Evangelism Celebration

Evangelism Celebration February 1, 2012

Today my book Evangelism in the Inventive Age releases and I want to celebrate with my Emergent Village friends by giving you a copy of BodyPrayer.

There are two ways to get in on the celebration gift:

  1. Order a copy of the book today. Mention that you bought it on your social stream (Facebook, Twitter, or blog) and send me an email (Pagitt at Gmail.com) with the receipt, link and your mailing address.
  2. Order the book by Feb 15 and write a review on Amazon and send me an email (Pagitt at Gmail.com) with the receipt, link and your mailing address.

I am really excited about this book and look forward to engaging in conversations around evangelism and would love to have you join me.

In my Inventive Age Series I contend that we are in the fourth cultural period in North America moving from the Agrarian age through the Industrial age and Information age and now we have entered the Inventive Age. These cultural shifts influence the way we think, the values we hold, the aesthetics we appreciate and the tools we use.

It is in this context that I suggest evangelism is about resonance and not conversion.

Here is the opening chapter of the book.

I’m An Evangelist

I’m an evangelist. And I have been an evangelist since the day I became a Christian at the age of 16.

I grew up in an intentionally non-religious home. There were churches on every corner and we didn’t go to any of them. Ever. On purpose. I didn’t know anyone who was interested in Christianity or even religion in general—at least that’s what I assumed since I never heard anyone I knew talk about faith of any kind. When I was 16, a buddy invited me to see a performance of the Passion Play and I found myself compelled to give my life to the story I saw that night.

After that, I was eager to share this story with nearly everyone I met, whether they wanted to talk about it or not.

In high school, I spent lunch hour talking to my friends about Christianity and wrote about my faith in my classes so I could share my faith with my teachers.

On the weekends, my friends and I would drive around the Twin Cities looking for groups of “lost” teenagers—skate punks, gang kids, those packs of teenagers that hang out on the street corners waiting for the right adventure to come along—and talk to them about our God.

In college, I spent my Spring Break walking around Daytona Beach talking to other college students about the meaning of life.

After I graduated, I joined a basketball ministry team that played all over the world with the hope of introducing our opponents to Jesus.

As a youth pastor, I led training programs to help teenagers engage in evangelism with their friends and families.

I’ve lead international trips designed to help adults and teens engage in evangelism with strangers.

I’ve spoken at youth rallies and events where I shared the story of Jesus with hundreds of people at a time.

I started a church with the hope of helping people find the story of God in their lives in real and practical ways.

My evangelistic “philosophy” has changed over the years, but my compulsion to urge others to see God in the world and live in harmony with God has remained.

In fact, it is my constant engagement in evangelism in my nearly 30 years of Christian faith that has lead me to deeply reconsider many of my assumptions about evangelism.

I haven’t just been on the giving end of the evangelistic conversation. I am an evangelist, but I am also evangelized on a regular basis.

I have the privilege of sharing my life with people who are constantly showing me what God is up to in the world, people who graciously invite me to join them as they figure out how to be part of God’s agenda. Some of them are church professionals, some of them are farmers, some of them run camps or orphanages or coffee shops. Some of them are older than I am, some of them are quite a bit younger than I am. Some of them are dying, some of them have just been born. And I gladly welcome their invitations.

I am also evangelized by strangers–something that seems to be happening on an increasingly frequent basis. Because I talk about and write about Christianity in ways that sometimes challenge people’s ideas about faith and church and community, there are people who feel compelled, even obligated to contact me by email, voicemail, even actual mail to tell me that I should repent and change my beliefs, my words, and my influence. They’re worried that I’m proclaiming news that isn’t remotely good.

Just this week I received a rather bizarre, handwritten letter from someone I’ve never met. This person included a brochure called, “Shocking Truth–Yahweh Decrees Punishment” that went on to connect natural disasters with dangerous theology like mine.

This week I also received an email with the subject line: A Message of Warning.  The email listed several concerns for my eternal well-being and finished with the sentence, “I can only hope that you’ll repent, but I hope even more that like Paul, the scales would fall from your eyes, and that you’d you see (by the revelation of God the Holy Spirit) the false/heretical ‘gospel’ that you preach.”

I really do pay attention to what these people have to say. If it’s possible, I try to have actual conversations with my evangelists by responding to their emails, letters, and calls.

I know they are genuinely worried about me and about the people I might influence. I want to stay open to the ideas of others and to keep an ear tuned to the prophets among us. But our discussions rarely end with anything but frustration. For both of us.

For me, the problem isn’t that they want me to turn away from what they believe to be heresy. It’s that they want me to do something that is about at unappealing to me as my ideas are to them. They want me to fear of God. And when they start talking like that, well they might as well be speaking to me in another language. Even in my earliest days of faith I found the “fear God” approach to be so far from the news of Jesus that I’ve never given it much consideration. It just doesn’t fit with how I understand the story of God.

My evangelists don’t always try the fear approach. Sometimes, my fellow Christians just want to tweak what I believe. Not long ago, I was at a conference for church leaders. I was standing in the lunch line with a nice Lutheran who wanted me to reconsider my views on baptism and the way we practice baptism at our church. He was concerned that we “not undo the promises of God” by allowing people to practice both infant and what is often called “believers baptism.”

For some reason, I also have a knack for attracting Mormon missionaries. Perhaps it’s my willingness to make eye contact as they walk or peddle by me. These conversations usually end up with them asking me to consider building up my faith by reading the Book of Mormon and seeing if I indeed experience a “a testimony.”

Then there are the folks who want me to convert completely. They want me to change from one faith to another.

Last month, as a result of some growing friendships in Minnesota’s Muslim community, I attended an Iftar meal with members of a Muslim Mosque as they broke the Ramadan fast. While I waited in line for the meal, a passionate, winsome, young man implored me to consider the value of the five pillars of Islam in my own life and submit to God “more completely.”

A dear friend asked me to “consider my inner mystic” so I could become more spiritual.

Even my friend August Birkshire, president of the Minnesota Atheists, assured me that if I would follow his reasoning I could be freed from my “mythical belief systems.” He offered me a small card that read “Saved by an Atheist.”

There sure seems to be a lot of evangelizing going on, at least around me.

Whether it’s me doing the talking or someone else talking to me, I can’t help but wonder what it is we’re up to. Evangelistic conversations are so odd, so unlike anything else in our lives, that they seem to take on a different cast than other conversations. Whenever I become aware of that oddness, I find myself wondering if evangelism as we know it is working or if it’s even appropriate.

I wonder if we should evangelize one another at all.

It seems I’m not the only one wondering about the goodness of evangelism. When I tell people what I’m working on, they have one of three responses:

The chilly response in which they assume I’m telling them about this book as a means of evangelizing them and if they show too much interest I’ll launch into the Four Spiritual Laws;

Or the heated response in which they rattle off a long list of frustrations with the practice of evangelism as they know it.

Or the please-suggest-something-that-will-make-evangelism-okay response in which people share their hopeful but not overly optimistic desire that there might be a way of sharing the story of God that is respectful and meaningful to everyone involved.

I have yet to meet someone who is neutral on the subject.



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