Saturday, July 30, 2011

Evangelism is Baking Curiosity

Mention evangelism and many of us in churches will shudder in fear, saying either we cannot do it, or we are afraid people will reject us. One of the hallmarks of Christianity is outreach. Share the Word of God. Spread the good news. Let the whole world know that Jesus has died for your sins, and that there is hope in Christ. In the past, some use tracts. Others use mass evangelism by bringing in renowned evangelists, popular speakers, so as to draw people in. Some go door to door. Yet, others stand on public walkways carrying a placard that says:
"Repent now! The end is near. Believe in Jesus and you will be saved."
No. Such forms of evangelism are simply too narrow to be called evangelism. Broadly speaking, evangelism is more like baking curiosity. Let others see our good works, that they become curious.
"Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." (1 Peter 2:12)
As I reflect on my outreach efforts, I can recall all the different ways I do outreach. One of them involves training to be a counselor at the eve of mass evangelistic rallies. Ready for the harvest, we will learn what to say and how to lead people toward saying the sinners' prayer and then marking out a card for feedback to the organizers. It is all done in good intent. Many of the folks who come know that it is an evangelistic rally. Of course, there are some who felt a little misled because the people who invited them have not told them exactly what an evangelistic rally is. Another way is to share the gospel openly through friendship. Today, I will write about evangelism through 'making people curious.' I call this baking curiosity, one good work at a time. We do the blending. Let the Spirit of God do the baking. In due time, somebody else will do the harvesting. Evangelism cannot be forced. At most, it is an invitation freely given, and are to be freely received.

1) Stir Up Curiosity

Lee Strobel talked about his stressful work as a journalist. In any newspaper office, hectic is an understatement. People's tempers flare. The pressurising stress is there. No time to sit back. Little time to relax. When he was a young Christian, he let his faith control his behaviour at work. Until, one day, his boss took notice.

"Strobel, how did you get through the day without blowing your top?" (Lee Strobel, The Unexpected Adventure, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009, p9)

Right off, it becomes an evangelistic moment. More interestingly, it is not started by a forceful DO-YOU-KNOW-JESUS question. Rather it is posed curiously by Strobel's boss. The boss sees. The boss gets curious. The boss pops the curious question, "How did you get through the day without blowing your top?"

I remember volunteering at a home for the aged sick. Without expectations about anything, we work. We develop conversations with people. We help out in basic chores. It is wonderful to see the people expressing gratitude and recognition of why we are doing what we are doing. There is no sharing of the gospel. There is no distribution of Christian material. We simply let the Word of God become flesh through our good works. While some of the old folks express scepticism, many are genuinely touched by our willingness to spend an afternoon there.

2) Thou Shall Not Manufacture Curiosity

Authentic service needs to be done without expectations. No expectations that what we do will be visible to people. No expectations that we will harvest a certain number of people. No expectations that people must swallow down our help. It is freely given, and must be freely received. Making people curious needs to be done naturally. If not, it becomes a stage of pretence. There are cases where Christians go overboard in this. They pepper every statement in their conversation with 'Christian vocabulary.' They try to corner people into seeing that they are there to witness for Jesus. Unfortunately, such well-intentioned believers have forgotten that the gospel is to be freely received, not forcefully shoved down the throats of people.

One tip remains key to our service: "People generally don't care how much we know, until they know how much we care."

3) Curiosity is Like Baking

Credit: Redfyre Range Cookers
The oven is one of the most fascinating invention in the kitchen. Like baking a cake, the ingredients appear unappealing at first. Think of raw eggs. Think of the gooey flour and powdery contents. Think of the slimy butter, the sprinkling of vanilla, and various strange smelling ingredients. Mix them together and the whole thing looks grimy, and may even smell rotten. Once the oven is pre-heated to an appropriate temperature, in goes the raw mixture in a pan. After some time, the smells start to raise eyebrows. As the raw ingredients are cooked inside the oven, it stirs up the noses around the house. People's expectations are raised. Something good is coming. Something delicious is in the oven.

Curiosity is like that. We avail ourselves as raw instruments for God. We stumble through life, using the very ordinary ingredients and tools available to us. The tools of availability. The tools of talents and skills. The tools of a passion to serve God wherever we are. Mix them together, and let the Spirit of God bake us into a beautiful offering to God, and to our communities we serve. In doing so, we become a beautiful fragrance that will pique the curiosity of people around us.

"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." (Colossians 3:12)
Compassion begins from our hearts. With kindness, we serve people regardless of how they treat us. With humility, we learn to accept people as they are. In gentleness, we correct in love. In patience, we wait for the Spirit of God to move the hearts of men. There is a time for everything. In outreach, we need to be patient. Patient enough to wait for the oven to be pre-heated. Patient enough to resist opening the oven doors at the first smells. Patient enough to wait for God's timing before serving the goodies.

Strobel and Mittelberg state this principle that is worth remembering:
"Simply put, our role is this: to be ready and willing - because God is always able. After all, he is the great evangelist; we're merely the tools that he uses to fulfill his mission of redeeming the world, one individual at a time." (18)
One more thing. Even if we do not see the results of our good works, God sees. God knows. God will use our acts to His own benefit in His time. Do not be discouraged. Just do the good works God has called you to do. Bake cakes of curiosity everywhere you go. At the end of the day, the Lord will collect all the pastries baked, and distributes them to whomever He chooses to call. When our evangelism is like baking curiosity, the following happens:

  • People will ask us out of curiosity 
  • People will form impressions in their heads even without us speaking a word
  • People start to wonder why we do what we are doing
  • People will slowly move from "Why should I become a Christian?" to "Why Shouldn't I?"

Enjoy baking.

Thought: "If your Gospel isn't touching others, it hasn't touched you!" (Curry R. Blake)


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