Spiritual Intimacy: The New Evangelism
By The Rev. Canon Whitney Rice, Canon for Evangelism & Discipleship Development
We’ve already decided that we don’t want to practice evangelism in the old models of Christian malpractice and spiritual violence. We’re not here to tell other people that we’re right and they’re wrong and they’d better shape up if they don’t want to go to hell.
“Journeying together through discovering the Good News of Jesus Christ” is our new working definition of evangelism, and we can tell it’s quite a different approach. How do we do that? By practicing spiritual intimacy.
What’s that? Spiritual intimacy is journeying together through the deep places of our life and experience, and talking together about how our spirits and God’s Spirit interact in those deep places.
Talking about those deep places together is not the strong suit of many Episcopalians. How many conversations about the Cardinals or the weather have you had at coffee hour at church?
It’s very easy to stay on the surface with polite small talk. We all know there are two correct answers to the question, “How are you?” They are “fine” or “busy.”
But if we are not talking about what Jesus is doing in our lives, we are not a church, we are a club.
Spiritual intimacy is a much more demanding — but rewarding! — pursuit. It requires vulnerability, trust, openness, risk taking, and patience. It cannot be rushed.
That’s a demanding set of attributes. It’s hard for people, especially in a culture like the Episcopal Church that values politeness and looking like we have our lives all together, to risk vulnerability and trust inside our congregations, much less outside in the world!
So how do we do that? This is how evangelism ties into all the rest of our spiritual disciplines. They feed each other.
In order to have the courage to be spiritually intimate with others, we have to be spiritually intimate with God.
And that means spiritual practice. That means reading and studying scripture and the spiritual greats through church history. It means regular participation in worship, fellowship, service to others, justice and peace work, and most of all, a deep and abiding prayer life.
We have no story to share if we have no story to share.
Evangelism is not about communicating doctrine. It is about receiving and sharing stories of God’s work in our lives. So just as evangelism is a key part of our discipleship, the rest of our discipleship feeds into our ability to be evangelists, spiritual companions to others.
We have to be willing to go with people into their pain and joy, and invite them into our pain and joy.
How do we get started? The primary methodology of evangelism should always be asking questions. What matters most to the other person? What do they value? What has helped them through tough times?
We want to ask open ended questions here, questions that don’t have yes or no answers, questions that invite someone to share their story.
Previous evangelism modalities have often started with the ludicrous assumption of a blank slate, as though the person has had no spiritual journey prior to meeting us. The opposite is usually true. There are rich and interesting stories that others can share of the ups and downs of their soul over time — and that’s one of the opportunities we have to be evangelized. We listen, and receive, and are blessed by the walk of others and what they’ve learned along the way.
If you want to open a spiritual conversation and don’t know where to start, ask the other person: what’s been on your mind lately?
If the person shares something deeper than small-talk, you now have an opportunity to respond with love, support, and possibly with an echo of something similar having happened in your life and how you felt about God during that time. For example, “When my mom had cancer, I was really angry at God,” or “When my first grandchild was born, I felt so blessed and thankful.”
Spiritual intimacy starts with a risk and an invitation — it's that simple. But the result can be life-changing — not just for your conversation partner, but for you as well.
Did you enjoy this article? Join Canon Whitney for an evangelism workshop, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at 10 a.m. Learn more and register.