Sonny Lemmons: When door-to-door missionaries come to my house, should I engage them in conversion? Or just conversation?
A few weeks ago it was apparently National Tract Week, as I had no less than three different varieties of door-to-door missionaries come to my house: a pair of Jehovah Witnesses, a pair of Mormons, and a pair of Evangelicals. I know, I know; it sounds like a setup for a really corny joke, but that’s the order in which they came by. Regardless, as I was later discussing my series of visitors with a friend of mine who happens to be a pastor, he asked what for him was, I suppose, a logical question, but one which honestly did not cross my mind at the time: “Well, how did it go sharing the Gospel with them?” (I presumed he meant the first two groups; one might comically argue that the third group may or may not need Jesus more…)
He was a little taken aback when I told him (SPOILER ALERT) that I didn’t. At least not in the traditional sense he was referring to. To some, my lack of knee-jerk witnessing probably makes me a bad Christian. Perhaps I should keep a stack of pamphlets and tracts on the table next to the front door besides the bowl where we keep our keys so that I can hand them out to missionaries, the mailman, kids selling cookies or whoever comes to the door. Or maybe, I should do exactly what I did: talk. Engage them in a conversation and not a conversion.
I will admit that internally, I wrestled with what to do at first: do I shoo them away? Do I try and engage-née-debate them on the finer points of their theology? Do I not even answer the door? Part of the problem is that we as Christians (well, those of us from a certain era and/or geographic region) have been conditioned to confront and save those who have a different set of beliefs in some kind of broad, sweeping, quasi-militaristic style of evangelism that pays less attention to the people we are with and instead cares about just getting the Word out and to them. We know that the Word won’t return void, but we oftentimes don’t let the other person even get A word in edgewise. We want so badly to drive them down the “Roman road,” we don’t realize we’re herding them more like cattle and less like people walking on a journey with us.
The practice of the art of hospitality was how the early Christians illustrated their love for one another as well as their love of God. Acts 10 gives an illustration of this when Peter, a devout Jew, clearly violated one of the sacred tenets of his faith by entering the house of an “unclean” Gentile to eat with him. To engage with him. It would have been well within his “right” as a Jew to refuse to enter this house, but in doing so, he would have done more damage to his witness and to the credibility of the faith he professed by not showing love, courteousness, and general respect for this man and his house. I can’t think of a single instance where even Christ, when offered anything – be it food, drink, or maybe even a copy of The Book of Caesar: Another Gospel of Caesar – refused it and instead either screamed out or held up a large protest sign that just said “REPENT!” Quite the opposite in fact: in Matthew 25, Jesus speaks directly to showing hospitality to strangers, to the least of these. And in terms of evangelism, if we’re honest with ourselves, we sometimes consider those who are different to be somewhat…lesser.
While I did not share with any of my visitors a five-step-plan for their salvation or a detailed description of how wrong they were about everything, I shared myself. I shared my beliefs. We shared a few laughs. We shared some smiles. We shared stories about our kids. We shared some handshakes.
And in doing so, in the end I shared my faith. And maybe, just maybe, entertained a few angels.