“‘Let’s Delete the Words “Evangelism” and “Witnessing” from Our Vocabulary’”

I read a piece the other day that was so good (IMHO) I’m sharing it with you. Kim Johnson wrote a short article for spectrummagazine.org challenging one of the most uncomfortable subjects for people in my community of faith. Let me quote a few lines and summarize his conclusions—in hopes you might be in agreement.

“The words 'evangelism'and ‘witnessing’ have become so terribly distorted that they need to be discarded. They engender so much anxiety, fear, and guilt that they are no longer useful. They too often conjure up images of sweaty hands knocking on strangers’ doors asking if they want Bibles studies. They are too often equated with impassioned evangelists preaching through the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. What should be an expansive topic has become terribly imbalanced, narrowed, and constricted.”

He is quick to point out, “I am certainly not saying we should no longer engage in outreach. Far from it!” It’s these two words that trip us. “You can come up with your own replacement terms for ‘evangelism’ and ‘witnessing.’ I kind of like ‘Christlike love.’ Whatever term you choose, it needs to convey a sense of joy, fulfillment, and adventure.”

He then plunges into describing a fresh paradigm for sharing your faith. Imagine a straight line (go to his article for a helpful graphic), from zero to 100. He calls it a “Spiritual Interest Line”—i.e., a progression to show how “the Holy Spirit moves people forward through our deeds of love and kindness.” So, zero represents no spiritual interest in that person’s mind. You try to engage that individual in a spiritual conversation, there is no response—they’re not there yet. But further up the line (say at 20) a Christian caring for them when they are sick begins to awaken perhaps a slight openness to spiritual realities. Further up the line (say at 40) you invite that individual to go with you to a ballgame and that act of friendliness perhaps opens the spiritual interest door even wider. Then at the 60 marker you offer to pray for them—nothing heroic, but they are receptive to your gesture, and the spiritual interest door opens wider. 

Here’s where it gets interesting. It is when the individual is at the 95 marker on that spiritual interest line that there is an openness in the mind/heart of that person for spiritual conversation and/or exploration. “From 0 to 94, spiritual interest may be growing within their heart, but they do not yet feel any conscious need for God. At 95, they sense an inner longing for something more in life and are looking for spiritual direction and guidance.” And the 100 marker on this interest line represents the individual accepting Christ as their personal Savior.

Now Kim Johnson zeroes in on a handful of lessons we can draw from this spiritual interest line. 

Lesson #1—“I cannot create spiritual interest any more than I can create life. Both are completely up to the Holy Spirit. The only thing I can do is discover what the Spirit is already doing in someone’s life.” How easy for us to mistakenly conclude it is our responsibility before God to engender interest in spiritual things in our neighbors, colleagues or friends. Nope, says Kim Johnson. That’s the Holy Spirit’s mission—who may be on a very different time line than we are.

Thus Lesson #2—“It is the Holy Spirit who moves people forward along that line. He does that through the love and kindness shown by His followers to those within their sphere of influence. Our deeds of love do not create interest, they are the raw material the Spirit uses, just like a potter uses the clay to create beautiful art.” This is starting to make sense!

Lesson #3—“I don’t have to be the entire process. The Spiritual Interest Line is like a chain with many links. When someone accepts Christ, it may seem to be the work of a moment, but, in fact, it is the result of a long 'chain of circumstances ‘ that brought them to that point.” Then he uses this helpful illustration: “You might visualize a pitcher being filled with water, drop by drop. There will eventually come one drop that causes the water inside to spill out the spout. Suppose we equate the moment it spills over to a person whose spiritual interest hits 95 and they become conscious of a need for God. That is usually the moment we highlight in our Union Papers. But let me ask you, which drop of water was the most important? Of course they were all important and should all be equally valued. Every link in the Spiritual Interest Line is just as important as any other. Even if no one in leadership notices, God does.” To which I say, Amen!

Lesson #4—“I should relate to people according to where they are on the Spiritual Interest Line. It is not helpful to relate to someone who is at 33 as if they are at 97. Likewise, it is just as inappropriate to relate to someone who is at 97 as if they are at 33.” But notice how he develops this lesson: “I have often heard people debate whether it is enough to simply live a godly life, or do we have to actually talk to people about God? The answer is not either/or. We simply have to do what is appropriate for where people are at the time. Prior to 95, people will usually have little interest in ‘Bible talk,’ so loving deeds are our most effective response. From 95 onward, a person is eager to learn from scripture and does not need to be manipulated or convinced.” Think about that!

Let’s face it—we aren’t all alike. So here’s one more of Kim’s lessons: “Different personalities and Spiritual Gifts can relate more easily to different parts of the Spiritual Interest Line. For instance, some introverts may feel more comfortable helping others by doing things behind the scenes whereas an extrovert might prefer more direct, personal, one-on-one engagement. A person with the Spiritual Gift of 'Helps' will be great at doing specific tasks for those at 1 to 94 whereas someone with the gift of ‘Teaching' or ‘Evangelism' may want to specialize in working with those at 95 to 100. God wants each of us to reach out through who He has made us to be. No guilt. No fear.” (See www.spectrummagazine.org/views/2019/lets-delete-words-evangelism-and-witnessing-our-vocabulary for the full article.)

Wow—this makes sense, doesn’t it? 

It certainly fits with our new “Bring a Friend to Church” strategy! (Be sure to read Pastor Rodlie’s piece in this eLetter all about the unique Pioneer event coming Sabbath, August 31, in our renovated sanctuary.) It isn’t about finding people 95 and up on the spiritual interest line. Rather “Bring a Friend to Church” is about inviting people you’ve become friendly with over the weeks and months past—people in the neighborhood, in the dormitory, in the work place—who may not be open to Jesus but who are open to you.

You can use an invitation as simple as this: “Hey, we’re pretty excited about the summer-long renovation of our Pioneer church. We’re celebrating the new season with a new series of presentations our pastor’s having—all about growing the most important relationships in our lives. It’s called, 'Roommates, Bad Dates and Soul Mates.’ Here’s a card that describes it. I’d love to have you come. In fact, I’d be glad to pick you up Saturday morning, August 31.” That’s it.

Make the invite. And let the Holy Spirit do the impressing. It really is that simple.

So read Pastor Rodlie’s piece, pray for the Spirit to open the way for you to invite three of your friends or neighbors, and a week or so before August 31, make the invite. After all, the Bible ends with an invitation: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!' And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!' Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17). Let’s join God in His friendly “Come” all over this community!