Friday, February 21, 2014

Gospeling in a “Whatever” World

by Wesley Paul

I live with a 20-year-old and a 14-year-old. As a parent and cultural anthropologist, I am learning everyday that my children live in a “whatever” world. Theirs is a world in which everything goes. In general, they are nonjudgmental, accepting, and don’t particularly give much thought to one’s lifestyle, morality, salvation, or about one’s relationship with God.

“Whatever” is also an attitude. They couldn’t care less about another’s spiritual welfare. For them, whatever one does is their business. They would say, “I live my life and they live theirs, who am I to judge them or tell them what they need?” So how does one enter into such a world? Wouldn’t I be a bother? Who am I to tell them they need God?

I, for one, don’t have all the answers. Like everyone else, I am just trying to figure this out. This past fall I enrolled in a counseling program at a local university and have been learning about some psychotherapy models. One in particular that piqued my interest was Carl Roger’s client centered therapy.

One of the focal points of this therapy is to regard the client with positive unconditional regard. In other words, accept the client as he or she is, don’t make judgments, show authentic concern, and regard and be honest with the client no matter what his or her problems. The client is “prized” in this therapeutic approach. Rogers was the first to even call the patient a client. Prior to this, clients were known as patients.

For Rogers, this meant a one up, one down position. Rogers also modeled empathetic listening, compassion, and kindness to the clients. He became a popular therapist and was known for his efforts in peacemaking. In fact, Rogers was nominated for a Pulitzer peace award.

In a world where “whatever” goes, Rogers’ model can be effective. The person feels accepted, valued, and treated as a human being with dignity and respect. Rogers established a model of therapy in contrast to his upbringing. He was raised in Oak Park, Illinois, in a fundamental Christian home. He didn’t get along with his mother, who enforced his conservative Christian values. He found his family to be judgmental and non-accepting of people. He enrolled at Union Seminary, but halfway through he became disillusioned with his faith and vocational goal and transferred to Columbia University to get a teacher’s degree. Rogers turned away from his faith and became ultra humanistic and valued the human experience above all. But from his approach of treating people, we can learn how to relate the gospel to those who live in a “whatever” world.

Rogers reminds us that people need to be loved and accepted no matter what baggage they come with. He demonstrates that if we have unconditional positive regard for people, then they will listen to us. If we prize them, or value them, they might connect with us.

Two thousand years before Rogers, Jesus modeled unconditional positive regard for people. His gospel was client/people-centered. Consider the woman in John 8:1-11 who was brought before him for a judgment and punishment. But Jesus “prized” her, demonstrated unconditional positive regard for her, and forgave her. What about Zacchaeaus? He was a crook, but Jesus went to his home, engaged him in conversation, and led him to personal repentance. Luke 15:1-2 illustrates that he was nonjudgmental and accepting of sinners.

As gospelers, we have a model in Jesus to bring the gospel to a “whatever” world in fashion that would be nonjudgmental and with unconditional positive regard for people.

Another focus of client centered therapy is to work with the client in the here and now. In other words, explore what he or she is going through currently; consider what is happening in the moment. It might help for us to talk with our pre-Christian friends about what is happening in their lives.

Be in the moment and pay careful attention to their contextual or environmental concerns. Talk of eternity and other matters might be too far out or irrelevant. But if their death is imminent, it makes sense, or if they are God conscious, it makes sense. Otherwise, focus on their daily lives, their problems with family, friends, at work, etc.

What issues in life are bringing guilt, shame, pain, etc.?

Explore the teleological (study of purpose) question. Ask them what brings meaning and purpose to their lives? Of course, you are going to have to gain a right to explore these things. But if you have been person-centered, demonstrated positive unconditional regard, and valued them, you might have found an open door to fruitful spiritual conversations.

As I was writing this blog, a friend of mine related an evangelistic encounter that transpired between her daughter and a friend of hers. Chrissie became concerned about Sadie’s lostness. Sadie recently moved to Lexington to get away from her religious family.

Chrissie decided to pay a visit to Sadie; en route, she stopped at a gift store and bought a necklace for Sadie. The necklace became a point of contact for Chrissie. Everything on the necklace became symbolic; the pendent, a nest with five eggs, symbolized members of Sadie’s family. As Chrissie gave the necklace to Sadie, she prayed that God would use this necklace to remind Sadie of home and cause her to return home. 

It didn’t surprise Chrissie when all through the day Sadie would clutch the necklace and talk about how much she missed her family and hometown. God was at work and answering Chrissie’s prayers. Later that night, Chrissie got a text from Sadie thanking her for making her feel so special. As I heard this story, I realized that Chrissie had just practiced person-centered evangelism in a “whatever” world.

I rest in the fact that as a gospeler, my role is to be sensitive, read the signs, and nudge people toward Jesus (Leonard Sweet). It is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict them and convert them. As a gospeler, I will practice treating people with positive unconditional regard and remain a voice and a valuer of people/souls in a “whatever” world.

Wesley Paul
Wesley Paul is founder and director of Wesley Paul International Ministries, which has conducted city-wide gospel festivals, pastors’ conferences, and evangelism and mission seminars in over 30 countries. Besides being an evangelist, he is also serves as a hospice chaplain.

1 comment :

  1. This is Powerful, the concept and approach.