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Evangelism as Spiritual Direction

Evangelism as Spiritual Direction

by Alexander Lenzo

My grandmother was an evangelist. Offering a piece of pie to any teenager or adult who came in her door (a Texan-Baptist, she always had freshly baked pie), within minutes she would be engaged in a lively discussion of faith. In public, she would move from placing her order with a waiter or paying for a hotel room to presenting the “plan of salvation” with seamless conversational grace.

I have something of my grandmother running through my veins. Conversations about life and faith exhilarate me and come naturally. In fact, others broach these topics with me, on flights and at school. But I am not a Southern Baptist as my grandmother was; I am an Episcopal priest. Episcopalians do “outreach,” not evangelism. We do social justice and good liturgy, not revivals and salvation tracts. We re-incorporate disenfranchised and disillusioned Christians into the church; we don’t call sinners to repentance. At our best we testify to God’s grace that “befriends” human flesh and doesn’t destroy it; uphold mystery in common prayer; and bear the marks of Christ’s reconciliation, of diversity in unity and unity in diversity. Yet, I cannot escape the feeling that we have lost some of the loving zeal so central to the early church’s identity, to proclaim “repentance and forgiveness of sins…in [Jesus’s] name” (Luke 24:47).

How should we go about evangelism, today? In a world that celebrates diversity and cultivates division, a world flooded with knowledge but able to create only catch phrases? If we are to again take up the task of evangelism, we must do so in a way that honors both the infinitely diverse ways in which God saves individuals and communities, and also the biblical mandate to “proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins.” The practice of spiritual direction may provide a framework for evangelism that accomplishes just that.

Spiritual direction is the art of sacred listening and guiding, in which the director assists the directee in discovering for herself God’s presence with her and in responding to that Presence. Analogously, evangelism can be seen as assisting the other to notice God’s grace in her life and to respond to that grace. The following are ways in which I see the analogy playing out.

  1. Evangelism, like spiritual direction, begins with faith, with the basic trust that God is already working out God’s will for the other person–long before you or I ever arrive. The Father is already running out ahead of us to meet the son. Perhaps all we must do is say, “Welcome home. I’ll prepare the fatted calf and put on the music.” Perhaps our only task is to ask, “Do you have any Family or Parent to go home to?” The Father runs ahead of us; to stay back is unbelief. To trust that the Father has seen His son on the horizon and to run with Him is faith.
  2. But once we wade into the deep waters of human hearts and minds, we will find how very ill equipped we are for the task. Thus, evangelism, like spiritual direction, proceeds with humility. One who is unwilling to open the joys and sorrows of her heart to a brother or sister, should think twice before delving into the heart and soul of another. One who is not seeking a deeper relationship with God will find herself unable to swim when another pulls her into the deep, dark waters of life. She will know only about butterflies and dandelions and a thousand clichés about God and faith–things of little use when flood waters are thrashing you about. Evangelism can only proceed if I am willing to come face to face with my own need to be evangelized, to again repent and return to the Lord. It can only proceed properly as we realize in the most concrete ways that we are graced sinners approaching other graced sinners.
  3. For evangelism, like spiritual direction, is fruitful only insofar as it touches the concrete, the particular, areas of life that God wants to redeem. There is no generic Repentance, no generic Faith, no generic Redemption. There is only repentance that cuts to the heart of what you desire most life; there is only faith that turns my particular ambition over to God’s will; there is only redemption that tenderly lifts this particular person or that particular community out of their particular nightmare and hell. Thus evangelism must begin by listening. What is the person experiencing and expressing to us? Where is God already at work, healing tearing down, building up, bringing back to life? It seeks out God’s grace in the unique story and situation of every person.
  4. Evangelism, like spiritual direction, directs the other to prayer. The goal of evangelism is to make prayer possible for another. Whether her response to God is Jobian anger or Psalmic praise, “sinner’s prayer” or silence, Creed or blasphemy, the evangelist’s goal is to make space for her to respond to God. To God–not to me. On God’s time–not mine. In ways that I cannot predict or measure, but only appreciate with awe and wonder. For the end of evangelism is a relationship, between the other and God, and such an end I cannot guess or predict or judge.

Thus, the evangelist takes on the role of guide into the depths of prayer. The other may not know how to pray, and you or I will have to take him by the hand and lead him. It will mean, at times, praying with–not just for–him. To pray with someone is to journey into repentance or faith with him, to walk the extra mile with him, and not merely point him in a direction. This is evangelism in its most powerful form. For when another allows you to enter into prayer with him, he is inviting you to accompany him to the Burning Bush. You are at that moment on very Holy Ground indeed. Those who pray with others too readily and casually are foolhardy. Those who never do so must ask why. Do we fear to pray with others because we do not believe that God will answer our prayers, and thus we risk being seen as foolish or having our personal faith called into doubt?

  1. Finally, like spiritual direction, evangelism is a practice. It is something to do over and over again, trusting that God is working something beautiful through it. It is never a perfected skill. If Episcopalians are going to recover the loving zeal of the early church to share the good news of Jesus Christ, we must begin to practice.

Evangelism, like spiritual direction, begins with faith, proceeds with humility, deals in particulars, and directs towards prayer. More important than any theory or tactic, however, are models–models of people who see clearly a sinful world shot through with God’s grace and lead others to respond to that grace. Such people are often not outwardly pious people. They are grandmothers and uncles, electricians and bus drivers, women and men. My grandmother was one of those people. May God grant us to follow in their footsteps.


Rev. Alexander Lenzo is a priest in the Diocese of the Rio Grande




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Marshall Scott

So, we could reasonably and meaningfully reverse the headline: “Spiritual Direction as Evangelism.”

I do have a caveat about evangelism directing the other person to prayer. I think we have to listen long enough to appreciate what “prayer” means to the other person, and what functions for the other person as prayer. It’s not that I have a problem with the concept, but I do have the recommended humility about expressing it.

Leslie Marshall

I rejoice in the day that I became unashamed of the gospel. I became free from the tyranny of sin. Paul’s words resonate …’For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

Jesus said, ‘For whoever is ashamed of Me & My words (the Gospel) in this sinful world, of him, the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in glory of His Father with the holy angels.’

I would have loved to have met with the author’s grandmother –the evangelist . A woman after God’s own heart. I aspire to be just like her!

David Allen

Would that be the day you forsook the Episcopal Church and embraced biblical literalism?

Philip Snyder

Evangelism is an obligation that every Christian has. It can take many forms, but the most effective method I have ever seen is the Cursillo method:
Make a Friend. Be a Friend. Bring a Friend to Christ.
First we need to make a friend. We don’t make friends in order to evangelize them. We make friends in order to have friends. Then we be a friend to our new friends – we get to know them. We learn about them; we spend time with them. We pray for them. This is critical. We need to talk to God about our friend before we talk to our friend about God. Then we introduce our friend n.n to our friend Jesus. We don’t grab them by their shirts and say: “Brother! Do you know Jesus?” We invite them to church, we invite them to a bible study. We invite them to join us in outreach. We help them to see Jesus as a real person who wants to have a relationship with them and to make them into the person they were created to be.

Each of us signed up to be Evangelists when we were baptized and we re-up as Evangelists when we renew our baptismal covenant.

Will you proclaim by word and example the good news (Gospel) of God in Christ?”
I will with God’s help.

Leslie Marshall

Cursillo is an awesome ministry. What I love about evangelizing is that every Christian has their own unique way that God has given them. There is no blueprint. Helpful advice I’ve been given recently; ‘just be yourself’.

Yesterday, I was paid a high compliment by a young woman. (I met her 2 years ago when she was living at the Homeless Shelter, just released from jail, struggling with meth-amphetimine addiction. I helped her with her college math. Ive been praying for her regularly.)

Recently, she’s been dropping by my art gallery & finally, yesterday, stayed to talk to me. (she said that she had been ’embarrassed’ before.). We talked about art & music, and where our inspiration comes from. The high compliment was…’I feel comfortable talking to you.’

I won’t be ‘evangelizing’ this young woman, as she already knows Jesus as her Lord. I won’t be asking her what she’s doing or give her advice. I will be an encouragement to her. She’s beautiful, and I love her.

Ric Schopke

Thank you, Father Lenzo.

Leslie Marshall

Evangelism starts with me –no longer being ashamed of the Gospel.

David Allen

Please make this the last time that you falsely draw similarities in sexual orientation and the disease of drug addiction.

Please make this the last time that you declare the love of GLBT folks sinful.

You have said it twice. That will be the end.

JC Fisher

Thank you, Dah-veed.

JC Fisher

“Evangelism starts with me”: gotta say it, the imagery that suggested was elephants leading the parade, followed by those stuck w/ the pooper-scoopers!

If I seem bitter, it’s because I *literally* have to undo your sort of “evangelism” Every.Freaking.Day. In the circles I run in, I meet more and more people who HATE JESUS—because they have been so grievously wounded by Christians. Have you ever met someone who hates Jesus, Leslie? What do you have to offer them: curses? Exorcism? A patronizing “I’ll pray for you, bless your heart!”

On the front lines, I’m trying to reach the DEPTHS of people’s pain—to hear their stories (everyone wants to be heard). Yes, only God can truly heal their pain. But if you don’t truly listen to people you can’t even find a common LANGUAGE to talk about such things [Words you’ll have to give up, in the process: “Christian”, definitely. “Christ”, probably. “Jesus” maybe/maybe not. “God”, at LEAST for the first hundred hours/million words (that’s million of *their* words, not yours).]

Oh well, I’m outta here: back on the frontlines, there’s a world of hurting people out there, hanging on the crosses to which Christianists have nailed them. God give me strength to comfort the afflicted, AND afflict the comfortable!

Philip Snyder

David – my mother was a drug addict. I still loved her and I never rejected her. I have many relatives whose life choices I disagree with, but they are all welcome in my home and I love them dearly. I’ve had parishoners who have made bad choices and I love them and do not reject them as persons.

Heck, I love pedophiles, rapists, murders, child molesters, gang members.

Love does not mean approval of everything the Beloved does or even most things that the beloved does. How do I know this? I know this because God loves me even when I sin (and often grievously sin). God does not approve of some of the choices I’ve made in my life, but He still loves me.

If I have to approve of your lifestyle choices to love you then I feel very sorry for you for you have restricted your circle to only those who approve over everything you do.

David Allen

[D]isagreement with your chosen lifestyle…is not a rejection of your person.

Bovine fecal matter! No matter how many times you tell that lie here will not make it any less a lie.

Philip Snyder

JC – all I can say is that what I (and the rest of the Kairos team) do brings men and women -who have been ignored by society and shut up like animals – into the presence of a loving God that changes their hearts. I don’t say this simply because of the many professions of faith I hear in prison. I am well aware of the prison conversion experience. I say it because of the evidence of changed lives – both inside the unit and among the men and women who have attended a Kairos weekend, but are not out of prison. The State of Florida did a long term study of the effect of different programs on recidivism – the rate at which offenders return to prison. Among those who had simply attended a Kairos weekend, their recidivism rate dropped from > 50% (for general population) to 25% and among those who had participated in the program of weekly accountability groups and monthly reunions, the rate dropped to 15%.

The men I reach out to are changed by God’s love and the power of the Holy Spirit and are transformed by hearing that all their sins (of which they are fully aware) can be forgiven. So, it works. Not with everyone, but no evangelism method works with everyone.

Finally, disagreement with your chosen lifestyle (you may be born with certain attractions, but you choose how to live your life – your lifestyle) is not a rejection of your person. Calling certain behavior sinful is not a rejection of you because you are so much more than your behavior.

So, please stop with accusing a fellow Christian with rejecting you when she (or anyone else) rejects sinful behavior. I meet with men all the time who have committed worse sins than you can imagine. I love them even before they acknowledge their sins and repent. I love them because God loves them and tells me to love them. But loving someone does NOT mean approving of behavior that is sinful. Nor dos disapproving sinful behavior mean that you do not love or that you reject a person.

JC Fisher

“I offer them God, who wants to be their friend and father”

I repeat what I said, Phillip: that’s counter-productive, unless you’re already into MANY hours of “God”- (and religion)-free conversation. You’ll just drive the wounded anti-theists further away.

“I have never rejected any LGBTQ folks in these pages”: quit insulting our intelligence, Leslie, that’s a lie (to us, and/or to yourself).

You: “I believe that if David and Jonathan had a sexual relationship, God was/is disapproving of that”

To reject our loving, same-sex relationships, is to reject us as human beings, your EQUAL brothers&sisters in Christ. Period. The “love the sinner/hate the sin” assertion—as applied to those whom God created LGBTQ and God intended for same-sex spousal relations—is anathema to the Good News of Christ Jesus. I am not ashamed * to preach this GOOD News to you, Leslie, or to anyone whom Christ has not yet converted to God’s Reign of Shalom.

* Though there is much I am ashamed of, and for that, pray for me, a sinner.

Leslie Marshall

David Allen — I have never rejected any LGBTQ folks in these pages or anywhere. Who am I to reject anyone? It’s my prayer to remain soft-hearted toward everyone. And God is faithful.

David Allen

James, I think that JC is reading into Leslie’s one sentence all her previous posts here at The Lead where Leslie plainly makes her version of the Gospel the “only” true & acceptable Gospel and rejects transgender folk like JC and gay folk like me.

But that’s only my guess that is what occurred here.

James Yazell

That sure is a lot to read into a single sentence! Really not sure how you came to the conclusion that Leslie is cursing, exorcising, or patronizing anyone…

Philip Snyder

JC – I meet the people wounded by “super christians” all the time. What do I offer them? I offer them God’s agape love and the opportunity to forgive all who have hurt them.

I offer them God, who wants to be their friend and father rather than their judge and executioner. I offer them peace, hope, faith, grace, and joy – all in Jesus’ name. I also offer them God’s forgiveness for all their sins and the ultimate source of strength in the universe – God’s agape love.

I do this regularly when I go to prison.

So, please stop with your self-righteous rants. Evangelism is every Christian’s responsibility.

From the Baptismal Covenant: “Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ? We are obligated to proclaim by word and by example what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and what he can do for others. So evangelism starts with JC – not being ashamed of the Gospel and being willing to tell and show others what God has done for JC and what God can do for others.

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