Evangelizing seems all the buzz these days. The Fathers remind us incessantly to spread the word of God, to pull into this faith all others whom have not yet tasted the emancipative waters and warm solace of this timeless gift.
Just yesterday, a church committee member came up to me and asked if I wanted to come for an event called CAFE. She told me there’d be a video screening, and thereafter the participants would discuss or share with each other what they thought of the film or of anything at all that had struck them.
I must’ve let slip a hint of hesitation for she immediately went from a cordial invitation into an evangelical coercion. She began telling me about how enlightened I would feel, how she had attended one before and there felt immeasurably enraptured at having discovered a world of truth with a fresh pair of eyes, how not just I but really everyone ought to attend it, how she saw the participants brought calm to a skepticism that threatened to undermine their faith etc. And slowly, I began to lose her. Her words circumvented my person and I, instructed by mechanical decorum, nodded and acquiesced without any actual intent.
Don’t get me wrong, I bear no ill will against her; she is lovely lady and to see her devote her time to the church already solely inspires my respect. But what I do have a problem with is loquaciousness. She had went unceasingly on about the merits of attending CAFE, furnishing me all that she thought was good and all that she felt she had gained. And when I expressed slight hesitation, as in through the form of a protracted ‘err..’, she quickly strove to quell it by further enumerating the merits.
To be zealous is fine. But to allow zeal to command your manner of invitation is not quite; for when you do, an invitation becomes a seemingly aggressive coercion, and worse still, you will not know that you are in fact only dissuading the other person.
To invite is to first present to the person information that might interest him. It might be tempting to exhibit all of your knowledge on the matter and hope to convince him by a full-length discourse. But then that is to convince, and not to invite, and people are especially wary, frightened even, of excessively eloquent evangelists. To invite is really to present to the person just enough information to perk his curiosity – it could be a simple and palpably genuine “it’s really great, you should come if you can”. He will wonder what it is that had so enthralled you, and because you told him only half the story, his imagination would attempt to fill the rest. And eventually, maybe, he’ll want to discover the true other half of the story.
To invite is to leave something amiss, to create a certain mystery, and by that mystery draw people in. This is the direction in which I think evangelists should move. After all, we entered into this faith not because we had been convinced by a plurality of reasons and consequences but because God had so gently extended his hand and said calmly: come and I shall receive you. And that was all that was needed.