Thursday, June 10, 2010

Can we make disciples without proselytising?

It might surprise you to know that evangelism is a subject that I feel strongly about. I can relate to many of the cliches about God filling a gap in my life, about wanting to share the joy and passion that inspires me, about wanting to call people out of brokenness and into healing and grace. I think there are at least three dimensions in which this evangelical intent can and should be played out in the mission of The Salvation Army:
  1. If our social programs are going to respond holistically to human need, then they must have some capacity to address the spiritual dimension in people's lives. Good chaplains are able to engage people deeply yet sensitively in meaningful moments in their lives.
  2. Our corps should embody the Biblical notion of hospitality without discrimination. In this setting, evangelism is experienced as gracious invitation into the community of faith. Corps also have a holistic responsibility to our neighbours, so this means much more than just asking people to come to church.
  3. I feel compelled to personally share the faith that is within me. I know my experience isn't the same as everyone elses and I don't expect everyone that I share my faith with to become like me (hallelujah!). I find that I grow spiritually when I try to communicate what I believe and why I live the way that I do, and also when I listen to the experience and beliefs of others.

Unfortunately, I have to acknowledge that there are some forms of evangelism that are dehumanising, that objectify people, seeing them as notches in someone's soul belt. It's vital that we understand our own motivation and how that translates into action. Here are a few questions that might help:

  • Is my approach respectful (or disrespectful) of the other person as a human being?
  • Am I bringing God to another person or could God already be present in their lives?
  • Am I seeing and responding to the whole person, their history, social context, relationships - or just their soul?
  • Do I want the other person to be more like me? Why?
  • Is my message an invitation or a compulsion?
  • Am I ready to learn from my encounter with another human being made in God's image?
  • Or am I just wanting to teach them what I know because that's what they need to know?
  • Do my actions diminish another person or reveal opportunities for growth (towards what they want to be, not what I want them to become)?

Brian McLaren has pointed out that we are called to make disciples, not to make Christians. Obviously those things don't have to be opposites but the distinction is a challenging one. What does it mean to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus? I think it means that I engage in the compassionate, healing, loving mission that Jesus lived - caring for the poor and the marginalised, and working for a more just and equitable world. Want to join me?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have never commented on a blog before, but what they hey! I think the phrase was 'we are called to make disciples, not converts'. This blog reminded me of my brief spell with a uni AFES group where they would debate the ethics of making friends with someone just so they could talk to them about Jesus. People believed it was loving to do this, otherwise the person would go to hell. I thought it was loving to love the person for who they were and not what they believed (but didn't tend to voice such opinions!). Just bought a book by Gretta Vosper called "With or Without God: why how you live is more important than what you believe". Great title hey!

David P said...

Hi Jason
Thanks for your thoughtful and coherent articulation of many perspectives that I resonate with re how we can authentically live and share our faith without making it a product to sell, deliver, impose, etc. on others.

Julia said...

Ehh...I am not sure my first blog made it through. I guess I agree with what anonymous said in regards to your post..