A Failure of an Evangelist
Sitting around the dining room table with friends, a bottle of wine, a communal plate of brownies, and Settlers of Catan spread before us. A lot of really great news has been shared at that table: Getting into graduate school. Deciding not to move to Minnesota. Putting an offer on a house for the first time.
If I do my best to look at this objectively, most of this news probably doesn’t sound all that great to most people: Literally billions of people decide every day not to move to Minnesota. It’s not even news. But for someone who would be heartsick to lose two dear friends to the Great White North, I was ecstatic. It’s good because it’s personal.
OK so personal news is good, and it’s easy to share exciting life developments with people I like. What about the Good News? I mean, that’s tricky, right? Really, who am I to say my news is better than yours? Probably safer not to say anything at all. George Hunter, however, in his book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, paints a different picture—one of a ministry of hospitality that makes the notion take on a more palatable flavor. Evangelism? No, thanks. Friendship? Yeah, probably.
If I imagine my home as the monastery Hunter describes and guests as people who just need a break from the daily grind—much like I myself need—it actually seems quite natural. Greeting people warmly on their way into my home (or into my life) simply requires a different level of intentionality. It’s actually just bringing to the surface what I already believe: that Jesus is in them and they are worth my full attention. Hunter even says that if the abbot of a monastery is fasting, he will stop to enjoy a meal with a guest.That’s the kind of relational priority that I’d like to achieve one day.
I imagine I have a plate of brownies. The moment when I realize I want each of my companions to have a brownie as much as I want one for myself is when I know I’ve come to recognize God in each of the faces around the table. It’s a bigger-picture view that goes beyond myself. A little different from my natural inclination, but very, very good when I’m there.
That said, I have zero percent success rate as an evangelist—at least as an evangelist for Jesus; I’m pretty sure I’ve sold at least a couple people on vacationing in Iceland. I love the people at my table. I want to be a good friend to them. I doubt I’ll panic if they never become part of a church or pray a prayer asking Jesus to reside in their heart for always. In short, I don’t feel a sense of urgency with regard to the state of their souls.
While there was one specific time when I first prayed that special prayer with my Sunday school teacher in the early ‘90s, I’ve prayed it a million times since, a thousand different ways. The grappling with what I actually believe started long after that date and there is no end in sight. In fact, my best grappling occurs around tables with friends who grapple too. The gathering and grappling feels like it most resembles what Jesus spent his time doing anyway (as long as there’s food—that guy was always eating).
I pray that my friends experience the grace, hope, love, and peace that I find in God. For me, this prayer is a natural expression of my love for them. If they ever pray, I hope they pray for me too. Either way, I’m blessed by their presence in my life; for welcoming me to their table and allowing me to welcome them at mine. Whatever comes of that—for any one of us—is in God’s hands.