Today is the first day of classes here at Northwest University. Another year of teaching–and learning–await us all. This will be my third year as a full-time professor at the school. I’d like to say I have finally figured it all out and that the semester will be a “breeze,” but that’s not the case. At least not this year.
Lots of challenges await, and I welcome them. The challenges of teaching, reading, writing, learning, growing, knowing, and so much more. Forgiving and being forgiven. Humbling and being humbled. Reflecting–sometimes quickly, sometimes deeply on the things that cross my path.
By means of an opening to this new season of reflection, let me relate a scene that played out in my front yard just this past Saturday. My wife and I were stacking some firewood in the garage, when all of a sudden a very well-dressed pair stopped by to chat with us about their church. I figured they were members of an LDS (Mormon) congregation, but I wasn’t quite sure after a few minutes. By the time they were on their way and had left me some of their material, I discovered that they were actually another somewhat heretical offshoot of Christianity: Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Putting aside for the moment the theological differences represented that morning, the episode mostly makes me think about evangelism and what it means to “share your faith.” Though the Jehovah’s Witnesses and my own co-religionists differ in their beliefs, what they share is a desire to reach into the world and make disciples.
How we go about this task is important, though.
Flash back to the moment in my front yard when they walked over. I was busy. I was working. This was the weekend. I didn’t want to have this conversation. My guard went up instantly, and I have at least some fascination with the historical and theological background of religions, cults, and sects. Imagine how the rest of the neighborhood felt. Was this really the best way to share their faith?
Though orthodox Christians have a life-changing gospel to offer, many of us don’t do much better. We can mistake just telling people about Jesus–whether they want to hear it or not–as having best represented Him. We take pride, at times, when people reject us. Going door to door, passing out tracts, street preaching….these are time-honored approaches. But do they make a difference? They have had, for some, no doubt, Very positive differences. But on the whole are they helping? Do they simply make us feel better about ourselves for having taken some fire and checked a box in the “Christian responsibilities” list or are they actually what we are called to do?
If we’re just annoying people with our tactics, irrespective of our message, are we really sharing the full gospel? Is the way we might go about such things antagonistic to those who hear or genuinely genuine? Because if my guard went up when I saw those erstwhile missionaries that morning, wouldn’t others respond similarly if they saw me walking over with a Bible and a far-too-easy smile?
Understanding that our responsiblity as Christians is to share the love of God in all ways, I wonder what the best approach to doing so really is. As we all continue to progress to the middle of the 21st century, we ought to take some time to consider this.
I welcome your responses. Here’s to a new year of reflection!