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.
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.