Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vol 2:31 Mission and Evangelism: Learning to Listen

Today’s reflection continues with Ben Campbell Johnson’s Speaking of God: Evangelism as Initial Spiritual Guidance focusing on reframing of evangelism within a missional perspective.

We have been taught that evangelism is about sharing the Gospel – and indeed it is, but too often, we misunderstand that sharing involves first and foremost the ability to listen.  To speak without listening is not to share the Gospel at all, but it is to perhaps pontificate, speaking not to the heart of a person, but merely putting the message of the good news out there.

A missional approach to evangelism involves learning to listen.

If we believe that God is at work in the world and that in being led by the Spirit of God to participate with what God is doing, then we can also believe that the Spirit leads us into conversations which have the possibility of developing into relationships. 

The first insight in learning to listen, according to Campbell Johnson, is realizing that the outcome of evangelism is not ours to worry about – “the power and outcome belong to God; we offer ourselves  as willing participants in God’s intention for the moment” (p. 71).  To be able to listen, requires us first to be listening to where God is leading us, with whom he is connecting us, so that we can be in a place with another to discover what God is doing in them and how we might name God’s activity in their lives.

Campbell Johnson, then describes three other characteristics of learning to listen.

First, one must learn to become an empathetic learner.  “To listen to another, [one] must lay aside their personal agenda” (p. 71).  This is to notice the person as God notices the person.  If our encounter is no accident, but a connection that the Spirit of God has led us into, then given attention to the other.  Hear what they are expressing; give attention to them; focus on their life experience.  Campbell Johnson states that this is the basis for genuine dialogue.

Second, one must learn to listen with one’s whole person – with eyes, ears, and heart.  Campbell Johnson states that with our eyes we observe the nonverbal cues of the person we are engaging in dialogue.  What does their posture, their facial expression say about what is being expressed in dialogue?  We are also to listen with our ears – not only the words, but their tone, their inflection, the context of the words – which enable us to gain an understanding of what the other is expressing. 

Finally, one must learn to listen through Gospel filters.  “These filters enable us to hear the narrative of another in the context of biblical truth” (p. 71).  In what ways does the person talk about their story with or apart from God?  We are seeking to become aware of how God is at work in this person’s life.  As we listen to them through a rubric of the Gospel, we will be able to name or address their longing for God, their longing for purpose, for direction; their struggle with alienation, brokenness, etc. 

In listening through Gospel filters we are being shaped by the Gospel in learning to listen for cues that God is trying to get us to see – cues which enable us to speak into a person’s life with the shalom presence of Jesus Christ – but not with a pre-rehearsed spiel, but rather to point out the touches of grace by which God is touching them.  In learning to listen, we discover how to express the Gospel in terms of the good news which is already being accomplished in their lives.  The Gospel, when it is more fully expressed in response for explanation – cf. the Ethiopian court official in Acts 8, finds a place of rootedness, finds a place in which the hearer is able to give assent because the Gospel is uncovering the brokenness in their lives and the healing that comes through Jesus Christ.

Francis Assisi’s observation, “Wherever you go preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words” is appropriate to developing the art of listening in being missional in evangelism.

May you have ears to hear what God is saying, and eyes to see what God is doing, as well as to see what God sees.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vol 2: 30 Mission and Evangelism: Being Intentional and Deliberate

Today’s reflection continues with Ben Campbell Johnson’s Speaking of God: Evangelism as Initial Spiritual Guidance focusing on reframing of evangelism within a missional perspective.

One of the issues we seem to have with the task of evangelism is the intentional manner in which we are asked to engage persons in conversation about the Gospel. Johnson, however, rather than avoiding intentionality, expresses that engaging in evangelism as initial spiritual guidance is in fact a conscious and deliberate act.  He cites Morton Kelsey on spiritual direction.

“Spiritual guidance is the conscious and deliberate attempt to accompany other people on their journeys to and in God” (p. 26).

Johnson continues expressing: “Kelsey picks up on three important elements relevant to our effort. He emphasizes that guidance is a conscious and deliberate effort; it does not occur accidentally. He suggests that we accompany persons; we do not speak from a distance, nor do we initiate persons into the faith and then leave them. And, he emphasizes that guidance begins before persons know God and continues after they have begun to know who God is.” Johnson continues stating, “All these requirements apply directly to the task of evangelism and suggest the kind of soft, sensitive approach appropriate for many [people]” (p. 26).

Over the next three weeks I would like to unpack these three elements – today I begin with evangelism as spiritual guidance being “a conscious and deliberate effort; it does not happen accidentally.”

What this does not mean is that it is an invasive effort, barging in on someone else’s space. Being conscious and deliberate do not have to mean that we are boorish and in people’s faces. Rather, what I believe it means is that we are always conscious and deliberate in our efforts to speak of God as the Spirit of God leads in conversations – it means not to miss the opportunities the Spirit opens in the midst of our conversation with others.

To be conscious is to be continually aware – aware of who we are, aware of what God is up to in the world, aware of noticing what God is noticing, etc. To be conscious is to go about our daily lives – working, playing, shopping, eating, resting, sleeping, loving – always aware of God being part of our daily lives and daily living.

Too often where spiritual malaise creeps into American Christianity is when we live our lives unaware of God’s presence, God’s activity going on all around us. We live, as someone once stated, as functional atheists. We may state that we believe in God, but we live in ways which seemingly are unaware of God being part of our daily lives – we live “on our own” without God.

Therefore to be conscious in evangelism has more to do with us – about our being conscious of God active all around us, in us, and in the lives of others. Do we live our lives aware of God? Do we live our lives seeking to see, to notice where God is active, to notice what God notices? This takes the focus of our own lives and centers our focus on God and what God is up to during our waking hours. To proclaim, “this is the day the Lord has made,” is more than starting off our day with a skip and a smile – it is an intentional, conscious, and deliberate focus on centering all of who we are and all that we seek to do in God.

And, this choosing to be conscious of God, of Christ, of the Spirit, is what makes our consciousness deliberate. We are intentional about beginning our days, each and every day seeking to be conscious of God and God’s missional activity in the world. God, then is no longer a mere happenstance in our lives – our calling upon God when life gets tough, rather intentionally, consciously and deliberately we attune ourselves to the presence of God.

When our lives are conscious of God and deliberately focused upon God, then we cannot help but be aware of God in every conversation, every activity in which we are involved – and as a result, we will find God coming up more in our conversations – i.e., finding ourselves engaging in evangelism, especially as it relates to naming the presence of God in people’s lives – providing initial and ongoing spiritual guidance.

The reason we struggle so much with evangelism, and why I also struggle with evangelism, is when we are not aware of God in our lives, and when we are not deliberate about being conscious of God and God’s activity in us and around us. But when we live with a deliberate consciousness of God, we will be present to God and to others just as breathing is present to us in every moment of our lives.

My challenge to us is that we develop practices – Scripture reading, prayer, spiritual conversations – that shape us to be deliberately conscious of God in all we are and do.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Vol 2:29 Mission and Evangelism: Helping People Discover God at Work in Them

This summer I read Ben Campbell Johnson’s Speaking of God: Evangelism as Initial Spiritual Guidance. I found his reframing of evangelism intriguing having missional ramifications.

Evangelism is always a task that would leave me in a cold sweat. How do I walk up to a stranger and share with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Or how do I go up to someone I know and find a way of weaving Jesus into the conversation. Both approaches I have to admit I have had very little “success” with.

I have always found it easier to be ready to share “the hope that is in me” when I am already in conversation with someone and in dialogue we find ourselves talking about God, about spiritual things, etc. It just seems more organic and incarnational – fitting the way God has wired me.

Yet, being missionally-focused requires, I think, an intentionality that seeks to be in constant awareness of what or who God is noticing, to what God is up to in the world. In recognizing that God is at work in the world, and that God is at work in every human life, seeking to re-create and restore all humanity and creation in relationship with God, Johnson’s insights on evangelism as providing initial spiritual guidance offers some incarnational ways of engaging in sharing the good news of God’s reign present in the world.

In recognizing that God is active somehow in every person’s life – though many, perhaps even the majority are unaware of the extent God is active in their lives and situations, giving the credit to luck or circumstance, enables me to approach relationships and conversations very differently.

In engaging people in conversation – as to what they are reading, or what is going in their lives, even chit-chat like how they are, with an awareness of God being active in their lives, enables me to converse with them prayerfully. It attunes me to listen more closely to what they are expressing, what experiences they are sharing, rather than finding a place to break into the conversation with my story, with my agenda. In listening, I am developing an awareness to notice how God is active in their lives. In noticing how God is active in them, I find that I have the freedom to name God’s presence in them – “it seems like you had a God-moment there” or “it seems that God was guiding you in that.” It’s a comment I am able to make noticing that God is doing something significant in their lives – yet I really don’t expect a response from them. However, invariably a response comes – “what do you mean?” Conversationally, then I am able to respond with how I notice God at work in them in a particular situation, helping them to see or discover God at work in them.

That is about it. I trust the Spirit of God to open up a growing awareness in their lives of what God is doing in them, through them. I do not have to cover all the bases in one conversation as if I will never see them again. Rather, in engaging in conversation a relationship with them develops in which the dialogue can move in directions wherever the Spirit of God leads. Because God is at work in every human life, because God is the one who carries out God’s mission and I am a participant with what God is doing, it is not my responsibility to make it all work out. Instead, in partnership with God, I relate, converse, respond, in accordance with the leading of the Spirit in situations that the Spirit has led me into in order to respond to the stories they share that are pregnant with the moving of God – though they do not necessarily see. I have the opportunity and privilege of helping them see God at work in them. In seeing, and being open to consider this reality, they are in a place where they can respond to God’s moving in them.

Unless we engage persons in conversations that name how God is moving in them – initial spiritual guidance, others may never discover and name for themselves what God is up to in them. This is the kind of evangelism that is filled with hospitality, with relationship, with conversation – and avoids my having “cold sweats.”

I’d be interested in your responsive comments.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Vol 2:28 Being in Mission: Living Centered in Jesus – Loving God with all our mind

This is the last installment of six focusing on living centered in Jesus. As previously blogged, I stated that “to be missional is to have Christ Jesus as the center of our purpose, focus, and direction (heart), to have Jesus as the center of our spirituality and meaning making in our lives (soul), to have Jesus as the center of all our living and in all what we do (strength), and to have Jesus as the center for our thinking and speaking (mind).”

To be missional is to have Christ Jesus as the center of all our thinking and speaking.

I relate this perspective to loving God with all our mind.

What does it mean to think and speak Jesus? One thing it does not mean is that we use Jesus’ name in every sentence or conversation – but rather that our thinking and speaking is centered in what Jesus would think and talk about, not so much content-wise, but the manner in which he addresses God’s desire for the wholeness of all humanity and creation.

A couple of years ago during Lent, the congregation I serve focused on Anabaptist spirituality using a resource by David Augsburger entitled, Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor. The first practice that Augsburger identified was the practice of Radical Attachment. He expressed that “radical attachment to Jesus is not believing something about Jesus (a pietistic experience), or believing in Jesus (a conversionist experience), but believing Jesus (in discipleship) and believing what Jesus believed (in imitation)” (p. 23).

To think and speak like Jesus has to do with believing Jesus and believing what Jesus believed. Jesus is more than the object of our faith – in which it could be argued that we set the tone of what or how we believe (in Jesus). To believe Jesus – to not only listen to him, but to be influenced by him, and to believe what Jesus believed – to be shaped by his belief in God, his mission, his love for humanity, his worldview, is to be transformed in all that we are and do – also transforming how we think and speak.

Do we think and speak in ways that place the agenda of our lives ahead of others, even ahead of God’s missional agenda for the world? If so, then we are thinking and speaking in ways which are not centered in Jesus. To think and speak centered in Christ is, in no matter what we do because all life is not wrapped up in Sunday worship, is to have the eyes of Christ – to grow noticing what Jesus noticed when Jesus took notice of people and situations all around him. It is also to have the ears of Christ – to grow hearing what Jesus heard and how Jesus heard as he gave attention to the people that he encountered. It is to have the mind of Christ – growing thinking about how God’s reign addresses and engages normal everyday events. It is to have the speech of Christ – speaking in ways that give voice to God’s passion for humanity, in ways that reveal the presence and concern of God in a broken and in need of healing world.

To think and speak centered in Jesus is to live being very conscious of the presence of God, through the Spirit of God, in every aspect of our living. Even though life is about caring for ourselves, our families, etc., it is not merely about us – we have been called out of the world to be a new human community demonstrating the purposes and mission of God in the world – living in such a way that we demonstrate God’s relationship with us and we with God, and living noticing and naming what God notices, expressing and extending the compassion, grace, and hospitality of God in every encounter we have.

To think and speak centered in Jesus is to realize that we are always on the lookout for where God is showing up. It is living an intensely God-aware life which shapes our worldview, our thinking, and our speaking.

I think this is what Paul was alluding to in his letter to the Church in Rome when he talked about “being transformed by the renewing of your mind,” a transforming that reframes us in ways that we no longer conform to the pattern of this world (cf. Romans 12: 2) – in everything, including our thinking and speaking

This Christ-centered way of thinking and speaking is also expressed in Paul’s letter to the Church in Colosse – “set you minds on things above, not earthly things. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2).

Thinking and speaking centered in Christ changes the way we are and changes the way we are with others. May we be open to love the Lord with all our mind, being ones who are grasped by the Spirit of God to think and speak in such ways in the world that we express what and the way Jesus expressed hope and grace to a world in need of shalom.