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EPISODE 35: Witnessing During the Pandemic - Still!
Did you start some good reconnecting with people during the early stages of Covid-19? Perhaps it’s time to renew those conversations. This could be a great time to reach out to non-Christians and offer hope from sources other than policies and medicine.
Faith Over Covid Articles:
Reaching Out While Staying In by Randy Newman.
Life on the Edge: Discipleship in the Age of the Coronavirus by Karl "KJ" Johnson.
How the Book of Job Answers the Questions Raised by the Coronavirus by Will Kynes.
Welcome to Questions That Matter, a podcast of the C.S. Lewis Institute. I'm delighted to be your host, Randy Newman, and I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to you about witnessing during the pandemic; 2.0 perhaps is a good way for us to think about it. My friends and co-laborers at the C.S. Lewis Institute asked me to write a short piece at the beginning of the pandemic which seems like about 50 years ago, and I believe we have that on our website, about ways you can reach out to friends who are not Christians, but who are sharing this global moment of being threatened by and surrounded by the pandemic known as COVID-19. But they said, here we are again two years later, and we're still in this COVID mess, and I wonder if you have any ideas for us about evangelizing our friends during this pandemic at this stage.
So that's what I want to talk to you about today, without a conversation partner, so it will just be me, but I think it's time for us to reach out again. I don't know if you had this experience two years ago, when things were beginning to be shut down and everything was rather scary and mysterious. Maybe you connected with people you hadn't heard from in a very long time. I certainly did. I got some calls and some emails and some texts, and then I also reached out to some people and just, “Hey, just checking to see how you're doing. How are things in your area? What's the infection rate like?” and those kinds of things. Well, now here we are two years later, and I think this might be a good idea to reach out again. Maybe you have been staying in touch with those people. My guess is that not quite as much as you had hoped. I know that's the case for me.
You know, the other night I was watching TV, and on came this commercial that I think was like a public service announcement. And it was just a whole bunch of very, very short videos of people saying things like, “Hey, I was just thinking about you. Hope you're doing okay.” “Hey, we haven't talked in a while and just want to know how you're doing.” And it was a commercial for encouraging people to reach out to people that they knew who might be struggling with varieties of mental struggles, like depression or anxiety or fear. And if you're listening to this in the wintertime, there are quite a few of us, myself included, who battle against what is affectionately called seasonal affective disorder, abbreviated SAD. And so I appreciated this commercial about people reaching out and sending, again, a short text message or an Instagram message or something where they say, “Hey, maybe you're not ready to talk about things now, but whenever you are ready, I'm here for you,” things like that. And I think that that might also have application for us as we reach out evangelistically, so as I'm going to pause now, jot down some names of some non-Christians that you've been in touch with some time during this pandemic and perhaps it's time to restart that conversation. Take a few moments and jot that down. Or just think about those people and ask God for wisdom about how this may be something you can apply.
You know, as I'm thinking about this, we've all been through Christmas and the busyness of preparing for Christmas, and now that it's passed, it's quite possible that for a whole lot of us, we now feel like it's always winter and never Christmas. And so here's a chance for us to reach out. And I have a couple of ideas about how to do that and then a couple of resources to suggest. First, I would just say give it a try, start reconnect. “Hey, just wanted to check in, see how you're doing at this stage in the pandemic.” It's a whole different set of skills, I think, that we need at this stage. I think when things first started out, we had in mind that, “Okay, we have to run a mile.” Now I think we're thinking, “Oh, we've been running at least a 10k and this thing is going to be at least a marathon. Okay.” It's a shift in our expectations.
So I would encourage you to reach out and make it your plan, your agenda for this first contact, just to listen. “How are you doing? How are things going? Ask them how they have found ways to cope. Where have they found strength and hope? It's quite possible that this whole experience has been revealing to a lot of us of where we really do trust. Do we trust in God? Or do we trust in distraction on television or bingeing movies? Or where are the places that give us strength? And it's quite possible that some of our friends have found that those sources have not been as helpful as they thought. So that's the first idea of reconnect and listen.
Second, consider some ways that you might step up the dialogue about spiritual things now. Maybe it's time to say, “You know, it's been a long time since we've talked about spiritual things. I know there was like several years ago where I sent you that book, and I just wonder if you're up for restarting that conversation.” You never know. And I wouldn't necessarily assume that people are still at the exact same spot spiritually than they might have been at before. So consider restarting the spiritual conversation. Maybe that looks like sending them a short book to read, and the two of you can discuss that together. Maybe it's asking them if they might want to watch something and then discuss it, a film that would spark some discussion about spiritual things. So those are just a couple of ideas to start. I'm hoping that this primes the pump gives you some ideas.
I would also encourage you to make yourself accountable about doing this. If you're in a small community group in your church, or perhaps a small group through the C.S. Lewis Institute Fellows Program or something, share with the group that you're going to reach out to this particular nonbeliever that you know and ask them to pray for you not to chicken out, and for them, the non-Christian, to be softened and open. And there's something about telling people, “I'm going to do this,” that actually ensures that you will do it.
Now, here's a couple of cautions, I guess, in the midst of this. So just to recap, I'm encouraging you to reconnect, to do a lot of listening, to ask how they've been finding strength or coping mechanisms or sources of hope, and then to restart the spiritual conversation, with some ideas about how that might happen.
But I want to offer two cautions for you to keep in mind even before you start this. The first is don't be surprised if your friends may be experiencing some anger. I don't know if you've been following and reading, but a whole lot of sources are saying that our culture is getting more and more angry. And this whole pandemic thing, even if it wasn't as divisive as it has been politically, it still would bring to the surface a lot of angst and fear. And fear is a great grounds for anger. So I want to encourage you to not assume that these conversations will go all that smoothly.
I subscribe to a number of different newsletters, and I read about what God is doing around the world. And frequently, repeatedly, I see and hear pleas for the need for discipleship all around the world. That is the crying need of our time, and that is the specific focus that God has placed on the C.S. Lewis Institute. So we're so very grateful to be involved, and have been for decades, in something that could very well be the greatest need of our world today. So please consider becoming a financial partner with us. It would be at the very core and centrality of what God is doing in our world today.
I reconnected not too long ago with a friend that I knew in high school, if you can imagine that. That's a long time ago for me. We hadn't been in touch for many, many years. And then we reconnected, I guess about five years or so ago. And every so often we just touch base and catch up on the phone or by email. And he called me about a month ago and said, “Hey, it's been a while,” and I called him back, and I was disturbed at the higher level of anger that I heard from him. And I was even more disturbed to see that it was triggering some anger within me. He's in a very different place than I am spiritually, he’s in a very different place than I am politically, and I just sensed a much higher percentage of sarcasm and mean spiritedness, not necessarily geared toward me, although it was toward religious people in general, as part of his ranting. So I just want to tell you to encourage yourself to consider that, that you might want to brush up and think through: What are the things that trigger my own anger? What are the things that might be said that ordinarily would trigger anger, but you're going to say, “No, I'm not going to bite. I'm not going to go for that. I'm not going to fall for that.”
And then also a caution. You may have heard that some of these things about this pandemic are kind of politically polarized. I would encourage you to think through ahead of time. What will you do when—it’s probably when, not if—when the topics of politics come up. You need to decide how strongly do you think that the solution for our problems are political? I find myself more and more trying to say to people, “I'm very disenchanted with both political parties. I don't feel comfortable at all in either party. I might say that, at some time, not all that terribly long ago, I did feel comfortable on one side of the political aisle, but not anymore.” And I don't know if you share those perspectives with me, but you just need to think through what will happen when someone does make a comment about it. And I want to encourage you. You’ll need to think through: What’s the tone and the model that I want to have? I find that it's very difficult to find models and examples of people addressing this well. It certainly can't sound like either Fox News on the right or CNN on the left. Both sound amazingly harsh whenever I catch snippets of them. It's a lot of straw man building. There's a lot of sarcasm, a lot of mean-spirited name calling.
So we need to think through: What is it that's shaping us? I read online recently of the rise of popularity of politically oriented podcasts on both sides, on the left and the right, and I haven't listened to any of them, but I can imagine they're pretty harsh. I would bet. And if you're getting a steady diet of that, you may find that it is crafting your soul or shaping you or catechizing your thinking. And so we need to be very, very careful. Where are we getting the most input and the most forming being done to us?
So let me offer a couple of suggested resources. I always feel a little reluctant about recommending my own books, but here goes. My publishers say I should somehow overcome that reluctance. So my very first book, Questioning Evangelism, I chose to talk about evangelism, talk about common questions people ask and how we might answer them in a dialogical kind of way. But I also chose to include three chapters at the end that some people over the years have told me those were actually the most helpful in the book, and they're the ones that were seemingly the most surprising. So I have a chapter on compassion. What if I really don't have compassion for the lost? And I have a chapter on anger. And then I also have a chapter on listening. So I think that those chapters could be very helpful at this moment in time. I will also say The Good Book Company has a whole host of resources on their website, and I hope you'll go visit that website, thegoodbook.com, or just type in The Good Book Company, and look for their tab of outreach, and they have a number of evangelistic books and a number of evangelistic short booklets, very, very good resources.
They have a whole series of books about engaging with, it’s a whole series of engaging with people of other religions. I had the privilege of being part of the one on engaging with Jewish people, but there's one on engaging with Muslims, engaging with atheists, engaging with Hindus, and there's a brand new one by Corey Miller on engaging with Mormons, and I really recommend that series. They're all rather short, and I think that they're helpful.
I would also recommend to you to consider the resource of this great new movie that you've heard about, I'm sure and probably, hopefully most of you have seen it. The Most Reluctant Convert, starring Max McLean, produced by the Fellowship for Performing Arts. If you go to their website, and again type in Fellowship for Performing Arts, you'll find at cslewismovie.com, a link under there of how you can watch it still online, how you can gift a viewing of it to someone watching it online, or how you can even host a viewing, a group viewing. I think this could be a really, really great midwinter event. Invite your friends to watch it, you watch it, and then discuss it. I think that this is an opportunity for us during these cold months that can really be helpful.
I also want to recommend the resource that we talked about in a recent podcast, Rebecca McLaughlin's book, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims. It's a short book. It can help you, as a believer, prepare for conversations about the kinds of things that people are posting on signs on their lawns or in their windows. And it could also be a book that you could send to a friend and say, “Hey, listen, I know that this goes after a whole lot of controversial issues, but I think this author does a very good job of expressing things compassionately,” so I recommend her book, The Secular Creed. If someone's really interested, then I would recommend even her bigger, just a little older… A few years ago, she wrote a more rigorous approach to apologetics called Confronting Christianity. This would be for a friend of yours who's a non-Christian, who's very thoughtful, who is not intimidated by a book that's 200 pages, but it's a really great resource, and I would say at this point in time it's my favorite evangelistic book to give to a thoughtful non-Christian.
So this may be the time to ask the Lord to work in your own heart, to give you a boldness, and to see how you can reach out.
One final resource, as I bring this to a close: I hope you'll also visit Christianity Explored’s website. They have a new resource called Hope Explored, which is very much pre-evangelistic. All of their other resources are pretty directly evangelistic. There’s a Bible Study, eight-week Bible study of the gospel of Mark and other things. But this newest series, and I think it's only three or four weeks of videos, Hope Explored, is really worth considering. And that's the kind of thing you could do, a simultaneous watching, via Zoom or something like that, have all of your friends come online and watch it together and then discuss it.
So this is also a time for us to perhaps dig in and do some study or some reading about how we might be more equipped and fruitful in evangelism. This could be a time for you to read a book or watch some videos on evangelism. We have quite a few resources at the cslewisinstitute.org website. I hope you'll check that out. And may it be that, during these cold, difficult months, that God will work and bring about a revival in our land, in our world, as our world finds less and less things to trust in and hope in. And maybe we can point people to the Savior, Who transcends any of these difficult times. May it be that the Lord would use this podcast and all of our resources at the C.S. Lewis Institute to help you develop in heart and mind discipleship and fruitful outreach. Thanks.