Permission vs Persuasion
Is it just me or do many forms of evangelism involve coercion of one type or another? It may be a voice over with a soft music background and dimmed lighting, it could be a powerful rhetoric or it could be good old fashioned fear (let’s talk about hell should we?). It could well be that in the Australian context any form of coercion or power leverage in evangelism may well be counterproductive.
Every trade has its tricks. Insurance salesmen can conjure images of being financially high and dry, security screen salesmen can conjure up images of rampant crime, gyms show you pictures of flat stomachs and ripped muscles, etc. We however aren’t ‘selling’ anything and there is no need for a ‘trick’. The Apostle Paul said as much to the Corinthians “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
I’ve found that permission opens more door than any form of coercion or influence, and leads to more meaningful exchanges. I’ve learned to simply ask “Permission to ask questions about…” or “permission to speak freely about…”.
I work part of my week in a context where most people do not share my faith assumptions, to say the very least. This ranges from gay people through to outlaw bikies. I never get knocked back when asking permission (to ask questions), and so long as I don’t use the answer to the questions to tee the person up for a piece of my mind and beliefs I am welcome to ask more questions.
I believe this creates more opportunity for that aspect of evangelism that the Apostle Paul relied upon: Holy Spirit empowerment. By not relying on any tricks of the trade, I simply have to rely on the Holy Spirit to empower me and to be at work with the people who I’d love to see respond to the Gospel.
A more traditional view of evangelism sees people fetching others into the church to listen to a persuasive explanation of the Gospel, persuasive enough to get people across the line of the altar call.
We’ve come to understand in more contemporary times that it’s not just case of ‘come to us’ but ‘go to them’. Having said that many Christians feel a significant sense of angst about having ‘spiritual conversations’. I believe that is because the the notion of a ‘persuasive presentation’ is still very much part of our thinking about what the conversation involves.
If that’s the case I can well understand why many Christians aren’t keen on evangelism and prefer to leave it to those who are regarded as being gifted specifically for that role. However, I would argue that we are all capable of taking a genuine interest in people. We are all capable to building relationships in our unique networks, and as part of seeking to understand people we are more than capable of finding out more about how they view the world by simply asking questions. Asking permission is the fastest route to gaining permission, and it’s also a way whereby people who are not ready to talk at a deeper level can push back.
More traditional forms of personal evangelism assume a right to stand on sacred ground uninvited, and well lead to the fences put up around those grounds to be reinforced.
I challenge you to the following experiment:
1. Choose a few people you have built a relationship with. Using the preface “Permission to ask questions about…” ask questions about their views on a range of topics that at the very least are pre-evangelistic (values, morals, beliefs).
2. Do not under any circumstances criticize their responses.
3. Only offer your own viewpoint if asked, and keep it short and sweet. (Never make anyone pay the price for asking you a question, they may never do it again.)
4. Repeat this again and make it a regular feature of your conversation. (It helps if you like coffee and can spend quality time with people.)
5. Remember to pray for these people, and these conversations regularly.
After a while you will find yourself talking about meaningful subjects. The people you talk to will feel safe to talk about deeper than surface issues and you will have plenty of opportunities to tell at least part of your faith story. This will happen outside of a debate or an event that requires coercion or overt persuasion.
Stan Fetting, Crossover Operations Manager, March 2017