For the month of May I am going to feature selected stories and instruction from Carl Medearis. (His brief biography is included at the end of this article.) I have used several of these stories in sermons and in various Bible studies. I thought that this month would be a good time to use his writing and experiences to emphasize the basic skills of talking to others about Jesus.
The premise of his writing is revealed in the name: It’s the Art of “Not” Evangelism. In other words, we will learn how to talk about Jesus without making it a program or a project that is hard to hold onto or carry. Our discussions will not be freighted with activities or to-dos. I will expect to build in you a comfort and confidence that lets you be you and be Jesus to others.
The first clue is in the language of the first two paragraphs. Get used to talking about Jesus. We will not use the name “Christ” or the compound name “Jesus Christ.” Here is why. First, the compound name sounds like a first and last name to a non-Christian. As that is not true there is no need to confuse anyone. Second, the name “Christ” is just the Greek root word for the Hebrew word for Messiah. Now Messiah is a very loaded word full of theological importance that invites a complicated discussion. The goal of the art of not-evangelism is to avoid complicated theological discussions. The name Jesus has incredible “name recognition.” We will take hold of the value of that “brand” identity. I do recognize that the name Jesus will mean many different things to the people we talk to. Again, we are going to have simple discussions. There will be other days to teach more complicated things.
To illustrate this Carl has acted out and timed the average length of the discussions that Jesus has with “strangers” as witnessed in the Gospels. The average length of such conversations is about 42 seconds. In less than a minute you can only make one simple point. That’s most of what Jesus does. Brief interactions will be most of our interactions.
Here are a few points of the what-we-are-not-trying-to-do with the art of not-evangelism:
We are not trying to defend Christianity.
Christianity has survived since the Day of Pentecost. It will continue to do so. “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18
2) We are not trying to defend Lutheranism or the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Luther, himself, would have us reject a theology of glory that engages in any triumphalism but would always have us focus on Jesus— “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:2
3) We are not fighting culture wars.
We have already lost the culture wars. But it was never ours to win or lose in the first place. This is not a “Christian” nation— it is a secular republic with no established religion. We are blessed and not cursed that we have freedom of religion. But that means we are not the predominant culture in many parts of the country and it is looking that we will become less so. But remember the Church was born into the Roman Empire and not only overcame it but transformed it.
You rarely hear the Apostle Paul preaching “Ain’t it so bad” sermons about the Greco-Roman culture he is in ministry to. He rebukes his own churches when their behavior is being conformed to the culture— he already knows the culture is bad! The point is how we behave in it and it is our job to love the bad culture we are called to minister to. Please take a moment to examine and interpret this instruction of Jesus, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44
To quote Medearis, “I think when Jesus said, ‘love your enemies’ he meant, ‘love your enemies!’”
4) We are not worried or anxious about losing anything. Here I provide Luther’s last verse of A Mighty Fortress,
“The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He's by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone,
They yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.”
Because nothing of this world can be lost, every interaction we have with it can only bring something new and transformative. That confidence and hope is the very thing that our culture is looking for. When we speak of Jesus we focus on “the one thing needed!”
To conclude this introduction, I ask you to be open to learning (and enjoying) a different way of communicating Jesus with those around us. I believe that if you put aside what you may have been taught in traditional evangelism you will discover the simplicity and naturalness of the “art of not-evangelism.” Please come and enjoy the journey.
Meet Carl Medearis….
Carl Medearis is an international expert in the field of Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations.
He acts as a catalyst for a number of current movements in the Middle East to promote peace-making, as well as cultural, political and religious dialog leading toward reconciliation. He is the author of several acclaimed books including Muslims, Christians and Jesus, Speaking of Jesus, Adventures in Saying Yes, and Tea with Hezbollah. (Con’t)
Carl, his wife Chris, and their three kids lived in Beirut, Lebanon for 12 years. Through their unique and strategic approach around the Arab world, they encouraged university students, business professionals and political leaders to live their lives by the principles and teachings of Jesus in order to change their societies and nations.
Today Carl and his wife Chris share their lives between Colorado and Dubai. They spend their time working with leaders in the West and in the Arab world with the hope of seeing the Arab Middle East and the West experience full and fruitful relationships through the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.