Last night our church and its neighboring church, which are friends and frequently collaborate together, had a prayer meeting on behalf of the four who are going on a Missions trip together--the two main pastors and one congregation member from each church. I am thankful for the friendships that the churches in the area show for one another, and how amazingly they work together without conflict or reservation. The pastors of these two churches have known each other for years; in fact, the neighboring pastor is young and used to attend our church.
It was interesting watching and listening to the members of the team give their prayer requests and it was an insight to what was on their hearts. There were no main surprises in content, but between the pastors I saw such an amazing difference in manner and method that I had not seen made so evident, side-by-side before. It brought me back to where I had been before we started attending this church...and reiterated to me the differences between all those that had gone before and this one. It was odd to think that our neighbor pastor had in fact come from our church, so different was his approach. There was nothing specifically wrong with it; in fact about 10 years ago I would have preferred his outlook, his energy, and his boldness.
The young pastor had a bunch of bracelets in his hand and discussed with us how he wanted to share the gospel using them, how we could pray for their use, and how hard a balance it was going to be to go and teach English without being so bold with the gospel that the team would offend the authorities there to the point that they wouldn't be invited back--and yet he expressed his desire to obey God rather than men, not to be intimidated by the possibility of offense. He said that if Christ returned this year, he wouldn't want to think that he had not shared the gospel when he was supposed to do so.
I agree with his goal, but I see now like never before the way that Americans might be perceived overseas. I am more doubtful than ever of how effective an extremely bold approach is likely to be in the best of times. When launched by the thought of having to reach people before Christ returns, I think perhaps a person brings himself to be American more than Christian, and not only that but more so in the foreign country than he is in his homeland. He is so affected by the pressure he has put upon himself that he may not hear the still small voice of the Lord quietly telling him when, to perhaps even hold back, to not throw his pearls before swine, to be wise as serpents, innocent as doves...there are times to speak and times to be silent. (Years ago I would have protested, twitched, been aching to move away from such a proposal! And here I am making it.)
I am seeing also that if those unbelievers should hear him sharing the gospel in the public environment, in the classroom volume, in the English-lesson context, they won't understand readily in a self-applying way. They will be so shocked by his American boldness in a country where it doesn't pay to be bold that they won't hear the message; they will be looking over their shoulder to see if there's anyone in the room poised to haul him out of it.
High-volume, showy, clever is the culture my Christianity was raised in. It's why I like where we attend. Our pastor introduced me to the writings of Eugene Peterson, who in one of his books wrote a chapter called, "The Subversive Pastor." It takes a while to take it in, and yet our pastor is exactly that, and it is a pastoral approach for shepherding and evangelism that works more on the sly. The message of the gospel is presented far more quietly, in relationship, in discussion, in a slow and calm way...and the recipient hardly knows what came his way, but it brings about its work in a surreptitious manner. He works over the thoughts later that were presented, and realizes that they apply to him and to all the problems that he faces in his life, all the fears that he grapples with in the night. There is a huge responsibility in presenting the gospel to follow the Spirit's leading, to be consistent, to live it, to present Christ and not culture. I don't know that I have the intelligence to apply it consistently and well in my own life at this point, but I am observing and learning. My thinking is that if a person follows the Spirit's leading, He provides the proper application of it, but our job is to submit to and listen for that leading, and not our own, not the siren call of our American culture. The subversive approach is more in line with how Jesus usually dealt with receptive unbelievers, in a gentle, quiet, one-on-one way most of the time. I would have thought it too liberal years ago, too hesitant, too time-consuming, too quiet and easily lost in the noise; yet seeing the American Christianity that is more culture than truth, I've seen those who would be bold might speak the gospel clearly, loudly, cleverly, boldly, while often not really presenting Christ at all.
That disparity brings credence to the quieter approach, showing the light of Christ in our quiet relational discussions. Not lacking boldness; I think boldness means something different in America than elsewhere. Not withholding out of fear, but presenting when the time is perfect, when the gongs are not banging and the recipient's mind is able to focus, when the Spirit tells the believer to speak and gives him words to say that he would never have spoken in his own power. It isn't being fearful but wise, making the most of every real opportunity and realizing that God works in the whisper, in the quiet. He gives the thunder too, but we don't speak in thunder; we can whisper though. The light shines [quietly] in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.