The New Evangelism

Last night I found a pretty cool docu as I was cruising Vimeo. It’s called Influencers: How Trends and Creativity Become Contagious.

Here it is:

As I watched, my mind naturally went to the idea of “pastors as influencers,” mostly because, well, I self-identify as a pastor. But the more and more I thought of it, the more I realized that I had an opportunity here to explore an area I feel compelled to gain a depth of knowledge and wisdom in: EVANGELISM.

Confession: I have a visceral reaction to the word and idea of “evangelism.” I am not joking. It makes my skin crawl, and I start to feel a little sick. I am not joking.

In the Fundegelical culture I grew up in, evangelism was the thing you were taught to do. Youth Group was like sales and marketing school. You learned to defend your faith and you learned to, quite honestly, push it on people. Ostensibly, evangelism is “proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ,” but I experienced it more as selling insurance policies. I know, I know. It’s a tried and tired cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason.

Recently, however, I have been compelled to reconsider what evangelism is and what it looks like. It can’t and shouldn’t be the Salvation Road Show of my youth, but neither can it be just a “commitment to welcoming those who walk through our doors and helping them find a place in the life of this congregation” (honest to God, that was the definition the evangelism committee of one Mainline church I attended had as an official statement). Do I believe that the freedom offered in Jesus Christ is transformative and worth giving my life to? Yes? Then, shouldn’t I freely give what I have freely received? Shouldn’t I offer this marvelous thing far and wide? Yes, and yes. Given how I understand the work of God in Christ, to not do so is to say that no one needs this thing I’ve found. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Ephesians 4 says that God gave the church certain gifts, and that among them were “evangelists.” Can we think of evangelists as “influencers”? Well, here’s what the film says about this kind of person (with a bit of my own commentary thrown in):

Influencers are:

  • Confident. They know they are doing the right thing and they are comfortable doing it. They are not shy when the “slings and arrows” come.
  • Creative. They have a different way of thinking and expressing themselves. They realize that the answers given yesterday do not answer the questions asked today.
  • Early Adopters. They see the possibilities on the horizon long before others do. They are willing to take risks and experiment.
  • Well respected. It’s not necessarily that people “like” them. It is that they have a good track record of naming the truth of the situation. When they speak, people listen.
  • Translators. They have an ability to bring an idea into the mainstream consciousness. They can translate from one discipline to another, and draw connections where others see only dichotomies.
  • Practice Embodiment. They do not merely speak, but they live in a new way. They demonstrate the new by the way they move through their lives.
  • Self-Aware. They are concerned with the ways they come of to the ones they seek to influence. This is not to suggest that they “go by the pols” but they are strategic in the way they present themselves.
  • Rooted. They are not iconoclasts. They are a part of a community, they are accountable to others, and they know where they came from.
  • Mentors. They do not believe that it is all about them and their success. They seek out others and mentor them to do what they have done.

One significant theme that ran through the film was the reality that most influencers are a part of the “young creative class.” Part of what was named is the reality that most younger persons cannot afford to be a part of the system and are not willing to “sell out” to become so. As a result, they tend to establish an almost entirely separate network and work around the establishment. Their influence is a direct result of trying to figure out how to express themselves given their limitations.

To me, this feels like a good place to start in looking for a new understanding of evangelism.

11 thoughts on “The New Evangelism”

  1. Landon, the last full paragraph sounds like it could have been written in the 1960s and early 70s. “…most younger persons cannot afford to be a part of the system and are not willing to “sell out” to become so.”

    The cries were “Down with the establishment.” It wasn’t the generations in their 30s, 40s or 50s saying that. It was the younger generation. It was the era of coffee houses, peace marches, and three successive assassinations (JFK, RFK and MLK). It was an era when the floodgates of the back door of the church were opened and young people were riding the waves away from the church. And they haven’t come back.

    1. For me, that then raises the question “What is it about the church that causes influencers to leave?”

      And also, “How connected in our minds is ‘church membership/attendance’ and evangelism?”

  2. There’s definitely a tension in any conversation about evangelism – which is excellent for creativity and conversation but still, it’s a tension and I’m always seeking the sweet spot but never finding it. Part of me is on board with the notion of “people need this thing I’ve found and I must share it”, but another part of me says that if I behave as though I’ve got something that someone else doesn’t have, then I’m othering them and claiming my thing is better than their thing, and I’m not convinced that’s an authentic way to relate – at least not for me.

    So the place where being an influencer tends to break down FOR ME is right up front in the “Convinced I’m right” clause. Because the only thing I’m convinced of is that the asshats at both ends of the spectrum who are convinced that they’re right ought to not be so convinced.

    So, is there an evangelism paradigm for doubters? Is it a dance, like Brian McLaren suggests? Or, am I just taking the easier way out of it by hiding behind my doubts and thus not risking hurting anybody’s feelings?

    This is a tough topic – but that’s probably a really good reason to hunker down and grapple with it together, eh?

    1. I’m gonna give this further thought before even trying to respond, but my quick reactions is that it’s natural for those of us that recognize multiple epistemologies to not want to force something down anyone’s throat. So, yes, where’s the sweet spot? That’s the question.

  3. Hey, while I was reading & commenting on your Postmodern/Fundamentalist post something came to me that might be good convo fodder re: evangelism.

    I think I’ve realized that the reason I can’t find a sweet spot when engaging someone in a conversation about the freedom and purpose that I’ve found in Jesus is that I’m embarrassed – not in Jesus but in the perception of the Christian religion in the popular culture.

    I guess what I’m saying is, I DO talk to many of my friends about Jesus, and no matter what faith or non-faith they practice, people tend to really dig Jesus, at least in terms of their perception of who he was and what he stood for. But it always stops short of broaching the subject of embracing the faith and becoming part of a Christian community.

    If THAT part of the topic comes into play, then it becomes a conversation about dogma, rules, closed-mindedness, oppression, manipulation, group-think, indoctrination, and hypocrisy. And that perception is not something that I can generally talk someone through – especially when most days I’m in general agreement with that perception myself.

    I’m reminded that the Evangelism Connections team paid my expenses to Unco11 with the understanding that I’d work to get a sense of what “evangelism” means from the young-ish pastor types who were there. And I wasn’t able to report back much of value to the EC team because most people I asked said something akin to “we have to change the Church and the perception of Christian religion because it is broken and impotent.” or “before we can honestly share the Gospel with people in general, we’ve got to get more of our own people to live it honestly.”

    I tend to agree with that sense. Or at least, that is the elephant in the room that I feel we must address in order to progress toward what a postmodern-progressive “evangelism” could look like.

  4. Too bad there wasn’t any pictures of the girl in the backnrougd she was the hottest costume, hottest legs just the best of everything all around! She was a firegirl! smokin hot! sorry dear i didnt mean to rain all over your picture youre cute too!

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