the great commission from Jesus rings loudly as an imperative for all believers. So sharing your faith is a beautiful thing, but HOW it's done today is ruining relationships.
The pain comes in when evangelism is done as a "should" and not as love. "This is what I should be doing," we tell ourselves. "Because Jesus said so."
Yes, but why did Jesus say so? It's dangerous for an adult to do something just because someone said so. This works with children, but with rational, mature adults?
Here's the big picture behind evangelism and why Jesus commanded us to preach the gospel to all nations: as followers of Jesus, we believe we have the solution for life's purpose, meaning, joy, and eternity. Therefore, it would be irresponsible for us to not share it with others with opposite or unfulfilling worldviews. We share because we care, because we love people in our lives, and because we not only want the best for them eternally but we also desire joy for them presently in this life. That's why Jesus said go and make disciples. The motive is love, backed by truth.
Any Christian who says we preach the gospel because we should is acting out of moral compulsion ("works" if you want the religious term) and is, therefore, more motivated by selfishness than by love. They preach the gospel more out of a desire for self-righteousness than a desire for a genuine relationship and a repentant heart.
If that's the big picture, then how this plays out in the day-to-day conversations we have with unbelievers is abysmal. Instead of listening or learning about the other person, we perform a duty so that we feel good about doing what we know we should have done.
Example: in a conversation with a group of homosexuals, one says they don't believe God exists. The shallow "should"-motivated Christian responds with, "You're dead wrong" and proceeds to list all the reasons why God exists.
What does the homosexual think? How often have you seen an argument about religion end with someone saying, "Oh. You're right. I'm wrong. I'm changing what I believe in this very moment, thanks to your persuasive intellectualism and clear reasoning."
No. Unless the Holy Spirit himself supernaturally intervenes, it generally doesn't work thatway and often pushes people further away from the church.
But, on the other hand, the love-motivated Christian might respond with, "Why do you think that? I'm curious."
The deeper issue is this. Arrogant people are often the most insecure. Insecure people are often the loudest in the room. They're louder because they're compensating for something that's missing.
In the same way, it is my experience that well-intentioned Christians evangelize by pontificating, rather than listening. They regurgitate dogma as opposed to digging into the worldview of the other person.
How is listening "preaching the gospel"? Don't you have to preach it in order for it to be heard?
Yes, but it doesn't matter how loud you shout, a wall isn't going to respond to preaching. Worse, it might drive any hearers away.
How do we share the gospel without judging? How do we share the gospel winsomely?
The gospel is shared winsomely and judgment-free through the asking of natural questions born out of genuine curiosity and a burning desire to learn about someone else's worldview.
[I'm going to stop here and come back later to unpack this statement, based on 1 Corinthians 9:20-22.]