Conversations that ring true

My favourite part of the day, when I’m working from home, is hearing the distant sound of church bells from Winnipeg’s Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral. The bells chime every three hours at 9, noon, 3, and 6. Their faint, lyrical melody rouses me from my work, stirring me to pray or simply acknowledge God’s presence.

Historically, church bells called worshippers to service or prayer. They announced weddings and funerals, and alerted townsfolk to danger. According to A Handbook of Symbols in Christian Art, a church bell is “the voice of God,” calling out to those who will hear.

The cathedral’s bells are one of Winnipeg’s last vestiges of public spirituality. Now, the rhythms of Canadian society have few built-in reminders of God.

“How about that good news?”

Perhaps that’s the reason we have so much trouble with evangelism. The bells that once reminded us of God’s presence have been silenced. We now struggle to identify jumping-off points to start conversations about faith.

Media and culture have taught us how to talk about sports (“What’s up with the NHL lockout?”), politics (“What do you think about Prime Minister Harper’s immigration policies?”), or entertainment (“I love that new TV show Downton Abbey!”). But many of us aren’t well versed on how to talk about the gospel.

Over the past year, CCMBC’s executive board has been urging MB churches to become more intentional about reaching Canada with the good news of the Jesus. So, what are some tips for sparking spiritual conversations with our neighbours?

1. Ask questions. In The Art of Sharing Your Faith, Joel D. Heck says, “The ability to ask appropriate questions enables any subject to lead to a discussion of the good news. As a matter of fact, one of the most difficult problems Christian witnesses face is how to get from a discussion of the weather, politics, sports, or current events to a conversation about spiritual matters. The art of asking questions is one of the most effective ways.”

Heck suggests asking initial spiritual questions (such as “Do you ever wonder where God is in the midst of the conflicts we’re seeing around the world?”), and then moving to deeper spiritual questions that help highlight where a person is on their journey with God (such as “Does a particular holiday, like Christmas or Easter, ever make you think about spiritual things?). The idea is to engage in dialogue rather than present a monologue.

2. Remember we have good news to share. In a recent lecture at Canadian Mennonite University, Ontario pastor Bruxy Cavey said Christians often present the gospel “in a bad news way.” Our words are laced with condemnation and anger, which we falsely label “passion.”

“The only positive thing the Bible says about anger is: get rid of it right away!” warns Cavey. “We’ve carried a kind of zeal into our evangelism that is just sin.” It’s the Holy Spirit’s job, says Cavey, to convict people of wrongdoing and to judge human action; it’s our job to offer encouragement. Otherwise, we may end up alienating the very people we want to reach.

3. Just do it. “God has gotten the fruit ready for harvest,” says Cavey, “but he won’t do the harvesting.” God could produce Christians on his own – miraculously and efficiently. Instead, he chooses to partner with his people to carry out the task. The Lord values relationship over efficiency. We’re all called to collaborate with him to bring good news to the world.

What if we don’t have the spiritual gift of evangelism? “There will be evangelists,” says Cavey, “who will go farther than the rest of us. But we can all do our part to pursue spiritual conversations. We should all be able to say, ‘I did my best to represent the light of Christ.’”

It’s time to let the bells ring out good news.

—Laura Kalmar, Editor

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