Spread the Word -Evangelism: Look, Listen, Be Joyful
By Joe Fortner
Nobody is perfect. People are gonna tell you you’re perfect just the way you are. You’re not! You are imperfect. You always will be, but there is a powerful force that designed you that way. And if you’re willing to accept that, you will have grace. And grace is a gift. And like the freedom that we enjoy in this country, that grace was paid for with somebody else’s blood. Do not forget it. Don’t take it for granted.
With those words, Hollywood A-Lister Chris Pratt finished his “Nine Pillars of Wisdom” at the MTV Movie & TV Awards in June, offering important messages of faith mixed with some more scatological recommendations. What was remarkable was not just that Mr. Pratt professed that “you have a soul,” and that we should all “learn to pray,” but that he did so before an audience that probably was not expecting it.
As lay members of the denomination that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has labeled “God’s Shy People,” what occurred before the MTV audience might seem outlandish, out-of-the-norm, or otherwise “out there.” Yet, if you watch (and you should!) the entirety of Pratt’s speech (https://youtu.be/EihqXHqxri0), what comes across is someone cheerfully proclaiming the importance of one’s soul, of prayer, of doing good deeds, and of accepting God’s grace, and doing so in a way that is heart-felt and inviting. He offered his message to viewers who likely did not expect to hear such statements that evening, and we hope he reached some hearts and minds that may become receptive to God’s word.
For many of us, the idea of standing before a large, non-religious audience and declaring that “God Is real, God loves you,” would (a) cause anxiety, (b) be nerve-wracking, or (c) cause a panic attack (choose one or all of the above). Others would be concerned about delivering a message that might offend the audience or be viewed as confrontational.
Yet, what Pratt offered during his three minutes was neither defensive nor in-your-face sermonizing. Instead, along with his other recommendations, Pratt calmly and with a heart-felt smile offered simple, direct, assertions which, while clearly reflecting his own strong faith, neither excluded nor included any specific religions or practices. “Learn to pray” and “Reach out to someone in pain. Be of service. It feels good and it’s good for your soul”, are statements that transcend denominations.
“Learn to pray” and “Reach out to someone in pain. Be of service. It feels good and it’s good for your soul”, are statements that transcend denominations.
Although most of us are not A-List celebrities with Chris Pratt’s background and opportunities his message, his means and his manner are lessons for anyone hoping to spread God’s word and story. I know when I first came across this video, my immediate reaction was “I can’t believe he did that!” Shortly followed by “Good for him!” And then, “This is Evangelism!”
Chris Pratt was given a platform. He obviously wanted to use that platform to share something that he believes is far more important that “I want to thank my agent …” He knew that he was not speaking before the annual convention of any denomination or the National Prayer Breakfast. He also knew that the message he wanted to share was one of joy and hope. So he saw a chance to share that message with people who may not regularly hear anything like that, and he tailored his statements to his audience, looking for a way to find those minds and hearts that were open to his message of good news
What does that mean for the rest of us? Many of us who are not clergy do not regularly speak out about our faith. How can we, in a world where the Word is simply not a regular part of conversation, “ping” some hearts and minds? And how can we do it in a way that does not instantly create mental barricades to our conversation?
Pratt’s speech offers several paths for us to follow. First, look for a chance to share God’s message. You never know when and how we may find a receptive audience, whether of one or of thousands. It may be while you’re having coffee with a friend who shares a struggle or a joy. It may be at a family supper. It may be as part of a good deed done for others. Just as Pratt saw an opportunity, all of us may see something that reflects God’s word or that offers the chance to talk about grace.
Second, listen. This involves actively hearing what’s going on, what the others you’re with are saying, and then offering your thoughts about faith. Just as members of a musical ensemble become “tight” by constantly listening to each other and adjusting, you can listen deeply for what you can you learn about other people and their concerns. Only then might you offer your thoughts about Jesus and God. Pratt’s means of getting God’s message to the audience began with generalized ideas, which were interspersed with less serious material, and only at the end did he mention gratitude and grace.
Third, be confident and joyful. Few are likely to be receptive to thoughts and ideas offered by someone who exudes uncertainty or hostility. This does not mean that one can only evangelize if one “has all the answers.” Most of us have core beliefs. Alongside the questions for which we are constantly seeking answers, these can allow us to speak confidently with others in an inviting way. As you watch Pratt’s talk, you’ll see that he speaks with joy about his faith, about God, and about grace, inviting his audience to share in his journey.
Look for a chance to share God’s message. You never know when and how we may find a receptive audience,
At St. Mary’s in the Mountains in Wilmington, our Community Suppers, our Red Door Concerts, and our Community Carol Sing have both given our community nourishing and enjoyable experiences, and they have opened our doors to people who might otherwise not have given our little church a glance. We know that these open doors have led to conversations, and that we have grown because of them. And we hope and believe that all of our outreach efforts are touching some hearts. With time, these can result in more opportunities to share what Jesus and our church have to offer.
All of us have opportunities – some organic, some created through our purposeful actions. Just as in striving to excel in work or avocation one must actively devote particular attention to the little things, so those of us seeking to offer God’s message to others must train in looking for opportunities, listening to others, and then being confident and joyful in our selves. With time and practice and with God’s help, we can spread the word to those outside our faith community that “God is real. God loves you. God wants the best for you. Believe that. I do.”
Joe Fortner is an attorney, a member of the Vestry of St. Mary’s in the Mountains, Wilmington, VT, and a member of the Green Mountain Witness team.