I think I used to be an evangelist… but even then I’m not so sure…
You see when you are a youth pastor, especially one with significant influence there is a very strong ‘power’ relationship with the young people in your care and their desire to emulate you can make them quite easy to influence towards the gospel. I know that in my time as a youth pastor I intentionally guided many young people into faith. They seemed to want to go there, but I am also aware that because of my position I was able to exert an influence that few others had. I never sought to use that influence in an inappropriate way, but in hindsight I am aware that it was there.
Even as a senior pastor I had influence with those in the church sphere when it came to issues of spirituality. People would listen to me, sometimes defer to me and again I was able to influence some towards faith. I was the bloke who ‘knew stuff’.
However in recent years I haven’t been able to do that. Minus the position and status accorded to me as a pastor, I don’t seem to have the same influence among my friends who are not Christians. To my friends I am… a friend… Hamo… just that.
They tend not to be ‘impressed’ with me nor want to be like me. Nor are they likely to defer to my superior knowledge of all things spiritual, because they have their own view on these issues, some of them strong and well constructed and my view is not considered at all ‘superior’.
I really thought I was an evangelist, but these days I am not so sure. Without the leverage of some kind of position I have found it hard to influence people towards Jesus and I haven’t been able to help anyone experience ‘new birth’ or whatever term you choose to use.
For a ‘missionary’ its been pretty disappointing and it often causes me to consider giving it away. I wrote a post a few weeks back that in the end I chose not to go public with – a lament of sorts about where I find myself. It was a little too raw for the public environment! (This is a mellow reflective version of it)
This issue has caused me a fair few questions, questions I am still mulling over.
As we live as missionaries here in Brighton are we just ‘not very good’ at what we are doing?… That’s not a self pity question. Perhaps we are just shitty missionaries. Perhaps we would fail missionary endeavours 101… Although to be honest, without blowing my own trumpet, I don’t think this is it.
Am I who I once thought I was?… Interestingly much of my ‘evangelism’ has been oriented around intellectual discussions and rational argument for faith. This was in vogue 20 years ago, but now people care less for the coherence of an argument and more for the experience of a faith. “If it works we will consider it.” Interestingly, I have also become more aware of the difficulty of arguing logically and coherently for the truth of the gospel! While there is much that makes sense there is also much that is simply taken by faith – even if we would prefer not to admit it. I have a much more humble take on my grasp of faith than I did as a 20 year old. In the last 20 years evangelism has also become much less confrontational / propositional and much more relational / experiential. This does not play to my strengths at all. Perhaps I was an evangelist in that more cognitive, combative world?
Then I wonder if this really is just a tough place to be missionaries. A middle class environment in boom town Perth isn’t easy, but honestly I don’t think anywhere is easy. I am told that the people who churches are ‘reaching’ are usually the down and out, the poor and needy. I think this is great, but I am concerned for how we connect with the middle class who make up the vast bulk of Australia. And I am concerned to see real disciples formed, not just church attenders.
I wonder if we should just pull up stumps here and move on… I wonder if there are easier places – better places – more open places?… We do sometimes consider overseas missionary work and I wouldn’t write it off (Tasmania is a nice place), but my own sense of desire to somehow connect the gospel with middle class westerners is very very strong. In fact it could almost be seen as masochistic I reckon. For a results oriented person to be a backyard missionary is just a bad mismatch…
I really don’t know what the future holds. Some days I would like ‘out’ of what I feel called to. Some days I wonder if I made a big mistake just setting out in this direction. I usually have a meltdown once or twice a year, but this is not a meltdown, its more a question of how I best invest my life.
As our Upstream team shrinks, and we seem to find it impossible to recruit missionaries (most people are ‘seeking good worship, a kids program and good teaching…’ ) I sometimes consider going back to leading a larger church where there are some people to inspire to action. But I’m not sure if I could slot back in again… I may have gone beyond the point of no return.
Then again maybe those goal posts would shift as well!
Anyway, I realise this may sound somewhat depressive. It is a tad. But that’s life sometimes isn’t it. I have a wonderful family, my life is pretty rosy in many ways, but I live with an ongoing sense of disappointment that I haven’t been able to accomplish what I had hoped and I am not sure if I ever will.
A few people have suggested that my struggles have not allowed me to enjoy the journey – partially true. There have been times when I have missed out on the enjoyment of our experience because I am results oriented. Then again I tend to be someone who climbs mountains to reach the summit. If its an endless scenic tour then I’d rather just buy the postcard.