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.

Getting a handle on the themes of the book

I love the process of writing.  I was joking with my friend Carol the other day about the comparisons that people throw around regarding writing a book and child-birth.  As she says “I’ve done both.  They are nothing alike.”

I think I’ll trust her.

And yet, I’ll still use the metaphor.  🙂

Right now, this book is “gestating” in my head and heart.  It’s being formed into the basics of what it is.  Pretty soon, I’m just gonna have to PUSH! and birth this beautiful mess, but right now the limbs and organs are still forming.

One thing that is becoming increasingly clear to me is that there are “churchy” words and ideas commensurate with the themes Surowiecki gives in Wisdom of Crowds (no surprise there, really), but I was not clear on what they were til today.  Now that I’ve identified them, I’m starting to really settle down.

Specifically, here’s what I’m thinking:

Promoting, defending and ensuring diversity (chapter 4) = hospitality

Doing everything possible to ensure that anyone can be a part of the process of mission and ministry is no different than the age-old posture of making sure that “there’s enough room at the table.”  right?

Promoting, defending and ensuring independent thought (chapter 5) = discernment

Facilitating a group in such a way that everyone can contribute and so that no one is shut out or dominates seems to sound a lot like group trying to attend to the will of God in Christ to me.  You?

Promoting, defending and ensuring decentralization (chapter 6) = empowering call/vocation

Getting out of people’s way and allowing them to use the gifts, skills, and passions that God has given them feels like what I see when I watch John the Baptist call out “Behold, the Lamb of God!” and when I read of Paul starting communities and then setting them free to be the church as they need to be in their own places.

So…hospitality, discernment, empowering people in their call… Know of any examples of those?