I must confess to you a scandalous secret: I have an aversion to Evangelism.
Oh, dear reader, please do not hate me! This distaste does not stem from a lack of love for my God – it’s just that my experience with evangelism has always been so – um, what’s the word? Fake.
I think it started in early childhood, when I was repeatedly pushed and prodded and terrified by various authoritative adults into “accepting Christ,” which I dutifully responded to by repeatedly raising my hand or walking down the church aisle. I did this at least six times, just to be safe.
This guilty conviction tracked right through to my youth, and later into college, when I joined an enthusiastic group of good Christians swarming the streets of our college town on Saturday evenings so that we might witness to the rowdy students making their rounds at the various drinking establishments. Our goal was to intercept these unsuspecting strangers on their way to the next bar, and strike up casual conversations about their relationship with Jesus. Awkward!
No one ever converted.
I didn’t like evangelism because it made me feel like a dope. It all felt so contrived and plastic and pushy, forcing my savior down the throats of unwilling targets with a robotic telemarketing script. And yes, that’s all those drunken students were to us: targets, not people. I might as well have worked for the Mormons, or the JW’s.
I’m afraid I just wasn’t cut out for evangelism, so I quit.
Which brings me to chapter 8 of Bob Roberts book, “Real Time Connections.” As you can imagine, I groaned just a wee little bit when I cracked open this book to face an immediate barrage of church-lingo terms and phrases like “The Great Commission,” “discipleship,” “witness,” “ministry,” and, yes, “evangelism.” But as I got into it, and especially here in chapter 8, I was pleasantly relieved to find that Mr. Roberts mostly replaces “Evangelism” with the term, “Engagement.” It would appear that our author is also fed up with the old-school notion of preaching, witnessing and generally badgering a group of people into accepting Christ without first establishing a relationship.
Roberts says, “When I speak of sweat, I am talking of engagement – working side by side to serve the common good of society. All the while we look for opportunities to share why we do what we do.” Meaning, of course, we serve the common good of society because that’s what Jesus would have us do. Now, this engagement is something I can get on board with. Real relationships, real service, real people. Nothing fake about it.
I think his take on Christians engaging with other cultures is especially refreshing, by admitting that the first order of business is to build relationships with people, so that you can “love them regardless of the religious, racial, political, or whatever differences you might have.” There is still an interest here in getting people to join the Jesus team, but Roberts presents it as secondary, almost opportunistic. Whatever work one is doing to serve the needs of the community, the idea is to meet people where they are at, respecting their ideas, beliefs and culture. The means is also the end. The process is as important as the outcome.
Roberts’ advice is simple: serve, love, get busy, and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.
The only trouble I had with this chapter, and the book in general, is that it emphasizes outreach to the world and community while totally disregarding the spiritual opportunities that might exist right inside our jobs and careers. In other words, Roberts hammers us with the need to get out into the world to serve all its hurting needs, but he completely blows off the idea that our workplace in and of itself might be the place that God has called us to.
Instead, Roberts invites us to discover the mystery of how to connect “your job, your passion, your skills – your call – with the work God is doing in the community.”
Wait a minute. So God is not at work in my job? My job is not my community? Can’t God’s call be at my workplace, in my current job?
Apparently not, according to Roberts. Although he acknowledges the validity of a Christian’s influence in the marketplace, he more or less skims over our workplace, viewing it as training ground, something to get you ready for God’s REAL work, which is out there in the world somewhere. Not so much at your job.
I, for one, have absolutely, positively zero interest in leaving my job to do something “more” for God than what I am doing right now, here in my career. And I believe God is perfectly happy with my decision.
Why? Because, if there is such a thing as a “calling,” (still, I am somewhat doubtful of this 21st century phenomenon), I believe I have found it right here in the suburbs of Philadelphia, doing my job at the company I am with, serving my employees, co-workers, customers, community and shareholders. This is my calling, this is my witness, this is my mission field. This is where I am planted, engaged, and where I truly believe I am doing God’s work.
Sure, I am also working with other outreach organizations, volunteering at the homeless shelter, working with my church’s youth program – but these are all extracurricular. I believe my main calling is in my work, where I can operate in excellence and integrity, and impact a significant community around me to further God’s kingdom – whatever that might look like.
All in all, there is much in this book to inspire, admire and apply. But the thought that I must escape my job in order to serve God, well, that just rubs me the wrong way. It gives me the impression that my job is just, well, fake.
And it is not.
It’s a real-time connection.
This is a great post. Love the way your writing compels me to read.
I agree with the whole awkwardness of “evangelism” and how Roberts puts it in a good light by using the term “engage.”
Did he really downplay regular jobs/careers as ministry? I didn't get that impression, although I'm only on chapter 6 or 7 of the book right now. I actually feel like the message in Roberts' book is the opposite.
Although, I do still feel this book somewhat lacks in giving me a clear idea bout how to stay in whatever vocation I might be in joyfully and effectively.
But at the same time, if I'm to apply the principles given in this book, which are biblical, then I don't need a silly book or some pastor I don't know to tell me how to love others! It's in the bible! Clearly we are a salt and light wherever we are. And I think it's definitely important to enjoy what we do enough to not be zapped of our zeal and energy to work with biblical excellence (pleasing to God).
So, you are definitely blessed to have good solid work that you enjoy and are able to be a salt and light for day in and day out!
I once had a job I hated and it took me trusting God to take a pay cut so I could do work that didn't drain me so much that I felt useless. Ya know? I don't think I'd be a good salty Christian if I felt useless in my job everyday although sometimes we must take on those kind of jobs for a season.
Anyways, thanks for this post!
Amen, Bradley! I love this emphasis on relationship. How can we influence others without stepping into their lives, even just a little?
Your early experiences with evangelism made me smile. I was raised a “JW” and from a small pup was forced to accompany my mother “out in service”. I remember, even as a wee one, the incredible discomfort involved in going from door to door and imposing my beliefs on unsuspecting souls.
Yes, “Awkward” is an understatement. I like Roberts' method better. But he doesn't shy away from the uncomfortable, to say the least. Making a global impact is not for the faint of heart. This book is opening my eyes to many things. One is my sheer cowardice, I suppose. I admire folks like Roberts who hear the call to enter into other cultures and boldly go where no Christian has before.
First, my relationship with God is a bit like my marriage. I love God. He is a huge part of my life. I love my wife. She is a huge part of my life. But I don't go around telling everyone at work how much I love my wife or how being married has changed my life.
I certainly don't enter into my work with the bizarre ulterior motive that I'm going to try to make sure everyone knows how much I love my wife and how important my marriage is to me.
Why do we do this with our relationship with God? It is weird and creepy and awkward and inappropriate and, like you said, plastic and robotic.
I'm not saying we hide the fact that we love God. I certainly don't hide the fact that I am married. Anyone who knows me well at work is going to hear about my wife at some point. My relationship with her is just part of who I am. But I have no agenda to share that with others.
It's the agenda that is the problem. It speaks to our lack of faith in God to woo people himself.
Second, I was dismayed by this chapter, Bob. We're not in relationship exactly, but I would love to hear more about your logic here.
The central story of the chapter is Mark. Mark has a business that is “off and running full bore.” We never learn what Mark's job is, only that it provides “money in the bank, a nice house, and a BMW 535 in the driveway.”
Rhetorically, this reduces the value of Mark's job to a mere paycheck. It even subtly passes judgement on that value, as if it is somehow less than saintly of Mark to have such a nice car. As a reader, we can only conclude that Mark's work has no intrinsic value on its own.
Instead, the text talks about how wonderful it is when Mark gets “involved in church activities” like teaching the youth and the jail ministry and serving disadvantaged minorities. The chapter praises Mark for taking a church outreach program under his wing and organizing a new tutoring program. He helps with youth at the rehab unity. The section about Mark concludes: “Today, this has become Mark's primary ministry.”
What about Mark's job? He spends 40-50 hours a week there. It seems to me like his work itself (not mere evangelism in his workplace) but his actual work should be his primary ministry because that is where he is spending the bulk of his time.
Bob, really, I would love to hear back from you on this. Are we misreading the chapter? Does Mark's work have value on its own just because he may be loving his neighbor in the way he does what he does?
I'm with you, Bradley. On all counts. I'm not much of an evangelist I'm afraid, but “serve, love, get busy, and let the Holy Spirit do the rest”? Yes.
Hey Rene, Thanks for the comment. And yes, I got a strong impression from Mr. Roberts that “God's work” is exclusively reserved for those doing service or missions-related projects outside of our given jobs or careers.
I think you made a brave decision to take a pay cut to be more happy at work. You are probably younger than me, so to me that kind of experience is all part of weaving our way through life to get at a place where we are completely aligning our gifts and talents with the organization/career/job that we do.
Lara – A JW? Wow – some day we'll have to hear about your own conversion story. That couldn't have been an easy transition for your family to take.
I do not feel I am a coward for not going into other cultures and places in the world to do what Roberts does. He went to seminary, he chose his vocation as a pastor, and this is the specific niche that he feels fulfilled in as a pastor. Mine is just different. I bet he couldn't do what I do. I'm not sitting here telling him he would be more effective for God if he transitioned into the corporate world, and likewise I would not expect anyone to tell me I am outside of God's will for following my own “calling.” Granted, if you are unhappy in a career after 25 years and wishing you had gone into ministry, or missions, or social work or whatever, then that's a different story. That is a personal choice based on happiness and fulfillment – not on being goaded and guilted into packing up your bags to go to Indonesia. I believe God works in all sorts of ways, through all sorts of people and careers and callings.
Great analogy, Marcus.
My point exactly. Except Marcus articulates it better! BTW, my first draft was much harsher and mean-spirited because of this same feeling– but, being the good guest-blogger chap that I am, I toned it down. Marcus is putting it very diplomatically. So, Bob?
Flattery will get you everywhere, Bradley. I'm glad you reworked your draft.
Nothing is worse than post regret.
OK, some things are worse. But post regret is pretty bad.
You have given me much to think about, Bradley. So now I'm asking myself, why do I feel such guilt about never having participated in a missions trip? It is definitely a dream of mine, just not the right season. I think when I referred to myself as a coward (aka, yellow-bellied, liver-lillied and all the things Yosemite Sam would say) it's because I feel that pull right now, but do not feel it's the right time for me. Which bodes the question: Is there ever a right time? And am I wanting to do it for the right reasons? I know so many people who do…but do I just want to be able to say I've done it? I hope not. I don't think I could visit the places of this world that are so in need and remain untouched. I think it's ok to distinguish between being called to live that way, and just wanting to help out sometimes.
Hmm. So now I better start praying about this, huh?
Rats. I mean, thanks, Bradley. 🙂
Oh, and BTW, the rest of my family–my nuclear family that is–are still JWs. Hubs and I are Presbyterians.
Hmmm, well if I discover this to be so as I read further that will be disappointing and misleading of the book, no? Makes the book sound like it's made to tell us how to use the money we make at our jobs to fund ministry elsewhere?
I don't know that it had all to do with me being young for making that decision, though. I know lots of people who fear making that kind of leap or change and stick to being a cog or drone where they are for the money or status. To me, everything we do stems from what we believe about God. So in my situation I was not trusting God enough in the life decisions I was making.
I Like Renee, didn't think that That was What Bob Roberts was saying either…. But, that's Neither Here nor there, just my 2 cents;) Anyway!! You totally Nailed on the head the Point I was trying to get across when i said, I wondered about what my part in “Fulfilling the Great Commission” was in my Post. Anytime I tried to Share Jesus, or anything it always Seemed awkward, Stilted and “not real”. I totally think that our first places of ministry should be our Workplaces, but, only as the Holy Spirit allows. I have Learned the hard way about trying to share my faith when the door for it isn't open.
Bradley, wow. I loved this. And, as is your habit… well-written too. 🙂
I am the Mark in chapter 8. I can understand your confusion concerning my work. I have been in the computer business for 30 years. My wife and I started a small software company in 1988 and sold it in 2010. We always ran the business as honorably and ethically as we knew how. We tried to show our love for our staff (3) and customers (50) as best we could. We did not start seeking God until after 9-11 (2001) at which point we became involved at Northwood.
As small business owners we rarely spent 40 – 50 hours a week “at work”. Most of my work was done at home. The majority of my day is spent reading the Word, non-fiction christian authors, worship and prayer. This is my focus and where the bulk of my time is spent; Seeking God and His truth.
Ministry began as a way to walk in obedience to what the Word says. As far as a “calling” anyone who has read the bible knows every child of God is called to help the; orphans, widows and poor. So this is where we began, with the Word, what we knew to be true. God was faithful and showed up in ministry teaching us more and more about who He was and how I could become a fruitful member of His Kingdom.
The value is knowing God, nothing else really matters. I have learned to know Him by; the relationship I have with Him, serving others on His behalf and walking side by side with others seeking Him and His will.
Hope this helps clarify a few things.
Mark, I'm so excited to hear from you directly! I'm still confused, though. You don't seem to find any value in the software business you built and sold.
Your work there was a ministry. Think of all the good you did in addition to just leading an ethical company: employees could buy insurance (to take care of widows), employees received income that fed their children and kept them from poverty.
Yes, knowing God is the most important thing. It is the greatest commandment. But there is a second “Greatest commandment”—to love our neighbors. And I believe you were loving your neighbors all along as you built that software business.
In some ways this seems like I'm projecting my views onto you. That's not fair, but I believe this so strongly. In devaluing my own work, sometimes I have ended up devaluing my God-given gifts, burying them in the ground, so to speak.
Thanks SO MUCH for responding her personally.