In Sunday's Gospel lesson we witness the world's first evangelical act. It wasn't that scary. In fact, it was probably kind of funny.
John the Baptist is catching up with two of his disciples when out of the blue he exclaims, "The Lamb of God!" and starts pointing wide-eyed at Jesus off in the distance. I imagine this was similar in effect to Dug the dog's startling cries of "SQUIRREL!" in Pixar's movie Up.
Their curiosity piqued by John's conviction and enthusiasm, his two disciples saunter over to Jesus, who spends the day with them. And then Andrew grabs his brother Peter to meet Jesus. Philip brings Nathaniel. A pattern emerges: one's experience of Jesus' divinity leads that person to tell a friend, who becomes curious enough to seek out Jesus for him or herself. Experience then leads to testimony then leads to curiosity. Experience. Testimony. Curiosity.
During Jesus' life this was how word spread of his wonderful teaching and healing. But after Jesus' death and resurrection, somehow folks kept having experiences of him. If they hadn't, the evangelical chain would have failed: a testimony not based on experience can hardly pique another's curiosity, and curiosity without the experience of the divine will certainly not lead to testimony.
But somehow, for days, weeks, months, years, decades after Jesus' death -- at least three decades before the first Gospel was written down -- dozens, hundreds, thousands of people had experiences of God through Jesus and told someone else about it. They didn't tell someone about it because if they didn't they would go to hell or because they were paid to do it but because their personal experiences of Jesus changed their lives.
Evangelism is like telling a friend about a new restaurant you liked or your new favorite book -- except that you're sharing a mystical or at best hard-to-explain experience that happened to you at an incredibly intimate dimension of your life. And people will probably think you're crazy. Because you probably wonder if you're crazy.
So there's that understandable concern about the believability of your experience.
But here's the most important thing we need to remember about evangelism -- it happens best (only happens?) in the context of an existing relationship!
That's why taking a megaphone to a street corner doesn't work (I'm sorry if you had hoped to employ that strategy sometime soon.) So in talking to someone you already know, all you have to do is preface your testimony (i.e., your sharing of an experience you've had of God) with the words, "I know this sounds crazy, but . . . "
Your friend will then know you are not crazy, because according to Captain Jack Sparrow, only crazy people don't wonder if they're crazy.
Telling others about your personal experience of God is probably the most effective method of evangelism in today's postmodern, post-truth, and (appropriately) hyper-skeptical world. The best part is that we're not in charge of someone having an experience of God. That's up to God. No need to try to convince someone through a sophisticated intellectual argument, or to concoct a guilt-inducing, fear-evoking, or passion-flaring event with the intent to convert. Nope. Rather, just invite the curious to pray. Prayer has always been the means by which we arrive on God’s threshold and knock. And opening the door is not our role.
Presumably, we invite the curious to church so that they may have experiences of God. I hope they do! But I'm not surprised if they don't -- there are a lot of things that happen in church that may be so unintelligible to the unchurched, or triggering to the post-churched, that those feelings stand in the way of a quiet and open approach to God in prayer. That said, for someone who has never prayed before, going to church may be a helpful first start. I do think it is incumbent on those of us who are sharing our experiences of God with others to help the curious pray if they don't know how.
Happy to chat more about any of this! And would love to have coffee with anyone in the North Park/South Park/Golden Hill/Normal Heights area to hear what resonated with you. Peace, Colin [email protected]