There is something of a drive in all of us. When we believe something, we want everyone to believe it. I imagine part of the reason is because it has “saved” us in some way. I feel that way about my plant-based lifestyle. I feel like eating differently has literally saved my life and restored my health and it seems natural to tell that story. I admit that early on, I was too zealous, and I made some people mad because my arguments tended to threaten them—I was a little too strong about sharing my good news. I was the same way about the “gospel” of my faith. Early in my faith, I felt like I had to convince people of my beliefs, and later when I was taught that it was my duty and responsibility, an evangelist was born.
To be honest, and for whatever reason, religious beliefs did not even surface in the Tea Shop. Previously, I would have thought about how to “convert” this person, but that night it didn’t cross my mind. In retrospect, I believe we did more to share our separate faiths, by not even thinking about them, than if we would have been very direct and tried to convince each other. What I am discovering is that evangelism, if that is even a thing, is more about being what you believe than explaining what you believe. As I mentioned before, because we were in his home territory, he was able to share his practice with me (and that blessed me), but our beliefs were never mentioned. So, just to be clear, one of the most memorable spiritual nights of my life happened when absolutely no beliefs were discussed, no faith was shared, no prayers were offered, and no debates were had. We simply WERE what we believed we should be and that was enough!
Recently my friend, Keith Giles, share some information about recent Barna research concerning Millennials. The research showed that millennials believe less in evangelism, but they have more non-Christian friends and they are confident about sharing their faith. In my previous book and in recent blog posts, I have expressed how the younger generation (especially my children) is influencing my beliefs. These millennials seem to know instinctively what I discovered in the Tea Shop—sharing my faith is about sharing my life. And, drawing from the Barna research, to share my life with others, I have to have more friends that think differently than me and I have to spend time with them. It seems almost counter-intuitive, but since I have stopped trying to “save” people, I am MORE able to influence others by simply living and sharing my life with them.
The evangelical ideals originate from the Greek word, evangelio, which is usually translated “gospel” and means good news. Originally, it was the announcement that Jesus is Lord and not Caesar. What it became over time was a sales pitch to get people into our individual belief system. Ironically, many evangelicals today are in love with Caesar and the empire, especially in the United States. The good news was not ever that my religion is better than your religion, but that Jesus came to inaugurate a new Kingdom of peace and mercy and love.
When Jesus said, “Take nothing with you,” I think he was trying to tell us to just go live our lives in a way that impacts people. Love God and love one another. Stop being violent and depending on violence to bring peace. Let the peace of God dwell in your hearts and let them see your good works. You can’t change the world by huddling together and then occasionally marching out to try to convince people. That is not what makes disciples. Be what you believe and argue less. Love your neighbor, bless those who persecute you, be at peace with all people—that is what saves the world!
My old tradition hinted at these ideas occasionally but couldn’t quite commit to just doing life together. It just didn’t quite work on the missionary’s progress report to simply report that we broke bread together with “non-believers”—we always were searching for a more impressive strategy and a new approach. In the end, we just seemed to always be recruiting new people for churches that were slowly emptying out. It was more like a multi-level marketing organization than what Jesus seemed to be talking about.
I am committed to doing exactly what I experienced in the Tea Shop in the future. I want to be present with people every day. As I start a new career, I want to spend time with people. I want to hear their struggles, I want to share their joys, and I want them to tell me about their practices. When I visit someone, I want to share my practices, instead of my beliefs. My beliefs will ultimately be demonstrated in the way I live. The most important beliefs, like love God and love my neighbor, can really only be demonstrated and not explained. In reality, the only effective evangelism technique is to love my neighbor as myself. That pretty much solves every problem in the world and says everything we need to say about what we believe!
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