Staying In The Conversation

Over the past several weeks, various questions posed to me have been sifting through my head. There is one, in particular, I would like to address: How do you stand firm in a Kingdom worldview while remaining humble and teachable in posture?

In light of the recent national anthem protests, I think the idea of staying in a tough conversation and actually having dialogue is more important than ever. The solution is never as simple nor as clear as we think it should be.

Unknown-3I am white. I am not a veteran. My worldview is shaped by my cultural experience. Therefore, I lack the perspective of both an entire population of people who have not had many of the advantages I have received and a group who have fought for life, liberty, and freedom. When issues like the protesting during the national anthem come along, I lack the ability ON MY OWN to see the complexity of how those unlike me are experiencing our country. I can easily dismiss the pain of people I refuse to listen to on the both sides of any issue. Our country is polarized once again.

The best answer, or better response, to the present tension I have come up with (so far) is called resilient communication. I spent some time recently in Mark 4 reading the parable of the sower and connected passages. One of the most difficult challenges about the passage is the seeming mixed message Jesus sends. Greg Lanier puts it this way:

In other words, Jesus speaks in parables so that some will “hear” his teaching and “see” the coming kingdom but not truly “hear and see” (and consequently, not respond with repentance and faith). One immediately uncovers the tension here: Is Jesus saying his preaching is designed for failure to produce results? Is he intentionally being obscurantist to turn people away?

As Lanier later describes, Jesus is standing in a long line of prophetic tradition. Mark cites Isaiah’s call in 6:9-10. Prophets use parables of all sorts to veil and unveil the truth, to bring hearers to the point of recognizing their own self-judgment, and to produce a response to God.

Jesus tactfully shares the word, so that listeners want to stay in the conversation even if they may never hear the words shared. Some stay in the conversation, which is why crowds follow Jesus. It is also why the Pharisees freak out. The Pharisees and scribes have rightfully perceived Jesus’s words and, in light of their own-self judgment, respond negatively. The sinners and tax collectors have also perceived and consistently gather to get to know this potential Messiah. Staying in the conversation involves both the communicator and the listener.

I would argue in today’s world we need to rediscover the art of resiliency in communicating, but primarily in the aspect of listening. When we resiliently communicate we can own our personal worldview, while also remaining humble and teachable in the conversation. First, what is resilience?

Resilience: The revelation of our innate human ability to cope, survive, and then grow.

Resilient listening: Staying in the conversation when I do not like it. Staying in the conversation when I disagree with the “facts” I hear and even the worldview communicated. Resilient listening is keeping curious even when I do not want to be. It is not merely waiting to talk, but listening to understand.

In the holistic idea of resilient communication, there are several action items. I hope to tease out each action item over the next several weeks as I attempt to listen to others. For the meantime, I will provide the list with brief definitions.

  1. Saturation – consistently presenting the same message (not-mixed messages).
  2. Care – meeting immediate physical needs.
  3. Fact – information with no bias.
  4. Demonstrate empathy – sharing another’s feelings.
  5. Follow-through – persevere with action in the process.

Throughout resilient communication the idea of self-judgment is key. It is our own self-judgment which prohibits us from resiliently listening. Our idols keep us from conversing with other humans.  In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller says, “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’”

Idols are the things that rattle us when they are threatened. As our model for humanity, Jesus stayed in tough conversations. He sat with people. He listened. He shared about  God’s design for the world (which transcended any geopolitical entity). Those who could not handle the diversity and constant challenges to their thinking withdrew from the conversation. Eventually, these people killed Jesus.

As people measured themselves against the compassion and kindness of Jesus, they realized how utterly they fell short of the beautiful standard. Because Jesus embodies God’s rightful kingdom manifested, those in the first century are fascinated and frustrated. The many parables, teaching, and life of Jesus provided saturation, care, fact, empathy, and follow-through. Jesus saw each person as having value and worth.

As we engage in the national conversation, how does our posture align with Jesus’s model of resilient communication?

Today, we verbally assault each other without resiliently listening to each other. We heap self-judgment upon ourselves when we cannot handle the reality that we don’t know what we don’t know. We live in a world of “experts” whose Ph.D. is Google, YouTube, and social media posts. In order to move forward together, let us practice the art of resilient communication. Sit down with someone different than you. Stop shouting. Start listening. Stay in the conversation.

 

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” – James 1:19-20

The Discipline of Evangelism

One of the most challenging chapters in Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is the chapter “Evangelism…For The Purpose of Godliness.” The idea of evangelism has been thrust into the forefront of my mind for two reasons: 1) I am taking a class called Evangelism and Discipleship, and 2) because I want to plant a church from evangelism.

I was twenty-three years old before I heard of anyone actually setting aside time in their week to go evangelize. I knew Latter Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses went purposefully, but I had never heard of a faithful Christian person plan to go evangelize. For some of you, planning to go evangelize just does not compute. It did not compute for me either until I began to be influenced in another way. See, evangelism was something the whole church did through events or from living a Christian lifestyle, not personally sharing the good news of Jesus. Evangelism was always guilt driven too. “You needed to be doing it, and you were a bad Christian if you were not evangelizing” (whatever that meant). Evangelism in some cases was simply inviting someone to church. Evangelism, for me, was an ethereal idea that happened unintentionally. I have since changed my perspective.

Evangelism is not some ethereal idea. Evangelism is the communicating of the gospel to another. I explain the connecting between evangelism and discipleship here. As someone who loves the church, we need to rediscover the art of verbal proclamation of the gospel Monday through Saturday.

For some, even reading about evangelism causes an eye-dropping, foot-shuffling anxiety, and the response to click off this post and stop reading. We would rather the idea of personally sharing the good news be left forgotten. However, as Donald Whitney articulates, evangelism is actually needed for our growth in godliness. He says, “I’m convinced that the main reason many of us don’t witness for Christ in ways that would be effective and relatively fear-free is simply because we don’t discipline ourselves to do it.”

We do not discipline ourselves to do it because the only image we have is the guy on the street corner shouting at people about how they are going to hell. At the end of the day, we have not consistently seen very many methods of evangelism. For many years, my excuse was that I had not seen someone effectively do it. I have heard the excuse I do not know enough, or I am not sure what to say. We let our lack of “learning” stop us from doing. Evangelism is always an assignment of faith. The believer is seldom wholly prepared for every tough question or every single encounter.

What’s fascinating is that in Mark 5:1-20 Jesus provides a great blueprint for evangelism.  Jesus takes his disciples to the unclean region across the Sea of Galilee where they encounter a demon possessed man. The disciples most likely knew exactly where they were headed. The demon possessed man could have been heard all across the lake in his chains. Jesus casts out the demon upon reaching the other side and then begins getting back into the boat.

18 As he [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged him earnestly that he might remain with him. 19 Jesus did not let him but told him, “Go home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So he went out and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and they were all amazed.

Simple. No training. No extra time with Jesus. Just go tell others what the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you. Then, the man went and did.

All he knew was the Jesus he encountered and how it transformed his life. Two questions:

  1. How has the Jesus of the Bible impacted your life?
  2. Can you share that story?

If you can share the how Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection has intersected and impacted your life then you can “evangelize.” Recently, I have been challenged the only way to learn is by doing; in conjunction, the only way to do is through discipline. When speaking about discipline people react in funny ways as well. I know I do. Most discipline is drudgery because it has no direction. When the direction is to become more like Christ (Rom 8:29), we cannot honestly pursue Christ-likeness without the discipline of evangelism. Further, when we pursue Christ-likeness it will take effort but ultimately cultivate delight in the Lord.

Disciplined faith is a faith that is likely to survive and lead to faith in others. – Alister E. McGrath

In order for Christianity to reach movement stage (my personal vision for church planting in the Pacific Northwest), pastors have to lead out in personal evangelism and subsequently equipping others for evangelism. Jeff Christopherson says this thought well.

“When churches are planted for evangelism, they often find themselves culturally mismatches and fail to gain an indigenous foothold. When churches are started from evangelism, they seem to instinctively know how to move forward, with great credibility, in a sea of networks and relationships.”

If you would like to see a movement in your city or revival in your church then take up the task of personal evangelism. Will you take a step to discipline yourself to evangelize?