Evangelism In A Changing World, Part 2
By Bryan Tener
People who don’t have a church background or who have walked away from church for various reasons probably will not enter our churches. However, some might decide to come. Certainly, not many of us live our lives in the church, but we do have a place in our local communities. We share hobbies and work, and we socialize with non-Christians. Hence, wherever we go becomes a mission field. Evangelism is relational; the more we get to know people who don’t go to church and the more time we spend getting to know them, the more natural it becomes to talk about life and faith.
Henry H. Knight III and F. Douglas Powe Jr., in Transforming Evangelism: The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith (Discipleship Resources, 2006), define evangelism as “our sharing and inviting others to experience the good news that God loves us and invites us into a transforming relationship through which we are forgiven, receive new life, and restored to the image of God, which is love.” This definition is relational, as it points to our relationship with God. As we think about the changing culture, we understand that sharing and inviting others to experience the good news is also relational. To invite someone to be transformed requires one to know a person, to have a consistent presence, and to build enough trust that the person feels safe and welcome. A one-time invitation to follow Jesus through handing out a gospel tract on the street or through a quick encounter is likely not to lead to long-term transformation. Evangelism that is relational might happen quickly, but it is more likely that kind of evangelism takes time, consistent presence, and authenticity.
The previous article walked readers through a role-playing game to help them come up with a purpose or mission statement (the one thing about who we are and what we do that doesn’t change although the role, place, or circumstances might change). When everything around you changes, your mission or purpose remains constant. After completing the exercise myself, I developed this statement: “Create space so that there is an opportunity for others and myself to learn and grow.” This statement helps shape my interactions in many places where I find myself, even within my daily routine and when I enter into these “third places.”
“Third places” in communities can be anywhere people gather and live — from restaurants to pubs, to gyms, dog parks, schools, and coffee shops. One of the “third places” that I belong to is the gym. I am regularly at the CrossFit gym, occasionally coaching a class and then working out in an evening class. When I reflect on my purpose statement, I see that in each class that I’m involved in, whether as a coach or as a participant, I work to provide tips, strategies, and knowledge so that each person can walk away with a chance to learn and grow. Knowing what to offer comes out of my own experience along with learnings from other coaches. When someone achieves a great lift or finishes a workout, giving everything he/she has; or when someone achieves some great feat, I see how people celebrate or smile with joy. I feel just as excited as they are. They’ve done the work to grow, and I’ve played a part in it in some way. My passion to create space so others can learn and grow bubbles through. I’ve spent time with many gym members and have been able to cultivate some meaningful friendships. I have even formed faith friends. I’ve been able to officiate several weddings and a funeral. I have celebrated joyous moments, but I have also grieved with those who are going through challenging seasons. These relationships did not happen overnight. It has taken time to build them. It took intentionality in listening along with being authentic in my role and opening myself up through conversations. Many times, in the middle of a conversation, someone would bring up a faith question. Sometimes faith questions arose in the middle of a workout, after a class, and outside the gym as we gathered to hang out. Eventually, some of us formed a book club and started doing focused reading for help along the faith journey. We gathered monthly outside the gym for dinner and discussion. Those gatherings happened organically out of regular conversations that gradually turned into faith conversations.
"Third places" in communities can be anywhere people gather and live — from restaurants to pubs, to gyms, dog parks, schools, and coffee shops.
Whether at the gym or the book club, my purpose of creating space to help people (and myself) learn has shown through. Occasionally, these conservations led to an invitation to attend church. In any case, the conversations led to deeper relationships along the faith journey together.
What are your passions, interests, or hobbies?
What “third places” do you frequent on a consistent basis?
What does your purpose statement look like within this “third place”?
Who goes to these “third places” and/or shares your passions, interests, and hobbies?
Is there a friend or two in your network whom you could invite to go with you to this “third place “or invite to be a part of your passion, interest, or hobby?
Can you see a need in your community that you believe you can positively impact and to which you can invite others into the effort?
Spend some time finding the “third places” in your community, or name the “third places” you frequent. Reflect on your passions, interests, and hobbies. Where do these intersect?
If possible, spend time in these “third places" and take note of what you hear and see; pay attention to what kinds of conversations take place. Spend time praying for those who enter into those spaces. Reflect on and imagine what might be possible as you move forward.
Next month, we will focus on listening and determining what practices can help us engage in conversations with the people to whom we have been sent.