Posted by: Philip Rushton | November 3, 2014

Respecting The Process: Conversion as both journey and event

“Sometimes it is more important to keep the conversation going then to resolve every issue.   I suppose we faith-sharers need faith – faith that God is working in the person’s life from many directions; faith that it is not all up to me and that it does not all depend on this one friendship; faith that God will not give up on the person; faith that God’s spirit is so pervasive that even after desire recedes, it will resurge again.” Brian McClaren, More Ready Than You Realize: Evangelism as Dance in the Post-Modern Matrix.

As I have been seeking to recover the “e-word” with my Wednesday night discipleship group, I have started to think that a better term for evangelism might be spiritual friendship.  What people need on their journey to faith is not a one time sales pitch, but a long term conversation partner.  This is necessary because for most people the journey to faith is a process.  Changing our entire worldview and way of life is rarely a quick thing.  People have a lot of questions, doubts, and uncertainties on the road toward change.

Nicodemus is a great biblical example of the process of conversion.  Throughout the gospel of John we see him on a journey toward discipleship. At first he is simply intrigued by Jesus’ demonstration of God’s power.  This causes him to approach Jesus with questions.  Interestingly enough, even Jesus does not tie up all the loose ends for Nicodemus in one conversation.  Nicodemus is initially confused with Jesus’ concept of being born again.  Later, in John 7, we see that Nicodemus is still in the company of the Pharisees, although he still seems to be open to the teachings of Jesus.  Here we discover that he faces a lot of social pressure to oppose Jesus’ teaching.  Finally, in John 19 we see that Nicodemus has given his life over to Jesus.  He has been enfolded into the Christian community and joins Joseph at the burial site of Jesus.  Here Nicodemus anoints Jesus’ body with an extravagant offering.

Nicodemus’ journey highlights for us the fact that conversion is often a journey, rather than just a one time event.  He had to see that Jesus was credible through they way Jesus lived his life, he had to find answers to his questions, he had to overcome the social barriers to changing his way of life, and he had to find the freedom and courage to let go of his entrenched way of thinking and behaving.  This required time.

4537The implications that this has for evangelism is that we need to respect this process.  I have sabotaged too many evangelistic opportunities by thinking I had to move people to a decision point too quickly.  Brian McClaren suggests that a better approach to evangelism is to ask people where they are at on their spiritual journey and discover how you can be helpful to them at that particular stage.   If people are not interested in spiritual conversations, perhaps they simply need a friend that will give them space.  At this stage the best thing we can do is simply live out our faith through loving service.  If they are disillusioned with the church, perhaps they need someone to listen and empathize with their frustrations.  If they are have doubts, perhaps they might benefit from how you wrestled with similar doubts.  If they are seeking to know more about Jesus, perhaps they would benefit from being enfolded into a safe Christian community where they can explore faith.

McClaren suggests that if we respect the process then conversion “events” will happen naturally.  He tells a beautiful story about an experience he had journeying with a girl named Marie.  For over a year he had been in conversation with Marie about spirituality.  She had been participating in a bible study at his home with some other college students.  After one of these gatherings McClaren writes:

“I asked her, ‘Marie, where would you say you are in relation to God right now?  Are you out on the street looking at God’s house? Are you walking up the sidewalk? Are you knowing on the front door? Or, are you inside and part of the family?’ . . . I felt comfortable asking this question, knowing that she had been coming on Thursday nights for several weeks now, learning more about God, the Bible, Jesus, and what it would mean to be a Christian.  Marie said, ‘I guess I’m knocking at the front door, wondering how to get in.’  At that moment, I knew that an ‘event’ was ready to happen.  I asked her, ‘would you like me to help you take the next step inside?’ Her eyes brimmed with tears, and she said, ‘Yes, I was hoping someone would help me, I feel like I want to come in, but I don’t know what to do.”

McClaren goes on to talk about how he and the group lead her in a prayer where she dedicated her life to Christ.

The point of the story is to indicate that there are often important conversion events in a person’s life.  However, these events are usually the result of a process.  They can’t be forced, or manufactured.  They will happen naturally if we commit to a process of spiritual friendship with people.  McClaren suggests, then, that we should stop counting conversions and start counting conversations!

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Responses

  1. This is very helpful for me as I start an outreach program. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Reblogged this on psilovejesus and commented:
    Definitely, this is something to keep in mind as we allow Jesus to work through us to reach others. Yes, it is about that one encounter, but let it not be the end-all of the spiritual journey. Show His love. Show His compassion. Show His understanding. Be a friend. Jesus will take it from there.


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