My all-time favorite TV detective is Lt. Columbo, portrayed by Peter Falk. I love Columbo's rumpled personality, his razor-sharp powers of perception, his humor, and his ability to outwit even the cleverest of criminals. Actually, I like watching TV detectives in general, because I enjoy the whole process of looking for clues to solve mysteries.
It may be why one of my favorite parts of the book "Reimagning Evangelism; Inviting Friends on a Spiritual Journey" is when author Rick Richardson says we as Christians are all "junior partners" in the "Holy Spirit Detective Agency".
"We look for clues. We ask good questions of our lead detective, the Holy Spirit, and of people," he writes in Chapter 2, "Rediscovering the Holy Spirit". The purpose, he says, is to find out, "Where is God already at work?"
Detectives Not Sales People
Richardson's book is perhaps one of the best evangelism books for Presbyterians and other mainline Protestants I've read. It overcomes a couple of challenges for non-evangelical Christians. One I call the "Hit by the Bus" challenge, the other is the "Close the Deal" challenge.
The "Hit by the Bus" challenge comes when books by evangelical authors come to the "why" of evangelism. For evangelicals, there's a very real urgency. I think it was in a Bill Hybels book I read when he asked what would happen to a non-believer if they walked out the door and were hit by a bus tonight? People need to get saved as soon as possible, the reasoning goes, because they might die tonight and wind up in Hell for Eternity.
Many Presbyterians I've talked to don't spend a lot of time focusing on what might happen to a non-believer in Eternity. Which is why some evangelical books fall short for mainline Christians who don't feel that same urgency to convert people.
Actually, I have a feeling none or few of my non-Christian friends worry about Eternity. They either don't believe there is one, or they've adopted the theory that most everyone is going to get there, as long as they are basically good people on Earth. It makes using the "Hit by the Bus" reason a poor talking point. Most of my friends are more concerned about the here and now. As I said in an earlier post, there are plenty of reasons to share why following Jesus on Earth improves, enhances and enriches life.
The "Close the Deal" challenge has to do with the end-game of most evangelical books on evangelism: conversion. We as Christians should be able to help someone "cross the line of faith", readers are told. I absolutely believe that if given the opportunity, I should help someone step over the line of faith. However, many non-evangelical Christians I know are turned off by what they perceive are veiled sales pressure tactics. I've heard some folks say they worry they have to be like sales people getting customers to sign on the dotted line.
Richardson provides the perfect antidote to these worries. "Reimagining Evangelism" is more about working in collaboration with the Holy Spirit, and acting as one of many touch points along the way of a person's spiritual journey. The responsibility for a non-believer's conversion rests with the Holy Spirit, not with us. But we do have to cooperate!
Skills of a Good Detective
How can we be good junior detectives? According to Richardson there are three primary skills necessary:
1) Listening for the "whispers and nudges of the Holy Spirit to show us where God is at work in the lives of those around us."
2) Asking good questions of people "to find clues for where God is already at work in their lives."
3) Collaborating with God in prayer "for seekers and skeptics and with seekers and skeptics." (author's emphasis)
If you are looking for a book or curriculum - there is a DVD teaching series - to share with your Session or congregation, consider using "Reimagining Evangelism".
And as Lt. Columbo would say, "just one more thing": consider yourself deputized into the Holy Spirit Detective Agency.