I've struggled with back pain off and on for the past two years, and I'm finally mostly pain-free after well over a year of physical therapy, chiropractic care and essentially taking better care of my body. About two months ago, I was sharing my struggle with Michelle, our kick-ass spin instructor who has fought cancer and won over the past year (you have no idea what a simpering little weenus you are until you watch a bald woman lead your spin class with a chemo port in her arm). As we were talking about juggling parenthood, vocations, exercise and all the other important stuff in our lives, she said, "Hey, we've got this new class starting called Centergy - you should give it a shot! It sounds like it could be just what you need."
|My friend Rachel doing yoga at her family's former vacation home in Florida. |
Rachel has been pushing me to do yoga for months and will hopefully be happy I'm finally taking her advice (somewhat).
Tuesday night, Beloved and I both had time free to exercise together, so I suggested we go to another Centergy class. I had an even better experience than the first, and Beloved liked it as well. I've pretty much decided that the Tuesday night and Friday afternoon sessions at our gym are going to be added to my regular exercise rotation.
Now, here's where the evangelism part comes in. Some of my blogger friends have been visiting the topic lately, and I think they've presented some valuable insight. I think they've covered why we (the ELCA) aren't particularly good at evangelism, but here I'd like to offer some thoughts on how we could be better.
- Evangelism addresses the need of the evangelized, not the need of the church. My friend Michelle wasn't teaching that particular Centergy class, nor was she going to receive a commission if I attended. She had no thought of her own reward for getting me to sign up: what she saw was my need for something new and a way our gym could provide it. Our most effective (and, dare I say, most holy) evangelism comes when our concern is for our neighbor, not our church. Evangelism driven by the need of the congregation cheapens the gift of the gospel by offering the holy community for the sake of its own benefit, which seems far too much like prostitution for my comfort.
- Effective evangelists listen and hear before speaking. Michelle didn't break into our conversation with some sort of ham-handed script extolling the benefits of Centergy. We were talking, as friends, and she heard and understood what I was saying before mentioning the class. It felt natural and good because it was natural and good. If the church is to be trustworthy in a post-Christendom environment, it starts by listening to others for the sake of their own story, not that of the church. Yes, the church has a good story to share, a wonderful story, but the evangelizing moment is not the moment to unload it all on the evangelized. A simple acknowledgment that "hey, I've heard what you're saying" creates a bond of trust from the very start of the evangelized's relationship with the church - and that trust is essential to the life of the church itself.
- Effective evangelists believe they are offering a real, concrete benefit to the lives of the evangelized. Again, Michelle didn't suggest the class because it's what she was "supposed" to do: she offered the class because she thought it could help. Our gym has a lot of other classes and programs, including a very spendy personal trainer program: if Michelle's concern was helping the gym's bottom line, she could have done so a hundred times over in the year we've been going to spin class. But Michelle saw that this class could directly address the very problem I was facing. Is it so much to ask the same of the church? Effective evangelists, having heard, offer a benefit that can contribute to the life of the evangelized. In other words, they don't evangelize because the church needs people: they evangelize because they believe something in the church can help people in their real, actual, present circumstances. This is why "Bullhorn Guy" pisses me off: he doesn't give a fart in a stiff wind about what your problems are now, since if you're hellbound anyway your abusive boyfriend or unemployment or addiction or concern for your kids doesn't matter (and chances are if those things don't matter before you join his church, they won't matter afterwards, either).