In his book “A New Type of Christian” Brian McLaren writes that he would like to shift the focus of “evangelism” in the Christian Church from counting conversions to counting conversations. The saving message of God revealed in Jesus Christ should not be reduced to an annual profit/loss equation defined by a series of “my personal decision” events. Christians in conversation open up a way towards forming genuine relationships, which in themselves will lead to conversions.
I like this way of thinking. My work as a Christian involved in Pastoral Support was conversational. I talked to people. More often they talked to me and I listen. I know that people were being lead to Christ by this: to the Christ who sat by the well in Samaria and talked to a lonely, ostracised woman in direct affront to both social conventions and the unwritten rules of “shun”. You can’t trust Jesus as saviour until you know him as friend, and the best way to make friends with Jesus is to make friends with one of his friends. I am a friend of Jesus, his best friend actually, and I love talking about him. But I also love talking like him to people who have yet to speak with him personally.
Sometimes I struggle with this. As a school chaplain I was pressured from opposite ends of the scale. Some non-Christian teachers were suspicious of me because I represented “church and rules” in a supposedly secular environment. They appeared concerned that I was there to judge or change children against their will. Yet at the same time some local Christians were suspicious of me because I am a “social justice advocate not interested in souls”. I am interested in souls, but I believe, as I am certain Jesus did, that souls come attached to stories.
The conversations of Jesus always hit the nail on the head. He got to the heart of the matter with patience and love, but without distraction. The work of God in an unbeliever’s life is more than just the decision to believe, (although such a decision is an important one). Unbelievers on both sides of the point of conversion need more of God than the cross. They need the man sitting beside the well, they need the man weeping at his friend’s tomb, they need the man turning water to wine to hide their embarrassment, they need the man who calls them out of their isolation and invites himself home for dinner.
They need the man cooking a fish breakfast on the beach.
The Pharisees hated Jesus because he came eating and drinking. He spent time with outcasts, “quality” time over meals and flagons. Jesus was a mate to many before he became the saviour of all.
As a “Christian” Pastoral Support Worker, how could I have been any less?