Some thoughts on evangelism

I have had some great feedback so far on this sort-of live journaling I’m doing. One item that keeps coming up in my personal exchanges is the idea of evangelism and how to be effective in that as Catholics. I think it’s also a hugely universal question in all of Christianity.

To start, I think there are several evangelists are starting to really key in to some ideas on how to share this gospel we hold so dear with people who do not share our beliefs in a way that doesn’t sound crazy, and instead helps people get a glimpse of this Jesus we know and believe in.

Gone are the days where you just walked someone down the Romans Road and sales-pitched them the Sinners Prayer as a one-shot showdown to salvation. Thank goodness. If you didn’t know what the Romans Road was before this, it’s probably for the best.

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Get your tract out, it’s Romans Road time.

People got trained to basically walk people through some verses in Romans, then ask them if they wanted to respond to God’s call for their salvation in a prayer. While, I admit, God is not beyond this having “worked” on occasion, I don’t think this is a solid means of evangelization.

First of all, you are assuming that the person you’re talking to believes in the authority of the Bible. We live in an age where that is not a given. If you’re talking to someone who doesn’t even believe the Bible is the Word of God, the Romans Road is useless. Second, it was taught as a kind of “drop in your lap” evangelism that you could “do” with a complete stranger. But that totally leaves out relationship, and it also totally leaves out the “now what…”  This says nothing about what happens after the “Sinners Prayer,” which, by the way, I don’t even know is the right way to go about anything anyway anymore.

Which brings me to how evangelization is changing for the better. I only know from my personal experience the Protestant side of things sharing the gospel with others, and also from experience Catholics sharing with me their faith as I dated, was engaged to, and married JP.

Instead of this drop it in your lap, make a decision now evangelization, sharing the gospel with others is becoming super relational, and very focused on how Jesus told us to act, regardless of whether or not the people we are interacting with are or ever become Christians.

Yes, I’m going to feed your hungry belly. Whether or not you ever become a Christian.

Yes, I’m going to come and visit you when you are lonely. Whether or not you ever become a Christian.

Yes, I’m going to be kind to you and be your friend. Whether or not you ever become a Christian.

And all the sharing of the gospel, the explicit explanation of how this faith of ours works, is done in the context of relationship.

Case in point. There was a young mom I became friends with when we were living in our apartment. After we got to know each other, it became obvious from just normal conversation that our family goes to church and our faith was very important to our lives. My friend was going through a really hard time, and I would have helped her out as we could regardless of if she ever gave 2 hoots about my faith life, because Jesus was pretty specific in how we are supposed to treat people.

And one day… she asked me why we were the way we were. Why we were helping them out so much. And I knew how to answer. And we began a dialogue. We talked about each other’s different faith backgrounds and how it has impacted our lives. We talked about the roots of my family’s belief system. We talked gospel. And through those conversations, we covered a lot of theology. We even started a book together to help facilitate what were really cool, meaningful discussions about the rationale for believing in God, and specifically Christianity.

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This was the book we went through together. Keller draws a lot from Lewis. I loved this book.

This whole conversational train of ours filled the better part of an entire year. And it wasn’t all we talked about… we were doing a lot of “life sharing” in general during that time. And though she had to move away, she has for sure heard the gospel through a friend who genuinely did and always will care about her as a person. Because the gospel is not a sales pitch.

Onto how this relates to Catholicism. I think when members of JP’s family began talking to me about the Catholic faith, it was uncomfortable for a few reasons. Not because people were sharing with me what they believed to be truth, but because I felt like no one took the time to get to know me before going straight into that. No one asked me about how I became a Christian, or what my faith has meant to me my whole life long.

And I was someone who knew nothing about Catholicism. So when I’m all of a sudden hearing about this other, what I considered to be equivalent denomination, and that somehow it was the best way to be Christian… I just didn’t have a box to put that in. I had no concept of why one denomination would be better than another. In Protestantism it doesn’t work like that.

I would have loved it if someone would have shown interest in my belief system. Asking what my denomination believes about certain doctrine, and then having a dialogue about the differences would have been right up my alley. But all in the context of relationship. Let me know you know me and love me as a person, and I will talk to you about almost anything.

It would have been cool if after attending mass with the family, if someone would have asked me if I had any questions about what happened there, or why they did certain things. Or even if someone would have walked me through things before going. I didn’t know why people were kneeling or dipping 2 fingers in a fountain of water, for example. So, when I wasn’t kneeling, I wasn’t trying to be irreverent. I just had no idea what was happening. It would have also been cool if someone was educated on the differences in the Protestant and Catholic services so they would have known what would be foreign to me. I think for people who grow up Catholic, it becomes so 2nd nature that it might not be obvious how strange things are for a Protestant visiting a mass.

There were also conversations I had that maybe could have been easier if those I was conversing with knew where I stood to begin with. For example, I have never been a proponent of hormonal contraception, so I’m actually closer than some to Catholic in that regard. But I don’t think anyone ever asked me the question. I also have always been intrigued, once I learned what it was, about the Eucharist actually being Jesus. Not a point of contention at all. I didn’t even know that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception existed prior to my first conversation about why Mary had to be sinless to conceive Jesus, so that was a bit overwhelming. That little nugget came in handy later, with a college professor who had a mistaken understanding of it… but I didn’t really understand the fullness of it or agree with it until very recently.

For both Protestants and Catholics, we desire to share what we hold so dearly to be absolute truth. But in our eagerness to share that truth, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that we are sharing truth with a complex person, with a whole life history that very much impacts his/her worldview. And for us to gain a listening ear, to be heard, we cannot forget about that person, and the validity of their own life experiences. Part of our faith requires that we share Jesus with people. But people won’t listen to us if we don’t see them. Or feed their hungry tummies. Or serve them as we are called to do without condition. Yes, I will share truth with you. But I will also love you and care for you and be your friend. Because regardless of what you believe, you are a Child of God who is intrinsically, immensely valuable.