Sunday, April 01, 2007

Evangelism Goes Fierce©

What if evangelism were practiced fiercely? No, I do not mean witnessing to people without regard for their feelings. That does not mean turn or burn tactics. Instead, I believe that if witnesses incorporate the principles of Susan Scott's book, Fierce Conversations, their efforts at sharing their faith with others will be enhanced. Every reference to fierce in this and future blogs is based on my understanding of Scott’s work, and my synthesis and application of her seven principles of a fierce conversation to Story Listening Evangelism (SLE).

According to Scott, fierce is honest, robust, intense, full of passion, power, and integrity. It is bold, courageous, and unbridled, untamed. Fierce is not blood-letting or telling other people off. That sounds biblical to me when the apostles in the Book of Acts were instructed to wait for boldness to come over them before they fulfilled the great commission. Fierce adds a boldness to witnessing.

Fierce informs our evangelistic efforts as it reminds us that Christianity is fundamentally an extended conversation with God. Sharing Christian faith with another person is also an extended conversation. Somehow we got in our minds that an evangelistic encounter is a one-time experience, an all or nothing offer to be accepted or refused in a moment's time. I like what Susan says at this point. “While no single conversation is guaranteed to change a person or situation, any single conversation can." Witnesses should be encouraged by that. Any one of our evangelistic efforts might lead to a person’s accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. More likely, several conversations may need to take place for that to happen. In fact, fierce is informative on this as Scott quotes David Whyte who says, "The conversation is the relationship." SLE is committed to teaching witnesses how to build relationships with lost person through conversations and listening for not only the lost person’s story, but also God’s story that is moving toward the salvation of the lost person.

Scott's definition of a fierce conversation is, "when a person comes out from behind himself or herself into the conversation and makes it real." It is interesting that she says when a conversation is real, the change takes place before the conversation as ended. Sounds like when we have a genuine conversation with a lost person, the work of the Holy Spirit does its transforming work even before our conversation is ended.

So how does a person begin to add fierceness to his or her evangelistic conversations? Scott would say that would begin by listening to ourselves first. She uses the concept of a stump speech. Just like a politician gives a stump speech about who he is, where he is going, how he is going to get their, and who he is taking with him, a witness needs to prepare his own stump speech. That means before a person engages in a fierce evangelistic conversation with a lost person, that person needs to have engaged in a conversation with himself and with his God. It must be said that before a witness can lead a person to God, that person needs to have been led to God himself. And that person needs to know where they are going in their witness to the lost person. That means a witness needs to have confidence in who they are as a person of faith.

The first principle of a fierce conversation is: Master the courage to interrogate reality. Master means it takes practice, and more practice. Courage says it all. Scott says that a planned conversation is a failed conversation. If you try, like a chess player to out maneuver the lost person even before you begin the conversation, the conversation will fail. If you plan a conversation with a tack and a script, it is likely to fail. It takes courage to show up in a conversation and meet the lost person exactly where he or she is at that moment in time, without a script, equipped only with a living faith and a sincere desire to hear and experience the lost person’s story.

Seems like we have been trained in the past in evangelism that there is only a single reality and that is: all lost people are alike. Adding fierce to our witness challenges us to discover the current reality in the lost person's life. That means asking questions. In fact Scott encourages practitioners of fierce conversations to not make any declarative statements until late in the conversation. That means no declarative statements until both the witness and the lost person agreed on the shape of the current reality in the lost person's life. While this fierce approach to witnessing may seem a little weak and passive on the surface, this very first principle calls for a vigorous interrogation of reality. That means that the witness does not accept what Scott calls in business the corporate nod. The corporate nod comes when a person merely agrees with the person for the sake of getting off the hook of explaining himself or herself. Sometimes lost people nod their head and don't really understand what coming to faith is all about. Sometimes lost people nod their heads just to get the witness off their hands. Here is where the witness asks the lost person to tell us what their nod means.

Mastering the courage to interrogate reality also challenges the witness to listen for the lost person's belief systems. Lost people have beliefs, too. And witnesses have beliefs that sometimes can get in the way of sharing faith. Are there people we do not believe God can save? Do people have to believe in God the same way we do in order to become a follower of Jesus Christ?

Scott talks about a military term called ground truth. Ground truth is what is actually happening in the field compared to what's span is being said is the official truth. Sometimes a witness will say one thing and believe another. Sometimes a lost person will not come clean up front about what they really believe. Ground truth in witnessing is revealed in the behavior of the witness as well as the lost person. How a person behaves reflects their current reality. For the witness, we're not talking about what other people believe, what our denomination says, or what we hope to believe in the future. Rather, our behavior reveals our current beliefs.

Interrogating reality also involves bringing up the undiscussables. What is it that the lost person has not had opportunity to voice to another person? Perhaps they haven't had an opportunity like the father with the epileptic boy who said to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief!”
I remember visiting a man in the hospital in North Carolina. Practicing story listening evangelism with him, for the first time in his life he was able to bring up a subject that he thought he could not talk about. And when he did, it was not hard to see the transformation taking place, especially on his face. When he shared with me something he'd been afraid of talking about since he was a child, there was an incredible release of energy and tears flowing down his cheeks.

The challenge I have in using fierce evangelistically is the premise that no one owns all the truth. That is true for us as human individuals. I agree with that. The challenge is there are competing religious truths and our world. As a Christian, I believe that the full and final revelation of God is found in Jesus Christ. At the same time, I do not understand or know all the truth that there is found in Jesus Christ. You can call me a slow learner, or there is a lot left for me to learn. At this point the discussion could regress to a conversation of world religions and conflicting truths. I'll leave that for another day. Instead, I want to explore what Scott would call an ensconced witness. A witness who has all the answers will close the door to faith for a person who is genuinely seeking a relationship with God. If the lost person is ensconced in their refusal to hear God’s offer of salvation, then the witness can ask the lost person what their ensconcedness means.

The value of fierce at this point is for me to be able to share as much truth as I have appropriated about God in my life and to listen for the truth in the lost person's story. As you explore the amount of truth from God in the lost person's story, a good question to ask might be, "What is currently impossible to understand or accept in your current faith that if it were possible, it would change everything?"

That summarizes my synthesis of fierce and story listing evangelism to this point. Just like fierce is a way of life, so is evangelism. Evangelism is an extended conversation with the lost person, one conversation at a time. The lost person may come to faith in one conversation, or after many. Story listening evangelism is enhanced by Scott's concept of fierce when the witness masters the courage to interrogate the lost person's reality.

In the coming weeks, I invite you to join me in an ongoing fierce conversation about story listening evangelism and how it can be empowered by the principles of fierce conversations as espoused by Susan Scott. Next week we will look at Principle 2: Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real. We will look at the challenges a witness has in taking off his or her mask and being real in the evangelistic conversation.

P.S. I think you will find it interesting to read about Susan Scott’s own faith journey. You will find that in the October 2006 newsletter on her web site at Let me know what you think!


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