Our guest is here, and he’s talking evangelism—or, rather, an entirely new and refreshing take on evangelism. (Why are we talking evangelism here? See my last post for background.)
Jeffrey Johnson has written Got Style? Personality-based Evangelism to help Christians share their faith in a way that fits the way they’re wired. The book moves readers away from the one-size-fits-all, passing-out-tracts version of Christian outreach into something that, in some versions, feels very much like dialogue. For this post, he answered a few of my questions, and I present excerpts from his answers below.
Before we get started, a few definitions. Johnson lays out six basic personality styles, and he refers to some of them in our interview. To vastly oversimplify, Assertive refers to the usual stereotype of an evangelist: a direct, verbal salesperson/preacher. Relational, as the name implies, is oriented toward relationships; the evangelizer is more of a counselor or teacher by nature. Incarnational focuses on sharing the gospel (“Good News”) by serving others.
OK. Enough preliminaries. Here we go:
Many outside the Christian faith take offense at traditional evangelism: they see it as an attempt to impose one’s beliefs on others. What would you say to put these people at ease with your approach?
From the outset, evangelism is not about convicting, convincing, or converting the non-Christian. That is the work of God in a person’s heart and mind. As Christians, we ought to share the Good News with passion and purpose, but not with manipulation or maneuvering. Moreover, if evangelism is not done in complement to one’s personality, it is at least forced and at worst faked—often done out of guilt and not love for God or the individual. My book presents personality styles with which people normally engage the world and suggests how they can use these styles to share their faith with that one and the same world, as Christ’s final words directed us to do.
Only a very small percentage (2-3%) of people are wired to “evangelize” using what you call “traditional evangelism”—large-scale crusades, door-to-door calling, street preaching, tract distribution, etc.—and to be honest they are statistically the least effective. The vast majority of people are dominant in Relational and Incarnational styles; they seek first and foremost a genuine relationship with the other person (because that is how they engage the world) before trying to introduce them to a personal relationship with Christ. In the Incarnational style, evangelism will occur over an extended period of time where both respect and rapport are established, so what is shared by the evangelizer is easily received by the evangelized because of the authenticity of the relationship and the knowledge that one only seeks the best for the other.
Let’s dwell on that for a moment. In your book, you say that while many Christians are best suited to evangelize by befriending or serving others, ultimately this should lead to sharing the faith verbally. Those being evangelized, however, sometimes perceive this as an ulterior motive and feel “used.” How does the Got Style? framework circumvent this to create a genuine engagement with the other person?
Before we can really expect people to listen to the Inspired Word, we must validate their Inherent Worth. Even if a person rejects what I have to say, that does not diminish the blessing they can be to me or I can be to them, just as friends. Spending time with people, regardless of the outcomes, should never be viewed as a waste of time. Never. Jesus hung out with people who chose not to follow Him. Christmas is literally about Jesus showing up to spend time with us. He had a reason for coming here—to establish a relationship with us so in turn we might have a relationship with Him. That’s not an ulterior motive; it is the ultimate motive.
To what extent does the Got Style? framework allow evangelism to become a genuinely two-way street, in which each person can share her beliefs, respond in a sensitive manner, and learn from the other’s perspective? To what extent does the evangelizer’s ultimate goal of sharing the gospel allow for this “two-way” perspective?
Got Style? helps people see their own style and better understand other people’s styles, so truly it is not about one-way communication. For the vast majority of people in the Relational, Incarnational, and similar styles, conversations are rooted more in free-flowing, back-and-forth relating of personal experiences than in predetermined scripts. Evangelism occurs over time and with the involvement of multiple people. Therefore it is not a strategy of show up and speak up, but rather show up and listen. The focus is on others, and off of me.
Let’s say, after numerous discussions to get to know the other person, the evangelizer realizes that his friend’s relationship with God might blossom in a Catholic church or Quaker meeting. What would you advise the person to do?
It needs to be understood that evangelism does not seek to introduce a person to a particular expression of the Christian Faith, but rather to Christ Himself. Therefore, once a person has been introduced to Christ and they make a faith commitment, the determination must be made as to where and how to best mature them in their newfound faith, which using your examples could be liturgical and formal or contemplative and informal, or really any expression between those two.
Like so many groups, born-again Christians are often misunderstood and stereotyped. What would you like people to know about born-again Christians that they don’t know now? What stereotypes would you like to clear up?
I think the stereotypes you mention apply to those categorized as Assertives, those who are out there on the fringe, partly because of their outspokenness. Remember, the early church was birthed through the means of the Assertive style, but by midway in the Book of Acts, the style changes dramatically from proclamation to presence evangelism. Paul would put down stakes and stay in a town for an extended period of time, even working a secular job so he could mix and mingle with people outside the Christian faith on their turf and in their terms.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with likely readers of The Dialogue Venture blog?
Personality is very personal. For each of us, it is unique. It defines who we are and directs how we interact with others. Yet people are saying they haven’t found a way to do evangelism naturally, as a part of how they are “wired.” Because evangelism has become associated with something unnatural or forced, it feels “bad.” I never understood why sharing something so good made so many feel so bad—until I realized most people are doing evangelism in a way contrary to the way God made them. We are called to do evangelism out of grace, not guilt. It can be enjoyable, not just an endurable, experience.