Years ago I had a boss, a district superintendent, who recommended that I read a book on evangelism called Conspiracy of Kindness, by Steve Sjogren. It’s “old” in Christian book circles—published in 1993, updated in 2003. Unfortunately, I didn’t read it back then. I wish I had!
Today, I’m sure there are many more fashionable books on the subject—I’ve read at least a few of them! But none of them has blown me away like this one.
Like most books on evangelism, Conspiracy of Kindness makes me feel guilty. If you’re a Christian who grew up in an evangelical church like me (Southern Baptist, in my case) you probably know that feeling of guilt. You know you’re supposed to share your faith, or share the love of Jesus Christ, or invite someone to church, or do something related to witnessing. And chances are you don’t feel like you do it often or well enough.
If you’re like me, witnessing usually feels embarrassing, awkward, risky. You fear rejection. (And I’m writing as someone who was even lousy at dating because I was afraid to ask girls out!) So you mostly don’t witness—at least intentionally. You hope some of that good old “lifestyle evangelism” seeps through your pores, but you’re not sure.
So, assuming you haven’t numbed your conscience yet through your unfaithfulness to the Great Commission, you probably feel guilty about it.
While I agree with the cliché often attributed to St. Francis (“Always remember to preach the gospel. And if necessary, use words.”), even preaching the gospel in this way—through actions more than words—should be a deliberate act, at least until doing it becomes second nature. We should pray to do it, plan to do it, prepare to do it, expect to do it.
Witnessing will still happen by accident, of course. But I’ve found that it doesn’t happen very often that way. Isn’t that your experience?
And herein lies the strength of Conspiracy of Kindness: It makes evangelism so easy I think even I could do it!
Here is Sjogren’s approach: take a small group of church members, go outside the church and into the community, and perform small, free, no-strings-attached acts of kindness for people.
He gives dozens of examples of this type of service: giving out soft drinks to passersby on hot summer days; washing windshields in shopping mall parking lots; cleaning toilets at local retail establishments; washing cars; raking yards; handing out bottles of Gatorade to cyclists and joggers at the local park. It could be any number of other things—be creative! But it’s all free of charge. No donations accepted.
Yes, people will be suspicious. Yes, they might think you’re crazy at first. When they ask, as they inevitably will, “Why are you doing this?” His team’s response is, “We’re doing this free service project as a practical way to show God’s love.”
And that’s all the talking, and all the interaction, that’s required.
Of course, sometimes the act of kindness will lead to something more: According to Sjogren, some people begin weeping when offered an act of kindness. Some people ask for prayer. And, yes, sometimes people will even want to pray to receive Christ.
But Sjogren emphasizes that we don’t worry about the results. We leave that up to the Holy Spirit. He’s the one in charge.
I have an idea that this approach to evangelism will become a part of what we do at Hampton UMC. I imagine I’ll even be referring to Sjogren’s book in my upcoming sermons on the Letter of James.