When you're involved in church ministry you obtain a vocabulary that's useful to that culture. One of the words that I obtained was evangelism. To me, this word had to do with how you shared your faith with others, and there were many ways to do this. Somewhere along the line someone taught me that if you're a Christian, you should be evangelising all the time. You should be sharing with people you don't know, people in your family, people you know at school, basically the thought was that if you loved God enough, no fear would keep you from sharing with anyone. So I, and I think many other Christians, felt this need to become a better evangeliser and learn how to be a better Christian by overcoming the fear to share with others.
I don't think that evangelism in a prerequisite to being a Christian anymore. I used to try to learn better ways to share my faith with others and try to get over the fear, but now my thinking is a little different. Please don't hear me saying that evangelism is wrong - or shouldn't be practiced, because I'm not. It's not my job to judge the correct way for all Christians to share their faith, it's only my job to decide what I think God wants me to do.
I think the way I used to share my faith would usually get people mad, but even worse, I would get infuriated with them because they wouldn't believe the things I just laid out in front of them. I never really wanted to share - but I occasionally would because I felt like I would be considered a good Christian if I did. I no longer feel like I have to share my faith a certain way. I actually want to now, but I do it in a very different way, and usually only in someone seems willing to talk about faith. Anne Lammont describes the contrast between most of the Christians she came across and Bill, one that seemed to listen to her:
For a while I think I gave up on evangelism. What I mean is that even though I would share - I didn't really believe that I was doing anything significant. It was like because I was in ministry, I just came to accept it as part of ministry - something you do wheather you agree with it or not. I didn't like trying to sell something to someone - trying to convince them to believe exactly as I thought I believed. But my perspective has changed. I believe that one of the reasons evangelism - or sharing my faith was so difficult was that it wasn't real - it was about defending things that I hadn't experienced myself, but somehow believed were true. Now I try to be honest with people - I give them the whole picture (of what I'm struggling with concerning my faith at the time) - not just the packaged gospel. I'm also alright if they don't buy it. I'll tell them I hope they would believe, but that I'm not here to manipulate them into being a 'believer'. If God moves in their life then he moves, I'm tired of feeling like I have to do the work of the Holy Spirit. I hope someday I will see incredible conversions before my eyes and I'm going to know that it was God that made them believe, not me.
Think of conversions like Penny's from Blue Like Jazz, and Anne Lamont. These are freakin' awesome conversions! I can't get excited about debating people into believing in God. That just means someone has faith that God exists based on logical reasoning. I can get excited about God happening to someone; about someone not being able to explain logically what happened - but nonethe less God moved in their life and now they believe. Check out Anne Lammonts story:
And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about what everyone would think of me if I become a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, “ I would rather die.”
I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with.” Traveling Mercies (pg.49-50)
“…’Fuck it: I quit.’ I took a long deep breath and said out loud, ‘All right. You can come in.’ So this was my beautiful moment of conversion” Traveling Mercies (Pg. 50)
If you haven't read Traveling Mercies, you should. The first couple of chapters that explain her childhood, view of Christians, and then how she became a follower of Christ are beautiful.
I say all this because I get excited for my friends that don't believe in God. These stories make me feel like I'm part of something BIG that God is doing in my friends lives. Something that I'm not really in control of, but maybe somewhere below the surface something is happening in my friends hearts, maybe God is chasing them like He chased Anne and Penny.