I know of a Christian who struggles in social settings.
This seems counterintuitive. Evangelism is a basic tenet of his faith, and he feels exhausted just thinking about it! Maybe it’s because the word evangelism draws up for him caricatures of open-air street preaching. Or maybe because he would rather get to know and enjoy his neighbors before trying to proselytize them from a distance, as it often feels like. Whatever it is, that particular trigger of emotional exhaustion doesn’t travel alone. It is sometimes coupled with shame. Shame of not being naturally adept at something so essential to Christianity. And it certainly is essential…Jesus told His followers to speak about Him. And what Christian wouldn’t want to speak about Jesus? But it’s the speaking part that’s troubling!
It’s difficult for him to talk to strangers in a superficial environment, without a particular gift for social interaction.
Now, evangelism is one of the most thrilling, life-giving experiences a Christian can have. But evangelism, as the church has come to know it, feels much like peddling products door-to-door, or making cold calls to sell insurance. Now, you may think, “This guy is just ashamed of the gospel!” But I want you to think about that for a moment. Are you ashamed of having insurance just because you would never sell it door-to-door? Are you opposed to businesses everywhere just because you hate making or receiving cold-calls? Of course not. You can promote your insurance company while at the same time disdaining the way some insurance salesman treat you at the front door when they try to make a sale. (This is all hypothetically speaking, of course…I’ve never been approached by a door-to-door insurance salesman). There might be a few people who are wired to make “cold calls” in evangelism and great at doing it. But others ask, “Wait, people still do that?” Exactly. This is his perception of “evangelism” as it is often caricatured. And it’s an awkward feeling he will never escape. You see, he’s the pastor of an evangelical church. And evangelicals can sometimes hold a parochial definition of how evangelizing is supposed to go down. By the way, that guy is me.
But it’s not just me. Probably half of my congregation are introverts.
There are some very common misunderstandings about introverts that have made evangelism seem very untouchable. One is that introverts are shy and anti-social. You can see how this might affect our view of an introverted evangelist: “It’s a misnomer.”
But introversion and extraversion have less to do with a person’s identity, and more to do with how they choose to recharge. Susan Cain, famous for her 3 minute TED talk on the power of introversion, offers a simple definition in her book, Quiet:
Today’s psychologists tend to agree…introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well. Introverts feel “just right” with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book. Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slippery slopes, and cranking up the stereo (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, 11)
An introvert might be very adept to social interaction, but also need a proportionate amount of time to “recharge” in solitude. Whereas, an extrovert can read books, yet need to recharge by being around people. Think of how this affects evangelism. Maybe extroverts are generally more comfortable with “evangelistic” activities (like passing out tracks at the Farmer’s Market), because they are energized through interaction with groups of people.
Either way, no character trait should keep us from heralding the gospel.
I cannot say, “I’m not going to talk about Jesus with them because it’s out of my comfort zone as an introvert.” However, evangelism does seem monopolized by the extroverted ideal. And that’s not ok. While it may work well for the outgoing type, those who are more introspective need their own working model. We’ve all been trained over the decades to see effective evangelism through certain caricatures, i.e., street preacher, the altar-call giver, the stadium evangelist, and the person who talks a lot but never asks questions. There is nothing wrong with any of these caricatures, per se, but they aren’t all that there is to evangelism.
Again, this doesn’t mean those with introverted tendencies hate talking about Jesus. I would hate for you to misconstrued this post as a cop-out. Christians love Jesus. Introverts just don’t always like evangelizing on the same terms that are normally appreciated by our extroverted brothers and sisters. Nor is it always as effective, since we have differing gifts. God doesn’t assimilate our personalities into some universal ideal; the doctrine of Union with Christ teaches us that the image of God in us is being restored by His indwelling presence. That means we are being restored to the original luster of who God intended us to be. I would think that this includes our personality quirks. The question is not whether introverts should evangelize, but in what way? If an extrovert, who may love the thrill involved in, say, street-preaching, can evangelize in that way and be true to who God made them, how should introverts be evangelizing in a way that is faithful to Christ, and utilizes their gifts as well? That’s a question worth pursuing.
Unfortunately, the pressure from these over-the-top caricatures, and the shame attached to introversion in the church have inundated a large portion of gifted, caring, spirit-filled men and women in our church, and rendered them outsiders. (See Adam McHugh’s, Introverts in the Church) But it ought not be this way.
There are a few animated videos explaining a missional church. Some very popular videos have pitted the gathered church against missional churches, which is an unnecessary bifurcation—the church gathers and scatters.
This vid is short and unpolished, but so far, is my favorite, because it’s spot on.
In the past three years of pastoring a college ministry (Adorn), I have been overwhelmed by God’s grace to send his Spirit and his presence upon us on a weekly basis. We started as a prayer meeting of three people that used to meet at the Mason Street campus at Brooks Institute of Photography to pray for college students. Now, it is a worship gathering of 400+ twentysomethings that meet on Friday nights in Carpinteria, coming as far North as Isla Vista, and as far south as Malibu, Thousand Oaks, and Newbury Park. Out of this group have come restored identities, passionate worshippers, overseas missionaries, builders of community, beautifiers of culture, and lovers of the King.
I’ve noticed five elements that are prevalent in these young adults who are cultivating a lifestyle of a Millennial on Mission…
- They are always having their identity renewed in Jesus (identity)
- Their new identity forms their worship of Jesus (worship)
- Their lives influences other lives (discipleship)
- They bring everything back into community (community)
- Their community reaches outsiders (evangelism)
Rather, these elements seem to happen all at once!
It’s not a system, but a story.
But wait, you say, “where is the ‘missional’ element in this series on Missional Millennials?”
For this reason, I sometimes refer to them as Missional Millennials.
Not all Christians know how to have a good time, but they should. We’ve cornered the market on “piety” and “reverence,” but in the process, lost our God-given sense of “joy” and “fun.”
Christians should repent of their inability to party.
Evangelism is the proclamation of good news! Why so dreary all the time?? Is it just me, or does the thought of “evangelism” sometimes provoke in us the imagery of a door-to-door salesmen, trying to sell a product he doesn’t want, to a stranger he doesn’t know? Perhaps if that’s the way you feel about the caricature of street-corner evangelism, you should try a different method of spreading our “good news.” May I suggest relational evangelism. It’s simple. You get to know people, you live life with them, you suffer with them, you party with them, and along the way, you teach them about Jesus. Of course, this takes quite a bit more investment than door-to-door sales, but it has a better return too. And Jesus rarely preached to people from a distance; he hung out with them, ate in their living rooms, and shared meals with them. Guess what…he often got to know them at parties. (gasp!)
We’ve already looked at the discipling effects of a Christ-centered community on a growing Christian. Now imagine what that would do for a non-believer?
In recent months, I’ve seen people who have been redeemed from many variations of oppression by the power of Jesus Christ. But I’ve also seen some of those same people fall away within less than a year, because they were not connected to the body of Christ in meaningful community.
Many of these people start their new life in Christ (identity) by leaving the old groups that are damaging them spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.
But you can’t just stop hanging out with the old crowd; you’ve got to replace it with a new one.
And a Christ-centered community must be more engaging to newer believers than their former one. Otherwise, when young men and women who are still maturing in their faith encounter a life situation they can’t handle, they will often fall back into their old social patterns, in order to fill the void of support and community that WE should have provided. I never use all caps, but this is begging for it…
EVANGELISM SHOULD NOT BE DONE IN ISOLATION OR IN A RUSH.
To evangelize someone is to introduce them to a new identity in Jesus and walk with them through the rhythms of worship in community for as long as it takes.
We get into trouble when we focus “discipleship” only on Christians, and only “evangelism” for the non-believer. The two become a sweet mixture, however. When you have an opportunity to bring an outsider into Christ-centered fellowship and celebration, you are beholding something beautiful: God’s expansion of God’s kingdom through God’s Church.
Britt Merrick once said, “God chooses to work alongside people, not independently of people.”
So what are you waiting for? Throw a celebration with your Christian community, and invite some visitors!
- Missional Millennials (part 2): Discipleship through worship (christopherlazo.com)
- Missional Millennials: Worship through Identity (Part 1) (christopherlazo.com)
Millennials are the ambitious generation of movers and shakers, distinguished as those born between 1980-2000. Several hundred of them congregate at a weekly gathering called Adorn, in Carpinteria, CA., seeking an overlapping encounter with Jesus, his community, and the world.
This is our story.
Our identity forms what we worship.
We’ve discovered that our beliefs about ourself have a profound influence on how and what we worship. The power of the gospel can widen our capacity to worship God with relative ease, since the gospel—with its outlandish teachings of an alien validation wrought in Jesus—manhandles what we end up thinking about ourselves.
The gospel transforms our identities, and with it, our worship.
We exchange our identities for Christ’s. This is why I spent the first year of Adorn focusing on one section of our vision: Jesus must be our highest joy. It occurred to me that there was no real output (mission) in our first year of gathering, and I often fought with the pressure to create programs, outreach, and missional opportunities for this rambunctious group of millennials. But the God and time would prove my stress unfounded. After a year, a culture had developed where people’s identities were being transformed into the image of Jesus, and the outflow that resulted from inward change would yield far more motivation and opportunity than any program I could contrive or manufacture. Without warning, we had a gathering of young people who were ready to change the world, yet firmly grounded in the unchanging identity of Jesus. It wasn’t “callings” that I was supposed to dish out, but rather, a clear, direct route to the person and work of the mighty Son of God.
Find your identity before you find your calling.
If we do not shape our identity around Jesus, we will quickly default, wrapping our individuality around what we can carry out because we are a generation that is driven to make a difference in the world.
Consider these two scenarios…
- You’re hired in the field of your choice, but only to a cut-throat corporation where those with the lowest performance record are routinely fired. The culture that will likely develop there is one of performance. Performance is determined by your own success or failure, and should you get hired, will be at the center of your identity.
- Or, you’re hired by a corporation that only picks the best in the field, yet puts tremendous value on their employees as well as their contributions. The culture that will likely develop here is based on trust, and will be at the center of your identity.
In the first scene, your passion determines your identity; in the following scene, your identity determines your passion. Since our identity forms our worship, we must be exceedingly careful not to develop our identity (who we are) around our calling (what we do). These things must stay separate! An identity formed in Christ will create the motivation to succeed, without the fear of failure. But an identity formed by calling will relegate worship from God’s performance to ours, and will set us up for heartache when we fail miserably to match his impossible standards in every way. This generation must understand that our primary goal in this season of life is not in figuring out what we are supposed to do, but who we are supposed to be.
Effective millennials who want to be on mission with God must first have their identities rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
- Book review: The Millennials, by Thom S. Rainer and Jess W. Rainer. (christopherlazo.com)
In his book, A Meal With Jesus, Tim Chester points out the many times Jesus is pictured eating with people in Luke’s Gospel,
- In Luke 5 Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners at the home of Levi.
- In Luke 7 Jesus is anointed at the home of Simon the Pharisee during a meal.
- In Luke 9 Jesus feeds the five thousand.
- In Luke 10 Jesus eats in the home of Martha and Mary.
- In Luke 11 Jesus condemns the Pharisees and teachers of the law at a meal.
- In Luke 14 Jesus is at a meal when he urges people to invite the poor to their meals rather than their friends.
- In Luke 19 Jesus invites himself to dinner with Zacchaeus.
- In Luke 22 we have the account of the Last Supper.
- In Luke 24 the risen Christ has a meal with the two disciples in Emmaus, and then later eats fish with the disciples in Jerusalem (p.10)
To top it all, Luke emphasizes that Jesus came into the world “eating and drinking” (Luke 7:34)
Considering this blatant purpose statement, it would appear that sharing meals with people was an important aspect to the Lord’s mission.
How many outsiders have you eaten with recently? Got any stories or experiences?
My first few years in a secular environment were marked by an affinity for apologetics.
When I first committed my life to Christ, I developed a passion for defending my faith. I remember devoting all of my time and energy into it the way tech-nerds geek out at the Apple store genius bar. Apologetics became my playground. And my calling. And my life. Eventually, the whole Christian faith hung on my ability to know everything.
After all, where would God be if it weren’t for me and my degree…right?
Soon, it because a crazy obsession that overwhelmed everything else. I don’t want to sound like studying apologetics is wrong–those years that I did devote to studying the reasons for my faith still benefit me today, in conversations, mission, and preaching. But, there’s still no escaping the fact that I did turn into some kind of crazed sniper for Jesus, just waiting for someone to disagree with me so that I could explode on them in a fury of rational answers. It got to a point where I cared more about being right then persuading someone of Jesus. Periodically, I would run into someone who was way smarter than me, and it just went downhill from there…kind of like forgetting your wallet on a first date–you never want to do that again!
Michael Patton at Reclaiming the Mind wrote a refreshing article for young apologists that I wish I had read 5 years ago. Here is an excerpt,
You don’t want to stop studying, but you have to keep your studies moderated or they can have a very negative effect. Don’t stay in the apologetics stuff too much. Don’t ever leave it, but don’t think you can be continually, day in and day out, challenging yourself with every alternative all the time. You are not all that. No one is.
To the younger defenders of the faith that I know and love, Patton’s full length article is well worth your time and well-being.
Study answers, love reason, be great at defending. But don’t let apologetics (or any form of scholarship) take over your life or steal your joy….not to mention the life and joy of those you are trying to persuade. At the end of the day, it will be your sacrificial love that softens hearts, not your tenacious manhandling of rhetoric and reason.