Let’s start off with a question:
If tomorrow you woke up to a world where no automobiles existed but your own, where no one had even heard about cars or fast moving machines, and where even the very idea of the possibility of the existence of cars was doubted outright, how would you go about explaining to everyone what cars were and why they were amazing and useful? And what is more, what if people kept replying by saying “Well, that all sounds very interesting if that’s what you want to do, but for me, I know my horse or my own two feet work just as well.”
Would you start off trying to explain carburetors, fuel injection systems, and the many types of engine fluids needed to make a car go? Or maybe you would start off trying to explain the differences between American, European, and Japanese made cars and all the bad blood and competition that exists between them?
Or instead would you simply try to describe the wonder and thrill of traveling across the ground at 80 miles per hour, or would you attempt to convey how life changing it is being able to carry hundreds or perhaps thousands of pounds of your possessions across the country at the same speed?
I certainly know where I would start.
So now let me ask another question: When it comes to inviting people to your church or sharing your faith, where exactly do you start?
I remember very well how I once started in exactly the wrong place in answering that question. It was a few years ago when my wife and I met with the first people we ever tried to invite in to our church plant. Longtime friends of ours and a married couple they were in that strange place people often find themselves in spiritually in their early 20’s where they’re not exactly Christians anymore but they’re not exactly non-Christians either. We just loved them so much and wanted them to be a part of what we were doing we though they just might join us if we invited them over for dinner and our pitch was right. The problem is, we started off talking about Anglicanism and liturgy. Our friends had grown up Pentecostal/Evangelical and nothing could have been more overwhelming for them. Here is a condensed version of our conversation, featuring only my side of things:
“Yeah, we’re Anglicans. That means we’re from the Church of England except that we’re in America, except it was called the Episcopal Church for a long time—you might have heard of them—but the Episcopal Church started going in the wrong direction, some of it had to do with gay marriage but some of it also had to do with not even believing in important things Christians have always believed in, like Jesus rising from the dead. Anyway, they had this big split and the conservatives started calling themselves “Anglican”, even though we’re all Anglican because we’re part of this thing called the Anglican Communion. We have this guy called the Archbishop of Canterbury who is kind of like the Pope except he’s not because we’re not Catholic. At least we’re not Roman Catholic, but we’re not exactly Protestants either—you know the people that split off from the Catholic church in the 1500’s. Anyway, there’s Anglicans all over the world. There’s lots of us!…”
Anyone having fun yet? The liturgy/worship talk went a little better, but it was still basically an overwhelming info-dump.
Our friends didn’t end up coming even once to our church (Epiphany) and I don’t specifically blame that night of convoluted monologues about Anglicanism and liturgy, but I was frustrated with my skills as a pitchman and therefore I began to change my approach, both to friends and strangers. Less and less did I actually mention the Anglican Church or the liturgy, at least in an overt way. They are basically foreign words to people in our culture anyway. Instead, I began to try and think of ways to be more inviting and enticing, to leave people curious and hopeful rather than bored and overwhelmed. Instead of a “here’s everything you need to know” approach, I’m now going for a “Come and see!” approach, asking more about the person I’m sharing with rather than tell them all that I’m about. I’m also trying to ask a lot more questions and do a lot more listening.
And so, on the surface at least, I’m a lot less Anglican than I used to be.
What this has also done is to cause me to give up an idol in my life, which is the great pride I have taken in being Anglican. Honestly, people just don’t care that I’m Anglican or even know why such a thing would even be important. But I was never meant to convert them to Anglicanism anyway. Instead, I’m called to bring them to Christ, gather them in to God’s people, show them how to worship through Word and Sacrament, and make them disciples who live out their faith. If I can start off by getting them to see the beauty and wonder of living the Christian life, I’ll let all the other details take care of themselves.