The following catchy phrase is attributed to a very famous evangelist, Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”
Well…he didn’t really say that, as far as we know. It sure sounds like him, though. He did say this in his Rule of 1221 when he told the brothers not to preach without permission: “Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds.”
So OK, Francis was misquoted. I suppose that means Jesus was misquoted and now we are lost in some postmodern morass of meaninglessness where words have been emptied of content altogether. Spare me.
It is easy to point out the inexactitude of data from the past. You can also count the typos in this brief essay. While we’re at it, many of you are probably reading this rather than doing your data processing job, so you know, personally, that data from the present is probably faulty, too. But you cannot doubt that Jesus, Paul, the prophets and Francis of Assisi relied on words, whether someone recorded them with absolute accuracy or not. They were blabbers. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. The B of the ABCs of evangelism is blab.
Isn’t preaching just blab?
The evangelicals who dominate a lot of the religious airwaves in this country with endless preaching would be ashamed of me for saying Jesus “blabs.” (But they should at least congratulate me for going a..b..c.. about something). As far as a lot of believers are concerned, Jesus found various natural pulpits, like on a “mount,” and held forth like a good preacher — and we have only improved on his style by moving things in out of the weather. In a reaction to a lot of believers (particularly the pharisaical evangelicals people love to skewer on sitcoms), many people, Christian and otherwise, would like to pretend “holding forth” is about dead — even though, as someone said (probably misquoted here), “the Good News can no more be communicated by deeds than can the nightly news.”
It is a message. We need to blab. Francis modeled his life on Jesus. But it wasn’t just about the Lord’s life of poverty, it was mostly about His life of preaching. Jesus blabbed. We have no instance of Jesus performing a miracle and not speaking a word of comfort or challenge afterwards. Paul articulated succinctly what Francis and Jesus felt in their souls: “How are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14).
To be sure, words used cheaply, thoughtlessly are worse than no words at all. Marilyn McEntyre says, “In an environment permeated with large-scale, well-funded deceptions, the business of telling the truth, and caring for the words we need for that purpose, is more challenging than ever before.”
B is for blab
I say B is for Blab because blabbing puts the idea of preaching back where it belongs: out of a “pulpit” and into normal conversation. We normal people can blab. Let the experts “preach,” there is room for them, too. But most of us are on a cell phone all day, not in a pulpit (and Circle of Hope doesn’t even HAVE a pulpit). We can even reduce our blab to a txt. We need to say a lot of things about Jesus.
So here is my exhortation.
1) Talk about Jesus like you talk about your intimates. Maybe you don’t gossip as much as I do. But I often tell stories about my friends and family. They do great, interesting, moving things. I love them. They teach me things. I tell stories about them. Jesus fits into their circle quite naturally. Jesus is a very close friend of mine.
2) Get over the idea that you are bringing up the “topic” of religion. Jesus is not a topic. He is not an ideology any more than you are. There is no clearer way for God to make it clear God is personal than to be revealed in Jesus. Talk about first things first: who Jesus is and who is he to you. Megan brought this up in her comment to my previous post. People are usually fine with what you think and feel; most of them are probably interested to meet an actual Christian who is not in a book or on TV.
3) Also get over the idea that we are not supposed to be serious and intimate until we are having sex. When words began to be suspiciously meaningless to philosophers, the trickle-down effect was to make conversation perpetually “light” — as if when you revealed feelings or thoughts you were invading someone else’s privacy, or you were being intolerant. “Nice” people end up deferring all day to the audacious people who don’t understand this rule of “niceness.” Be yourself in Christ and say what you feel. Why should people be deprived of you? Why should your heart be an ungiven gift?
4) Until you get used to blabbing good news, why don’t you come up with the “story of the week” and see how many times you can bring it up? We are always finding interesting things to post on Facebook or to tweet. Why not let your actual face have something to offer? I’m talking about your own story of faith, what you learned, what you experienced in a meeting, what happened in prayer – blab it. Or re-tell what you heard someone else talk about – their struggle, their joy, their interesting take on applying their faith. Obviously communication from the world will try to steer you toward talking about Chevys or the President’s birth certificate or the best chai. That’s all fine, but why should Jesus be excluded? Practice not excluding him.
Evangelism is all about blab. It is what normal followers do.