For many people, “evangelization” is a scary word. It gives them a weird feeling in their stomach and it basically flies in the face of contemporary culture. Many people view evangelization (sharing the message and experience of Jesus Christ) with proselytization (attempts to persuade people to join a religion). As a catechist, teacher, and evangelizer, I feel this way all the time. So it got me thinking about the way I (we) approach evangelization especially when we’re new to doing it.
Here is what I’ve come up with:
We think evangelization is about building relationships and using best practices (strategies, tactics, etc.) to share the faith, but really it is about developing a deeper relationship with Christ. So if we just focus on our relationship with Christ, that connection will spill over into our relationships with others as a much more effective means of evangelization.
Let me explain:
1. The Problem: Ulterior Motives (Evangelization vs. Proselytization)
To do evangelization, to be an evangelizer, it seems like we have to develop a relationship with someone with the ulterior motive of converting them to our religion.
It feels like we’re using them. This feels manipulative.
I don’t like it…and I don’t think it is what being and evangelizer really is.
2. A Failed Solution: Strategic Evangelization
Instead of thinking “strategically” about how to evangelize others, let’s think organically.
It’s hard for me to admit that.
I’m a strategy guy. I love systems and procedures. I’ve been asking for help from evangelization experts because I would love to come up with some kind of system, the how-to guide to evangelization.
Again, how manipulative! How inhumane! We’re not moving product here, we’re inviting people into a relationship.
I still believe that best practices and modeling is still needed for people who feel called to be evangelizers, but strategies and best practices alone can be counterproductive.
Relationships require the heart to get involved. They require us to set aside our logical, mathematical, strategic selves and open our heart up to others. Relationships require vulnerability, while systems and strategies do not allow for weakness.
3. A Proposed Solution: Organic Evangelization
Develop relationships…period. Be honest. Be likable. Be trustworthy. Be open. Be compassionate. Show empathy. This will feel like it has almost nothing to do with “religion.”
Accept and give of yourself to others despite what they do or don’t do for you. People will always let you down. Love them anyways.
Instead of feeling obligated to convert our friends or co-workers into having a better faith life, just help them out. Be a giver. Be a listener. Incidentally, listening is often the best gift we can give. You don’t need a strategy for that.
Where does the evangelization come in? When do we share the “good news”?
First and foremost, maintain a meaningful and deep relationship with Christ. By deep, I mean it’s hard. It makes you feel vulnerable to open up to God. You’re willing to change things about your life. You’re willing to let him into every part of your life: your marriage, your work, your meals, your side projects, your friendships.
It takes guts to welcome God in to every part of our lives, but that’s the key to effective evangelization and it has almost nothing to do with what we tell others. Just live it.
And then . . .
That vulnerability and dependance on God that we have cultivated will spill over as a vulnerability (not weakness) with others. You’ll become friends. You won’t hide your faith (praying before meals, thanking God for good things at work, Church on Sundays, turning down that extra drink, volunteering at soup kitchens, etc.) but you won’t force it on them either.
People will trust you because you give without expecting anything in return.
The “good news” will come up in conversation if you’re truly living it. When it does, just be honest especially about the hard stuff. Don’t hide the fact that you don’t really like to pray or that Mass is sometimes boring. Or, if you do like to pray, tell them why and ignore that feeling in your gut or your throat that says you should just keep it to yourself. If you try to pretend that your faith and our Church is perfect, they’ll see right through it.
Good points Jared. I’ve thought about this myself. It always seemed ingenious to me the way Protestant groups talked about making friends with people for the purpose of evangelization. I have a slightly different situation because people are coming to me for the process of becoming Catholic, so I’m befriending them in that context. But I’ve had other friends outside of Church that I’ve never said anything to about Catholicism. I didn’t hide it but I just felt that wasn’t why we were friends. We talked about other things.
In this context I’ve often wondered too, if you don’t make friends for the purpose of evangelizing and only share with real friends, does everyone only have one or maybe two people they could ever influence toward the Faith in their lifetimes? We don’t really have that many real friends.
In my experience, it is harder to share faith with close friends than it is with acquaintances. Maybe friendships aren’t the answer. The vast majority of people who heard the good news in the New Testament weren’t close friends with the disciples. Something else to think about.
I guess what I’m seeing myself realize over time is that when I think of “evangelization,” I feel like I should be in a different “evangelization mode” in certain contexts. As if I needed to set aside who I am and become “Evangelizer Jared.” Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but I think there is a danger in trying to be something we’re not for the sake of living up to some kind of expectation for evangelization.
Very good point about friendships and evangelization. That’s definitely something to think about. I have seen it work exactly the way it’s supposed to through authentic friendships. But those people weren’t trying to be evangelizers. It just worked out. And, if you share your faith with someone you know, it shouldn’t make or break the friendship.