What I came to discover is how much the world craves a listening ear. The biggest problem I have with evangelizing is that you enter into a relationship with a prescribed intention, and that stands in the way of listening well.
You can’t listen well when you are carrying an agenda.
You can’t listen well when you are looking for ways to fortify your own position.
You can’t listen well when you are searching for what is broken in your conversation partner, in order to introduce the solution.
On the other hand, if you are wanting to be evangelized, you learn to listen deeper, because you are trying to uncover truth. You search for the beauty in your neighbor to find points of connection — you are seeking to be saved by them. You become the student, longing to learn from, instead of preach at. You voluntarily place yourself in the inferior position of need and find that your own vulnerability compels others to shed their masks. Your courage to admit uncertainty disarms, until all that is left is raw honesty and frailty of our common human condition.
I am not trying to dismiss the profound biblical mandate of the Great Commission, to go and make disciples. But we must assess the context within which we stake the particularity of Christ. The mission of the church is going to look different when you’re in the remote Tibetan tribes of China or in the pluralistic progressive cities of the West. Increasingly, the way we carry out the mission must find distance from colonial proselytizing. As Pope Francis has recently been quoted, “The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing.”
Proselytizing limits the wildly beautiful story of God and God’s people into a sample script. I agree we need more conversions in this world, but at least as many conversions need to take place within the church as outside of it. Are we willing to evangelize each other by offering and receiving a plethora of stories which may diverge from a single narrative? Can we make space for stories from minority groups, the Global South, the Left and the Right, the rich and the poor, the mega churches and the struggling congregations? Can we be evangelized by each other and practice the art of listening deep and listening well?
Our best hope for connectedness lies in having our stories heard. We earn our right to speak into other people’s lives when we have logged enough hours listening to their truths, and been willing to be changed by their beauty…”
"The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing"
So very important.