Posture Evangelism?

When I am riding my motorbike and going fast I posture my body differently. For example if I am breaking for a right hand corner I would for a brief moment transfer my weight on the left hand foot peg, move my entire body over to the right so I am no longer sitting on the seat, I will then point my right knee into the direction I want to turn, the weight is then shifted back now to the right foot peg.

The way my body is postured determines the direction in which I travel. The more weight I transfer to the inside of the bike, that is the right hand side of the bike going around a right hand corner, the less the bike will have to lean over. My body weight drags the bike around the corner at less a lean angle – the less the lean angle the more contact patch the tyre has with the ground, the more traction you have, the faster you can apply the throttle, the faster you can go.

So the body posture means you can go faster with more confidence!

Posture represents ‘attitude of the body’; the nonverbal forms of communication that accompany what we say. The nonverbals are more informative and honest than the verbal forms of communication. For instance, on the rare and I stress rare occasions I might hypothetically annoy Christine, I’ll ask, ‘What’s the matter?’ She often says, ‘nothing’. Now, I am no dummy, and I have learnt that nothing actually means, ‘everything about you, you great big pile of festering whale vomit and boil pus’.

In other words, verbal communication isn’t nearly as accurate as the nonverbal rolling of the eyes, crossing of the arms, or inflection in the voice; it’s what isn’t said that often tells the real story.

Words communicate what we know; posture communicates what we believe and feel. Therefore, posture is actually the most important part of any relationship and communication. Posture shows true intention, and emotion. When I posture off the side of my bike my intention is to go fast, my emotion is holy cow batman this is fast! When we try to figure out why the community isn’t interested in our ‘good news’, it may have nothing to do with our message, but everything to do with our nonverbals.

If you’re wondering what I mean, let’s spend some time looking at some bad posture related to Christendom and the evangelical Church. Let’s start with what the average Aussie may see on TV flipping through the TV channels early in the morning. Televangelists, men and women often with annoying nagging voices who dress in gold and silver, peddling holy water and happiness, while always finishing up asking for money. We may laugh and pay no attention, but what if you never grew up in the church and only had TV to help you decide what a Christian is. Scary, isn’t it?

Add to that all sorts of other religious people who make all sorts of comments in the media, some so extreme that it leads to terrorism, and gaining an increasing foothold of fear within our society. In the States there have even been key Christian leaders who have called for assassination of world leaders… while they pray! Some have suggested that the world would be a better place without the presence of Bin Laden! Sure, it is possible that there may be an element of truth in their views?

But posture is not about truth.

Posture is about helping people want to hear the truth. If the leader had taken an humble posture and suggested that his views may not be accurate or even reflect the view of every Christian, or even God for that matter, that would have been okay. The nonverbal mistake was that he made the comment while praying. That’s like a professional athlete who has just won gold at the Olympics giving the “birdie” to all his fellow competitors while attributing his win to the providence of God and the all so clear “truth” that ‘God was on my side, not yours’.

What about Christian advertising we find on cars, T-shirts, and church signs? What do they really say to people? Nothing irritates me more while I am riding on the road than being cut off by a car with a fish sticker, or when someone zooms past you changing lanes without indicating showing every sign of impatience under the sun, and sporting a large “smile God loves you” sticker on the bumper.

Advertisements by nature are intended to coerce thinking and behaviour. They are needed when there is no personal relationship between the seller and the potential buyer. This type of coercion is expected when you are trying to decide what sort of drink or car to buy, but it’s highly offensive when people try to tell you important truths without any tangible relationship.

Nonverbals can come across in the words we use to describe people. For example, the word lost. As a Christian man I know firsthand that lost is not something I want to be called, even if I am lost. Men just don’t admit to it, especially men who have been taxi drivers. Or the terms unreached, or target group, or unbeliever, or even unchurched! Try any of these terms out on the street and you had better be ready for a fight.

One of the great writers of this day Brian McLaren in ‘More Ready Than You Realise’ looks at the word lost in ancient context. Lost actually connoted something to be treasured, worth looking for, but just missing. Very different from our modern day meaning of clueless, spiritually stupid, or arrogantly anti-God.

I know of one Church in Denver that has recently spent 93 million on a single ministry, actually on a single building, that’s’ right 93 million. The church budget equates to nearly 1.5 million for every person who comes along to church for the first time. That’s how much it costs for that church to actually get one person into Church. Now I don’t know about you, but I take that two ways. Firstly, in awe of the dedication of these people, being willing to go to that extreme for one soul! Secondly, and I imagine this is how the world would take it to be, what a horrible waste of money. Think of how many people (or countries for that matter) that money could help.

Posture is important because it can either obscure the message of truth or enhance and pave the way for a clear rendering of truth.

Perhaps today should have been called posture day!

Christianity is now almost impossible to explain, not because the concepts aren’t intelligible, but because the living, moving, speaking examples of Christian faith don’t line up with the message.

Our poor posture overshadows the most beautiful story and reality the world has ever known.

Sometimes I wonder how we got to this point. Why did pagan onlookers hold the early church in such high respect, but today’s non-Christians view the modern-day Church with such disdain? And it wasn’t until I started hanging out with people like me, evangelists, that I discouraged the horrible truth: it is because people just like me had a terrible paradigm of evangelism. In the name of ‘getting someone saved’, I, we, have primarily focused on communicating a message of truth to the world. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that we’ve prioritized the verbals over the nonverbals, the message over the method, that is to say, proclamation over posture. What was I thinking?

I assumed if I could just get the idea across, then it will be up to the person to respond, whether I did it correctly or not. Maybe I thought (and I suspect I did because I see it in so many pastors today), I would get God’s approving glance. After all, it is our duty to share ‘truth’ even if the modus operandi is ‘Obnoxious for Jesus and loving it’.

Posture shows us that truth is not the only important thing. In fact the most important thing is whether or not people are attracted to the truth, drawn to the truth, and able to understand and receive the truth. Proverbs 15:1 ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath’. I think God cares quite a bit that we be concerned with the ‘how’ of what we say, not just the ‘what’.

Paul shares some insights on this idea of posture over proclamation with those who are coming to faith in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 ‘But we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We love you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had been so dear to us.’ An extended paraphrase might be, ‘Because we found ourselves emotionally attached to you all, we couldn’t just preach at you. We knew you needed time to process your faith, and the only way to help you understand the big picture was to stay with you longer. We knew the message would make more sense if you saw it lived out in our lives’.

When we focus on the message only, what we are saying to people? Then perhaps they really aren’t dear to us? The message matters, but they don’t? What makes the gospel good news isn’t the concept, but the real life person who has been changed by it!

Peter also speaks of posture in 1 Peter 3:15 ‘But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect’. These early Christians expected that if you embodied the message, they wouldn’t have to target people or go after them. They enjoyed the alternative of waiting for people to approach them with curiosity and interest because of what they saw these early Christians being and doing.

I can’t believe I am saying this, but today I want you to try and be less ‘evangelistic’ as you may have understood that word in the past.  I am suggesting that one of the reasons we haven’t seen a flood of people in our church gatherings is because we haven’t postured our faith well enough or even long enough. As I look back over my years and observe those who I have led to Christ, the ones who have really stuck and been transformed have been those I haven’t approached, but who have approached me.

When posture is wrong, we will always be perceived as an enemy or judge. When our posture is right we will be perceived as an advocate, a person who supports and speaks in favour of or pleads for another.

In our “post everything” society we are going to have to belong with people as dear friends for quite a while before they’ll feel comfortable belonging with us.

Our posture of how we communicate to them – that we are on their side and advocating for them – is how we enter their world. Instead of drawing a line in the sand and imploring them to ‘get it right with God or be left behind’, we step across from our religious side into their all-too real world and ask how we can help. This too, can be done with or without words. Instead of picketing abortion clinics, we re-posture by taking these women into our lives and loving them and their children. Instead of sticking another slick saying on a billboard, we commit two years into really getting to know someone. Instead of advertising our faith as superior to other faiths, we serve those of other faiths.

The missionary as an advocate

To be an advocate means that when people are in need, they know that we’ll be on their team, and that we’ll be there whenever they need us, for just about anything.

I did not really understand what it meant to be advocate until a few years ago (despite working for veteran’s affairs for a time). A couple of years ago a lady who we will call ‘Betty’ Betty is not her real name, but because she is a dentist we will call her that J came down the front at church, she was a sobbing mess. Her life was a mess, and she looked twice as old as her real age… I knew some of the details, enough to know that my words or my limited wisdom could not do anything to ease the pain of her harsh existence! She came and knelt down. I placed my hand on her head, but she did not even look up or give any recognition of my presence, so I sat on the pew next to her, and put my hand on her shoulder… still nothing. So I bent down and knelt next to her, something my body does not like doing… I placed my hand around her… something my mind does not like doing, I like my personal space. It was then that she acknowledged me! We just stayed there like that for what seemed like an eternity… but the truth of the matter it may have been only a few minutes, but I was way out of my comfort zone! It took ages before we were ready to pray and speak to God. I basically acted as an advocate for her before God, because she was unable to articulate what it is that she was experiencing!

You see “advocate” is different to “empathise”. Empathy can be shown from a distance; it can be communicated through a card or phone call.  But to advocate for someone means you are with them in their need, and you must speak and act on their behalf because they can’t speak or act on their own. Someone once said this, ‘the friend who can be silent with us in a moment of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares’.

I’d also like to add that being an advocate can also being seen as a model of what a group of people or individual would like to represent.

I hate facebook, with a passion, but Christine told me that a facebook group has been started called hodlan (hodlan is what the houseofdean lan parties became known as – houseofdean or hodlan was a ministry I ran for several years – a ministry for geeks – for people who like to play online computer games), so I had better join it and at least be seen once in awhile, after all it did bear my name. In a strange and sick and twisted way, and sadly for many young guys, I am their advocate.

You can be someone’s advocate by literally leading the culture of the people about you, the sharing of an interest, if you get in there and lead the group, if you become the person of influence you will soon become the advocate! You become the model others head towards in their lives.

But getting back to the posturing as an advocate for those who are spiritually disorientated, Jesus himself was brought into a situation in which he was put between truth of sin and the real life of a sinner. In John 8, Jesus encounters a woman who was caught in adultery. She had broken not only the Jewish law but also God’s law. She clearly had lived a life of sin, and the Pharisees are bringing them to Him to condemn her and to trick him. According to scriptures, the Pharisees are in a pretty good spot. They have the law on their side and hundreds of years of precedent to stone her to death the old fashioned way! Did she need truth? Absolutely! Did she need to repent? Of course… Did her sin deserve death? According to the law, yes.

Imagine what those religious heavy weights would have done if they had Paul’s arsenal of writings which was to come just a few years later. 1 Corinthians 6:9 ‘Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers will inherit the kingdom of God.’ I am sure they would have said, ‘There you have it, it’s in the writing, people like her don’t get to go to heaven, so we might as well condemn her to hell now.’

But notice what Jesus did. He physically postures himself down to the level of the exposed woman and advocates for her. I imagine the posture of the woman must have been low, bent over, covering her head, probably shaking in fear, tears splashing down in the dirt. She knows what is coming, and she might assume she deserves the torrent of rocks that are about to bludgeon her skull. Why didn’t Jesus just call a spade a spade? Why didn’t he just speak the truth? He is truth; he can’t speak anything but truth. And yet, truth bends down, adjust his posture, and kneels near her. He’s now at her level; she’s in his protection. She can hear his voice and feel him breathe. She feels his hands touching her, protecting her, speaking for her. The religious leaders challenge him, and he stands up to speak to them. My guess he stood up simply just in case some overzealous Pharisee in training missed his first point and was still planning on chucking a few rocks.

Then Jesus bent down a second time and continued to make some scratches in the dirt. More importantly, he bent down to let this woman know he was still on her side.

This is an incredible story and we try to theorize what he was writing on the dirt, as if it is the most important thing about the story (if it was important it would be recorded, right). But it is not. For all we know he was drawing a smiley face. The powerful revelation is that God of the universe – the only one who should have genuinely been offended, who could have postured himself as judge and executioner – literally lowers himself to her level and becomes her only friend, protector, and advocate. Yes, he does challenge her lifestyle and asks her stop, but not until he has postured himself as an advocate. This is the key. He addresses her head only after he has her heart. When people begin to leave, he doesn’t speak to her. He actually asks her a question, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you’. Notice what truth, embodied in Jesus, did. He removed condemnation from her first and then called for behavioural change. He won her heart first by removing condemnation, and the rest was history.

As a young Christian I went off to college to become a minister so I ‘could stand up for God’. The goal was just to ‘get it out there and share it bluntly and run back to church and tell how much heat I took for God, not unlike kids who pelt stones at the trains and then run back in the bushes to talk about great feats of courage.

As an adult not much has changed. Some of us can feel as though if we stand up for certain political ideals or values, that God is up there going, ‘atta way, Dean. Tell ‘em the way it is, straight up! If they don’t buy it… let ‘em burn! These types of people don’t go to heaven anyway!’

Do we have Paul and Jesus disagreeing in how to handle sinners? How do we interpret 1 Corinthians 6:9, since Jesus has just let one of the condemned go?

Read up a few verses in 1 Cor 6 and you will see that Paul is challenging Christians not to associate with other proclaimed Christ followers who overtly live out their sin without remorse or consideration for the new life Christ gave them. Paul says, ‘I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not meaning the people of the world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.’ In fact Paul himself says that we are never to judge sinners, that we’re to leave judgement to God for those who are spiritually disorientated. Our job is to be like Jesus in the world; to help communicate God’s love and acceptance and to win people’s hearts through close contact and covering. Don’t worry when they hand their hearts to God, they’ll want to leave sin.

I wonder what would happen if our posture became that of an advocate for those outside the Kingdom? What if we set aside our apologetics and theological arguments to defend God and just lived as Christ did in front of others? I wonder how God might lead us if we were more concerned about being a friend of sinners than a friend to those inside our church gatherings?

My sense is that people would begin to have the same feelings for us as they did for Jesus.

Changing our posture

We want to draw people to Jesus, but that was not his message. His message was simply Him. His face, the softness in his voice, the look he gave the children, how he laughed, and how he lived. His “message” actually repelled people. Many people who were drawn to him as a man would leave after he let them in on the message. This can be quite a change for us. We try to draw others to Him by soft-pedalling the message and end up repelling them by how we live our lives.

So how does our posture change? It won’t change by reading a book or listening to me, or through programs, or even pleading. For our posture to change our hearts need to change, and our hearts will only change as we live among the people for whom we will eventually advocate. Jesus modelled it this way in Mat 9:36 ‘When he saw the crowds he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd.’

If we aren’t around everyday people who don’t yet know Jesus – from work, from school, from the community, from the local store-  we’ll never have a heart for them. If you go to Africa and hang out in a village of starving children, you’ll get a heart for starving African children. If you hang out with the mentally ill, you’ll get a heart for the emotionally imbalanced. If you want an authentic heart for the people outside the church… you’ve got to be with them. As they grab your heart, your posture will change, your angle of approach will change, and the kingdom of God will become more real to them.

How are you willing to advocate for people while they live lives that are in opposition to the way of Christ? If you could no longer use words to communicate the gospel, what would you do?

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