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. 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.
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)
Let’s say you committed a day out of your week with someone outside of your church community, doing something that you both enjoyed. Over time, you would eventually begin to establish a community.
All communities develop around a common purpose.
So if you begin shooting pool at the local billards once or twice a week with the same people, you will inevitably form a community around pool (I explain this process a bit more in depth here).
Common purposes give two strangers an excuse to hang out—thats why people throw parties.
Bonding may start on a personal level, but it doesn’t have to remain a one-on-one situation forever.
The Bible suggests that there is tremendous power in community (Acts 2:42-47). So why be satisfied with individual camaraderie when you can invite individuals into a community of kingdom-minded friends?
If you can wield a certain amount of influence through shared activity, think of what a community can do if you were risky enough to open it to non-believers.
A few weeks ago, some people got saved and baptized at our annual lake trip because this was being lived out by normal young men and women. Why? Because common purpose is the mission field that brings people together. And these college students decided to step on the field and expand the Kingdom of God.
A hobby may become an excuse to socialize for most people, but millennials on mission choose not to underestimate the power of a shared purpose, and often make sure these hobbies lead to the raison d’être of all communities: knowing God together.