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Cold-Turkey: Mission Questions #3

After going on a short-term out-of-country mission trip last year, I have a lot of questions about the process of missions. Previously I've asked if it's appropriate to share one's faith and how the Holy Spirit might be involved in the process. I'm still trying to figure out my prescribed role in the process of missions.

There seems to be two different philosophies for missions out there. One is referred to as relational evangelism while the other might be considered "cold-turkey" evangelism.

The difference reminds me of inbound marketing versus outbound marketing. Inbound marketing includes strategically setting yourself up in places to "catch" potential customers who are already looking for a product like yours (like great SEO for Google or setting up a lemonade stand at a conference for thirsty people). Outbound marketing interrupts customer's processes with ads and content they didn't ask for. Inbound marketing is significantly more effective.

Similarly, relational evangelism with a beautifully gracious and loving god is a form of ministry that expects human beings (who are naturally drawn to healthy connections and collective purpose) to be attracted to loving, generous, merciful relationships. Knowing this proclivity (and the joy they already feel), active followers of Jesus initiate relationships with those who don't follow Jesus as an intentional way to share the love and connection they already experience.

Relational evangelism is slow and requires vulnerability, authenticity and steady devotion from its practitioners. It's not flashy and it's hard to pin down the precise moment at which a person's heart softens toward the story of Jesus, therefore it's hard to "claim" a convert—which seems consistent with a message of collective, coordinated effort within the Body of Christ.

Cold-turkey evangelism on the other hand can come seemingly out of nowhere (the guy yelling on the street corner, the strange girl sitting down at your lunch table, the older gentleman at the coffee shop). It's rarely what you're looking for and can be somewhat discombobulating.

My own experiences with cold-turkey evangelism have felt off-putting and patronizing, but I know people who were introduced to the story of Jesus in exactly this way and felt it benefitted them greatly in how it shook them up. Evidently there are at least a few individuals out there who are particularly gifted at the intentional boldness of new, strange relationships. One might call this the gift of evangelism.

The friends I described above who benefited from their cold-turkey experiences were not completely transformed in an instant. They were perhaps struck with awe or jarred enough to re-consider the state of their lives. It made them curious, but their discipleship process was MUCH longer than that moment. They would probably say those cold-turkey moments were just starting places. And not bad places to start!

Cold-turkey evangelism is the traditional method employed by most short-term mission trips, but it has proven many times to be unnecessarily offensive, demeaning, and self-glory centered. Many have been hurt by the "messages of hope" or more accurately by the methods of those messages. If the problem is with the manner, not the message, I think it's important for us to ask:

How can we practice cold-turkey evangelism in an emotionally healthy way?

If we're going to do this, how do we bring our incredibly strange message into foreign territory without patronizing or bullying potential converts like obnoxious cellphone salesmen at the mall? Can we be merciful and generous even without a complicit response from people we are trying to share with? Do we bring more than just a jarring message to people who are suffering or is the jarring message enough?

I would like to see scriptural and historical examples of cold-turkey evangelism being done well, especially since I've observed it being done so poorly. I'd also like to know if it's commanded for all followers of Jesus or if it's a command to the broader Body of Christ, meaning only some body parts (perhaps the particularly clear-spoken or gentle-of-tongue) are called to this particular role?

More questions to come. Let me hear your answers!

Unsplash: Meelika Marzzarella

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