Postmodern pilgrim, What do you seek?

I've gone through the ringer over the past five years or so with regard to the subject of evangelism. In the course of obtaining a Youth Ministry Certification at Southwest Baptist University, I took several ministry-focused classes, several of which attempted to teach us effective 'evangelism strategies' (Share Jesus without fear, etc.). In addition to this, in at least one of my classes, we were required to take several 'evangelistic field trips' to nearby downtown Springfield... you know, where all those wretched heathens were bound to be hanging out. So 30 or 40 of us would converge on this 9-block square of territory, pray for God to open doors and hearts, and keep our eyes peeled for 'divine moments'.

One experience in particular has left me wounded in a way I've never quite recovered from. We were at an outdoor art fair, trying to get to know artists and see if God might use us as agents of transformation in their lives. I'm an artist myself, and so I thought this would be natural. And getting to know people was quite natural for me. Then came the shocker.

In SJWOF, the first question we were taught to ask is, "So, do you have any spiritual beliefs?" And that always came across as a rather awkward way of probing at someone's worldview. I mean, who asks that right after meeting a person? So I asked this fellow if he attended church anywhere in town. Immediately, his entire body and face stiffened. "No," he answered abruptly, "I'm not into that." So I asked if he had any spiritual beliefs at all. "That's really my own business, ok? Do you wanna sign the mailing list?" And that was my cue to hit the door.

I felt miserable. The guy totally knew I was a proselyte "on a mission", and he felt objectified and belittled. I often hear that it takes a person seven times before the gospel sinks in. Sounds too scientific to me. And besides, this guy didn't even hear the gospel. He didn't give it a chance. And I left there that day with the strong inclination that I had just pushed him a step farther away from receptivity to the gospel. I just knew I had.

Apart from this experience, none of the evangelistic 'crusades' I participated in resulted in significant spiritual discussions, much less the sharing of the gospel (unless you count the plastered, doped-up guy on the square who could hardly keep his eyes open, who told us his favorite Bible verse was Romans 3:23).

At the same time I was learning about this modern school of evangelism (and being jaded by it), my communication courses led me to explore the postmodern school of evangelism. This was my entrance into what I would later learn was called the emerging church. I learned that postmodern people don't respond simply to straightforward, rational appeals, but long-term relationships. I learned that being the Church incarnationally was the truest and most profound evangelistic witness, without which all our best words were, at best, just words. And so I chucked SJWOF out the window and adopted a highly cautious approach to evangelism in addition to a new paradigm for ministry: intentional community.

After co-founding what we hoped to be a semi-intentional community in center-city Springfield, The Core, and having virtually no tangible success after a year, I began to question the validity of my idealistic vision. Just over a year after founding The Core, God made it plain to us that He wanted me to attend seminary to be better equipped to accurately handle His word, which He told me literally was the true source of divine strength for the believer. Upon moving to Chicago to attend TEDS, we found the exact opposite of what we had just left--mega church Harvest Bible Chapel. But it was no Willow Creek. It was not seeker-driven by any means. The preaching was bold, straightforward, biblical, and personal. The corporate worship was powerful, theologically saturated, and passionate. The ministries were practical, all the way down to helping people overcome addictions of every sort. On top of that, dozens of people were responding in faith to the gospel, and the church was growing by the hundreds each month.

I began to question just how ideal my vision of intentional community was. I hadn't seen fruit from it. It was really, really hard, painful, slow, and spiritually uninvigorating. And here was a church that seemed to have it altogether and that was making serious kingdom impact like no church I'd ever been a part of before.

Ten months later, we're in a crisis of community. Quite simply, it doesn't exist. The Harvest 'products' are fantastic in numerous ways. But we have been drowning in the sea of faces. I've been wondering if this might just be a big city suburbia phenomenon and not a problem particular to Harvest. Everyone coming and going at the speed of light, cramming every last second of their schedules with activity, trying to squeeze the most out of life. That's the way of the burbs. We have no room for silence, reflection, spontaneous community. And, as a result, we have failed to do the very thing Jesus called us to do: "Love one another". We can't love one another when we aren't available to them. Not tangibly, and not significantly.

What to do, what to do.

I want to be a part of a movement of God that dreams big, that zealously seeks to proclaim and magnify the glory of God, that is committed to community and disciple-making, that is doctrinally orthodox and socially just, and that embraces creativity. Is this too much to ask? Why is this so hard?

God help us.

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