If you’ve been in the evangelical church for any length of time, you have likely faced a presentation that goes something like: “If you love Jesus, you should be (willing/able/excited about) going up to anyone and sharing your faith without fear.”
The logic goes that when we see a movie, or try a new product, or experience something we love, we tell people about it.
Years ago when the TV series Lost was on, I was sharing a message at our church in Ithaca and talking about mystery. I used the show Lost as an example of people being drawn to something because we love mystery. Over the next month I had several people in our church come up and tell me that they have started watching Lost and they love it. I described with passion something I loved, others heard, tried it and loved it too.
So if you can do that for a TV show, why wouldn’t you do it with Jesus?
When I was a college student I was part of a campus ministry. One year they decided that we were going to start doing contact evangelism. In looking back I generally refer to it as “full-contact evangelism.”
The process generally went like this:
We would gather together for about 30 minutes to pray for the night. A few people would stay back to pray and the rest of us would go out in groups of 2 and look for random people to talk to about Jesus.
I got involved in this at first because I felt peer pressure. I needed to be bold and faithful for God and not give into fear. So I did it. I can’t say I ever got good at it, but I did learn to be aggressive.
Me: “Hey, do you have a minute so I can talk to you about Jesus?”
Victim: “I’m sorry, I’m on my way somewhere.”
Me: “It won’t take long.”
Victim: “I’m sorry, I’m in a hurry.”
Me: “That’s okay, I’ll walk with you.”
My biggest surprise in looking back is that no one ever punched me.
When Elizabeth and I started campus ministries in Albany and Cornell, I continued to practice contact evangelism. It wasn’t because of the fruit we saw from doing it…in fact in all the years we did this, I can’t think of anything positive that ever came out of it. I did it because I believed what I had been taught for years. That if you get past your fear and do what you are supposed to do, God will reward you, bless you, like you, be proud of you…or something like that.
During this same time, the director of our statewide campus ministry regularly reported hundreds of conversions year in and year out through contact evangelism. He acknowledged however that not one of those people ever came to their campus ministry or their local church.
After about a year into our time at Cornell University, I stopped. Basically there were three reasons:
- I recognised there was not actually any fruit
- I acknowledged that I was doing it for two reasons,
- To earn the favour of my peers and God.
- I was not wired this way.
When I say I was not wired that way, I mean that although I was fearfully and wonderfully made, I was not made in such a way that I enjoy walking up to random strangers and starting conversations.
Going back to our earlier argument of why not telling random people you met is because of fear.
I am a huge Red Sox fan. If you wanted to grab a coffee, or a pint and talk about the Red Sox for a couple of hours, I’d be up for it.
However, there have been times when I have walked around Dublin and seen a random person or two wearing Red Sox caps. I don’t go up to them and start chatting about the 2004 season, why Dwight Evans deserves a place in the Hall of Fame, or anything else in fact. Normally I smile to myself, and keep walking.
As an introvert, I do not enjoy going up to random people and talking. If I’m lost somewhere, I’ll do it, otherwise, no thank you. (Now I do enjoy meeting new people and having conversations…I don’t like to start them with people I don’t know well.)
But this is Jesus we are talking about. How can you not tell everyone?
I was in a conversation around a similar topic a while ago and Peter and John popped into my head. I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say that based on what we read in the gospels, Peter would be classified as an extrovert, and John as an introvert.
For example, generally extroverts are external processors. They “talk to think.” While introverts are internal processors, who generally think a lot before they say anything. When the gospels recount Jesus having a discussion with the 12, and one of them jumps in and says something dumb who is it? Usually Peter.
One of the benefits of introversion, is many of your dumbest thoughts never make it to the light of day because you had a chance to think them through before you speak! (some do still manage to get through of course).
But at the same time Peter does (walking on water) and says (you are the Messiah) some things that are brilliant.
And, while John doesn’t tend to blurt out stupid stuff, this is the guy who went and got his mom to ask Jesus for an important spot in his kingdom.
Jump ahead to the book of Acts. The day of Pentecost comes and who stands up to tell the crowd what is going on? Peter.
Peter and John go to the temple, see a man who is lame. Who initiates a conversation? Peter.
Would John have if he were on his own? I don’t know. But I think it probably depended on the situation. I think even for the most introverted, there are times when you know you need to engage.
Several years ago I was at a conference at a mega-church in Columbus, Ohio. Prior to one of the sessions, I stopped by a local coffee shop. Before ordering I headed to the restroom and on my way heard the two baristas talking. And one of them actually said, “I need to talk to a pastor.”
While it still took me a few of minutes to psych myself up, even I couldn’t avoid that conversation. “Sorry, but I couldn’t help but overhear you say, you need to talk to a pastor. Funny enough, I’m a pastor. I’d love to chat with you.”
Back to the temple…
After the man by the temple is healed, he hangs onto Peter and John. The crowds show up and attempt to piece together what has happened. At that point, you guessed it, Peter, not John preaches another sermon.
Now, when we turn to the next chapter, we discover that at this point, John has joined the conversation and is also teaching. But clearly Peter lays the ground work.
In looking at this story, who would you assign the label “bold” to? Peter probably, right? When you think about all that we know about Peter and John, who are you more likely to slap labels like fearless and bold on?
Well, in the midst of this, the religious leaders show up. And as they view the events at the temple that day, they also describe what they say in terms of courage (boldness). And here is their assessment:
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
How Peter and John were wired was extremely different. Yet, they were both capable of intimate conversations with Jesus, and they were both capable of standing up in the midst of opposition and standing firm for him.
So many church leaders are extroverts, see an immediate connection with Peter, and declare that this is what faithfulness and boldness and courage look like. And then there becomes this pressure for people to behave a certain way, or have their boldness, faithfulness, usefulness in the kingdom questioned.
I love diversity in every form in the church. I’d love to see more diversity in this area.
My ongoing hope is that the church can more and more begin to acknowledge those who don’t fit into the mould of Peter, and that rather than trying to convince the Johns to be a bit more like Peter, trust that the gifts, strengths and talents of both make for something far richer…if they are only given space.