Formation and Evangelism: Introduction

I’ve honestly never before been told that my interpretation of Scripture was doing violence to the text.

Dave and I went to hear the leader of his denomination speak at his church last night. Since this was sort-of a big deal, they did a nice-ish sit-down dinner beforehand, with the youth group dressed in black and white doing the serving. We sat down with a friend and were joined by two people we didn’t know. It was a little awkward, but everyone was eventually introduced and we made the usual conversation among strangers.

After a few minutes, another man joined us. He needed no introduction as he was perfectly comfortable introducing himself all around the table. Turns out, he was the husband of one of the women we’d been sitting with and the father of the other. He was one of those older gentlemen who make a point to talk to younger people about who they are and what they’re about, and he didn’t waste time asking Dave and I those questions.

When he found out we were graduates of a spiritual formation program, he went on offensive (and, eventually, became offensive).

His point was, basically, “Spiritual formation is well and good, but what are you doing about evangelism?” with the implication that it didn’t matter who we are inside as long as we are converting souls. As Dave and I talked with him more, it became more and more clear that there was no place in his spiritual worldview for someone called primarily to care for the souls of those already saved.

He brought up Bible verses. We countered with others and argued about which text should take precedence given the greater biblical context. Eventually, he brought up the parable of the sower, claiming that the grain of wheat that replicates itself indicates that we must produce other Christians. When I mentioned that his principle of “like producing like” also seemed to apply to Christians with a deeper knowledge of God helping in the production of a deeper knowledge of God in other Christians, he told me I was doing violence to the text.

I can’t explain all of the feelings I felt at that moment and over the next couple of hours as I processed the conversation. But what came out of it is this: I want to offer an apologetic for spiritual formation in the context of a lost world full of people who desperately need Jesus. My thoughts aren’t fully developed yet, so you will see here more a work in progress than a polished treatise, and it may come piecemeal, a bunch of bits here and more later. But in the end, I hope to be able to pull together something that makes sense, has heart, and addresses the issue from a place of deep understanding and compassion.

Wow…that sounds ambitious after I write it like that. Ambitious or not, here I come!

I’d love to have your feedback, both on the project and on any questions you’d like to see addressed.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Formation and Evangelism: Introduction

  1. Amanda

    Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but how can you evangelize/ convert others when you are not strong in your own relationship with God? Enriching and strengthening the relationship between Christians and God, which is what I understand your calling to be, enables them to testify to God’s continuing grace in their own lives. So in essence, your job allows existing Christians to lead by example to non-believers. Therefore, the principles of spiritual formation enhance existing believers ability to evangelize. Besides, who wants to be part of a faith that says, okay now that we have you, fend for yourself in terms of spiritual nourishment, we’re moving on to the next non-believer. That man’s interpretation essentially nullifies the whole purpose of spreading the word of Jesus Christ. People need to know that once they have made such a major leap of faith, they will be supported in that faith. God is a continued presence in our lives; like any relationship, if it does not grow and change, it will wither. I feel sad for that man.

  2. Monica

    I think Formation is crucial to Evangelism. What are we inviting people into? Is Evangelism just about saving people from hell? Or is it about inviting them into the Kingdom of God, manifesting in their lives now and continuing on into eternity? Personally, I never did much evangelism until I was more deeply involved in spiritual formation. The more I live my life for Chirst, the more I want to share what He’s not only done for me, but what He’s doing right now. I find that the deeper my walk with the Lord, the more people are open to listen to my testimony and share their own vulnerable places. I’m also struck that Jesus didn’t just say for us to make disciples; He also said “follow Me.” We need both.

  3. Wow…thanks.

    Monica, it’s interesting to me that you use “Follow me” to support this point and the man I was talking to used it several times to support him.

    Amanda, I feel sad for him, too. I feel sad because his passion could do so much, but I fear that it’s mostly hurting people as it stands.

  4. It is down-right eerie how many times what I am thinking about shows up on your blog.

    Today at work we had a meeting where one of our department heads talked about how we had failed at keeping evangelism at the focus of each of our departments’ work and went on to say how that was going to be addressed. I cringe to think what will become of this. Yes, I know I am not as bold to share as I have reason to be, but I keep thinking about how “evangelism” comes from the Greek meaning “good message” and the good message is not just that we are saved from eternity in Hell nor is it only the unsaved who need to be told the good message.

    I could rant further (ask my poor co-worker), but you aren’t the one in need of convincing.

    All this to say, I’m interested in whatever else you think to add on this subject.

  5. Yuck! (About the meeting). I hate being told that I need to focus on something “Christian” in my job when it has little to do with getting the job done. Yech!

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