Every heart has so much history / It’s my favorite place to start / Sit down a while and share your narrative with me / I’m not afraid of who you are

Evangelism.

That’s a pretty scary word, and something Mike and I have been talking about more lately. As both of us have been encountering the gospel in new ways recently, we’ve mentioned a few times that we don’t know what grown-up evangelism looks like. My experiences with “evangelism” have been pretty negative overall – the most negative being in college, when I was in a workshop where, in twenty minutes or so, we were supposed to take “our story” and put it in a three minute presentation that ended in a gospel message. Now, in my respectful way, I would like to say that I am sure there is a place for that kind of thing, but I have never personally found what it is. I always thought it ludicrous to assume that anyone’s story, even the Cliffs Notes version, could be reduced to three minutes. The story was supposed to hinge on a “salvation moment,” which is great for those gun-toting drug addicted prostitutes who come to Christ, but not so easy to pinpoint when you’ve gone to church your whole life and you “said the prayer” when you were two. I remember crying as I was asked over and over, “Don’t you have a moment where you realized that it was all true? Didn’t you ever have a rebellious period?” I have seen my faith journey more as moving along a spectrum of knowledge and understanding, and those questions always made me wonder about the validity of my faith, if it was somehow not genuine if I couldn’t think of a turning point. Instead of celebrating my story, which I think is one of the most important aspects of Christianity, my story as I have experienced it was invalidated and disrespected in that setting.

Last night the discussion at church was on evangelism, which I was excited about because I thought that hearing thoughts on evangelism in a multi-generational setting might help me sort out some of my feelings. The discussion was good – I always wonder if I’m copping out by saying that I want evangelism to be most evident in my life, but our pastor pointed out that one of the main keys to evangelism is being authentic and not editing yourself. I think I do an okay job of not editing myself (i.e. saying things about praying or the Bible if that’s really what I’ve been doing or thinking about), but it’s a good challenge to think about.

Pondering these things on the way home, I thought about how skittish I am about inviting people to church. In college, I attended a campus fellowship religiously (so to speak) for all four years, but I never in those four years ever took a friend. I never invited anyone to our old church, and I’ve never invited anyone to our new church. I don’t know if that’s bad or not, but worship, while communal, is also incredibly personal, and it’s hard for me to invite people into that place.

I can think of a couple of times where I feel like I really got it right. Not that there is an exact science to evangelism, but there are a few times when I stepped out in faith, trying to do the right thing, and . . . it just worked. I can’t say that any of my friends prayed the sinner’s prayer or anything, but those experiences changed me, at least. One of those times was in college, when my favorite study buddy came out to me sometime during our sophomore year, and during our senior year together I decided that, if she didn’t feel comfortable coming with me to IV, then I was going to go with her to PRIDE. On my first time there, we all sat in a circle and everyone shared their coming out stories. Well, everyone who had one, anyway. hehe. I still remember some of their stories (especially the one from the son of a Baptist minister whose mom had an actual heart attack when he told her), and I remember laughing and crying with those people that I didn’t even know that well. And I remember telling a friend, “You know how Christians will sit around and tell each other their conversion stories? It was just like that.”

With that in mind, I went to a conference my senior year where we talked about some of the basics of Christianity and then broke into small groups to . . . I don’t remember what we did, to be honest. But I do remember that my group went to Fazoli’s together for dinner, and the staffworker assigned to our group said (and I quote), “Why don’t we go around and tell our conversion stories!” My nightmare, right? But I remembered my PRIDE friends, and I tried to be honest. I said that my story didn’t fit into a mold like we had been taught, and that I saw my faith as a journey rather than a story with a turning point. And then I said that I didn’t think any of it would mean anything at all if it all happened ten years ago and that was the last I thought about it. So I told them what I was learning then, the disappointment and hurt I was experiencing because of my in-laws and their lack of involvement in my life, and how God was meeting me in that struggle. And then I cried, right there in the middle of Fazoli’s. In the middle of 8 or 10 people I didn’t really know. It wasn’t like me at all, and yet I was being more myself than I had that whole weekend.

Part of the problem is that in wrapping our story or God’s message into a neat little package is that life’s not like that. It’s not that having Jesus in my life makes my life look any easier . . . I still hurt and struggle and things are still hard. It is easier, though, because God is walking with me, but that’s not something that’s easily articulated. It’s not quantifiable.

On the way home, Sara Groves’ song “All Right Here” that I have quoted many times on this blog came up on my iPod, and I just kept repeating it. I thought about the lines I quoted in the title of this entry, and I realized how I want evangelism in my life to be like that – naturally sharing my heart with the people in my life. I still don’t know what that means as far as sharing my faith with my coworkers, but I am trying to change the way I think about the entire issue, with the hope that some of those details will eventually fall into place.

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