A group of us went to Australia for an “evangelistic campaign” in the early 70’s. In retrospect, I am sad that I made the decision to do so.
Our group was so passionate about this venture, but little did we know how unsatisfying the trip would be. If we had fully considered the basic assumptions governing the trip, we may not have taken the invitation.
- The first assumption was that we had a right to be knocking on a total stranger’s door. We never considered whether the surprised resident wanted to talk to us or not.
- The second assumption was that this was an appropriate and effective way to talk to another person about something like faith.
- And the third assumption was that decisions made as a result of an impromptu visit by strangers actually produced the outcome desired.
I was reminded of this recently when a friend of mine (who happens to be an atheist) was accosted by a woman in a local business.
“Do you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior,” she asked the stranger, never asking for permission. She made an awful impression on him, true to all the stereotypes that he has of Christians. He was laughing at her when he told me what happened.
Respectful Christians seek “permission” to talk to another person about something so private as faith. By permission I mean entry into someone’s life, entry into conversation, and agreement with another person’s desires. Without permission there is only monologue, and this can escalate to anger and future resistance to the gospel.
Wonderful professor, Fred Craddock, said that we should allow people to “overhear the gospel.” By that he meant overheard conversations and observing another’s life. Such overhearing gives whatever is heard time to marinate without the danger of defensiveness.
Church planting that takes this approach with people soon finds curiosity and respect, rather than the mocking laughter of my friend because of the zealous evangelist.
A smart church plant creates opportunity for “overhearing” rather than the obnoxious “have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior.”