Being a student again I've noticed how little I like being told I'm doing something wrong! It's not that I think I'm doing things right all the timer, far from it. I just don't like to be corrected from a perspective that leaves me feeling inadequate. Much better, it seems to me, is to be encouraged to find a better way of doing what you're currently doing somewhat ineffectively or inefficiently.
It's as if the right versus wrong approach is a red pen way of teaching. Ticks are good, crosses are bad, therefor strive for more ticks. The only problem is that ticks don't necessarily help you improve they just focus your attention on the colour of the mark!
This gets me thinking about evangelism and something that passed across my eyes while reading something earlier today. Put simply, evangelism ought to be more about connecting people than about correcting people. So much of the evangelism training that we do is predicated on the principle of correcting the flawed theology of those whom we encounter. Okay, so their theology is flawed, but does it need correcting or does it need connecting? Does it need to changed by revolution or by evolution? Perhaps the reason things like Alpha work is because it doesn't seek to correct flawed thinking about God, rather it encourages the development of one's thinking about God. It's a series of step changes rather than a quantum shift.
We might argue that the final step of faith is a quantum shift for everyone given the darkness to light transformation that takes place, but how we get to that step, well maybe that is better explored through connections than through corrections.
How this changes the way we do evangelism if self-evident inasmuch as we no longer need to be either ultra-agressive or ultra-defenisive. We can simply be who we are and look for opportunities to connect with people and, in turn, to seek to help them connect with the God who misses them most. We do this through conversations, through listening to their story, not just of their life but of the bigger meta-narrative of life by which they interpret the world around them. Rather than jumping in to correct the flawed character of their point of view, we look for ways to connect their story to the Biblical story that unfolds God's love and compassion towards us.
I've done a few funerals recently, which usually means reflecting on Psalm 23 a lot. This last week the theme I chose to explore through those reflections was the image of God. David could have chosen from a whole range of images. He could have gone for warrior, or mighty king or judge. But instead of those he chooses shepherd. If you grew up with a view of God as a judgemental old man sitting on a cloud and just waiting to cast a thunderbolt in your direction, then how does seeing God as a shepherd change that view?
I could simply offer you a corrective to your flawed image of God. On the other hand I could invite you to explore an alternative. I could offer you a connection rather than a correction.