When I was in third grade my music teacher, Ms. Smedley, taught me all kinds of ridiculous songs that I for some reason remember all the words too. One of them was this little calypso/reggae jam with two verses that had the same melody but two different rhythms that reflected their dichotomous lyrics.
“Hurry, hurry, hurry come on the run/ Hurry, hurry, hurry, no time for fun/ Hurry, hurry, hurry, here comes the sun/ When we are finished there will be time for fun.
Alright I come now, alright I come/ No need to hurry, no need to run/ It is too early where is the sun?/ I am so tired that I cannot run”
She also gave me a plastic bust of Beethoven that I still have, but that’s not really what I want to talk about. This song came to mind because I’ve been having discussions with some of my partners about evangelism and urgency. How quickly should we move on from those who are not interested in Jesus and our church?
One of my friends was saying that there is no game but the long game with some people. They are so burned or so antagonistic that the only way they are ever going to follow Jesus is after a long season of loving by the Christians in their lives. There’s a hefty hunk of truth in my friend’s discernment, but I’m not ready to settle into that arrangement yet. I’m singing the first verse of the song. I have more urgency.
My urgency is rooted in my belief that the Son of Man will come like a thief in the night. Jesus may come back tomorrow (and I hope he does) and I want as many people as possible to recognize and embrace Him when he does. I have a sense of responsibility to the charge that Jesus gave us to go and make disciples of all nations, and I am acutely aware of how limited I am in time and capacity. I want to make my efforts count.
There are hundreds of thousands of people within a couple of miles of me who know very little about who Jesus actually is. The argument could be made that any Usonian today has heard the story of Jesus so the basic urgency we see in Acts and the rest of the New Testament is not really applicable to our situation. Our culture is post-Christian as in “totally over Jesus”, which is quite different fro the pre-Christian culture of the 1st Century Mediterranean.
But I don’t think the facts as filtered through modernism, sarcasm and even the dead churches so many of us were exposed to as children are really the Gospel. That story of Jesus is not the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus Himself and Jesus is alive in us in a way that many have not experienced before. Taking ourselves that seriously may be the hardest step to take, but once we do our evangelism strategy is just a matter of how heavily we lean into that truth. Peoples’ bad experiences with the Church, or even just their bad impressions of the Church can be overcome. There is still Good News that is actually news to a lot of people. Circle of Hope’s strategy to include folks before they make a commitment to follow Jesus allows for this news to be seen and heard. We need to experience the power of God among us for our doubts and our wounds to be assuaged and healed.
The question “How slow is too slow?” comes down to how insistent I am in trying to include my friends in our community before they are Christians. How many invitations is too pushy and how quickly will they write me off if I “cross the line”? I don’t think it’s my job to worry about that. I want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to be in a life giving relationship with Jesus, and God wants that too. Protecting friends from my deepest fulfillment is crazy. If they are offended by my joy, so be it. Of course this attitude could quickly slip into an off-putting arrogance that is typical of many evangelists (and I am probably more prone to that than some), but I think the invitation can be made in a way that actually protects a person’s dignity, especially when they know I’m a Christian and they know it’s really important to me. Someone may filter me out of their life because I am too “up front” about Jesus, but I prefer that to filtering Jesus out of my life–my life which is nothing more than my relationships and conversations (i.e. If I’m not bringing Jesus into my everyday conversation does He still have a place there at all?)
Patterns of relating around things other than Jesus are quickly established because Jesus is a taboo subject. It’s hard to break out of those patterns once they are established because the build up to the “reveal” of Jesus brings with it more anxiety. The more we allow Jesus to remain in the margins of our relationships and the conversations within them the harder it will be to get Him into the center of someone’s life. All this being said, I have had several long term relationships that have eventually resulted in a person becoming a Christian. I’m not writing anyone off, I’m just being ready for them to write me off. I kept Jesus at the center of our relationship (and it wasn’t that hard). I regularly invited them to Circle of Hope events. I told them about my relationship with God. I shared with them the work I was doing.
So I err on the side of “hurry, hurry, hurry” instead of “alright I come” because 1) Jesus is coming back tomorrow, 2) The effect of marginalizing Jesus in my everyday conversation, marginalizes Him in my heart, and 3) It’s okay if someone doesn’t want to be a Christian and doesn’t want to relate to me because I am.
P.S. Bringing it all together – Radiolab did a story on how Beethoven may have wanted his music played much faster than we ever heard it http://www.radiolab.org/story/269783-speedy-beet/