When it comes to the big E word, we all know how to do it wrong, or how to not do it at all. But do we know how to do it right—with the unchurched, the nones, the never churched, the don’t-want-to-be-churched, or the please-leave-us-alone-happily-ever-after-unchurched? How do we share our faith with somewhat lonely, little bit overworked, slightly empty everyday human beings? How do we even start the conversation?
Does the conversation just start right out where we hit strangers in the face with our faith, so we can fix them? No, of course not. We know better. Somehow that’s neither honest nor respectful of their personal space or their personhood. It doesn’t honor who we are as Christians, and it doesn’t paint the picture of the loving, grace-filled Jesus Christ that we want to share. So, maybe, we stay inside our circle of friends and fellowship in church. And, maybe, we start to find it’s easier and more comfortable to stay put there than to venture out of our comfort zones. But new people and new places await. So, how do we start the conversation?
This is the question Phil Maynard addresses in Connect!. If you are ready to participate with him in a journey of finding new ways to help your congregation engage with new people outside your church walls, if you want to help your congregation find genuine and loving ways to share their own personal faith stories with those new people in ways that are life transforming, then this book is for you.
I have not been this excited about a book in a long time. If you have worked with Phil Maynard through some of his previous work, like Shift, or Membership to Discipleship, you already know that these are more than books, they are rules of engagement with our congregations. Phil introduces us to new processes of self-development, new ways of building relationships, and new ways of being church. He dares us to be bigger than we are.
Now, with Connect!, he takes us one step further into the future, and challenges us to go the extra mile… all the way out into the far country of never, never land. It’s the land where we are so often hesitant to go. But, Jesus is already there, in this land, looking right back at us and speaking so loudly we cannot help but hear Him: “Hey, yoo-hoo, why aren’t you over here with me already?”
In Connect!, Phil turns everything we have ever learned about how to do faith sharing upside down. It is not top down information sharing. It is not bottom up catechism learning. It is putting ourselves in the right places for person to person building of relationships, for heart to heart making of new friends, and for soul to soul sharing of our faith journeys. Connect! does not preach at us; it journeys with us. Phil Maynard provides the scriptures, the questions, the tools for an individual, a church team or a whole congregation to self-discover their own pathway to “connect” with those who do not yet know Christ. And this self-discovery takes place in a way that is filled with respect and integrity for each and every person. It allows each team or church to find the processes that express who they are as Christians and honor their core values.
Connect! has been the answer to my dream. When I first met Phil at Chili’s for lunch in the winter of 2015, I was serving a district of 63 churches that were all struggling to turn from being inward to being outward focused. As the appointed “mission strategist,” I was thrilled that the laity and pastors alike were recognizing the cultural shift that has taken place in the last few decades, and they were waking up to the postmodern world. They realized it was no longer a given that people would automatically come into the church. So, this brave laity was ready to take responsibility for the future of their church, and the question on their minds was, “How?” How do we go out? How do we reach the world outside our church doors? How do we begin?
Mr. Leatherwood posed the question to me best at a Pastor-Parish meeting in Dublin, Texas. Their church would be receiving a new pastor, and the committee had already given me their list of qualities needed: a Scriptural preacher, a good visitor, a compassionate counselor. Then Mr. Leatherwood, a delightful and very wise older gentleman, said “You know, we’d really like a pastor who knew how to do evangelism. You know, someone who actually liked to go out and meet new people and let them know about Jesus. Shoot, the pastor doesn’t even have to go do that, if they can just teach us how to. It’s really our job anyway.”
Since then, church after church has asked me, “Could they could just teach us how to do that? . . . How do we start the conversation? . . . We know Jesus calls us to share our faith BUT. . . .” We have all met folks who just naturally befriend and engage people everywhere they go and help bring them into a relationship with Christ and the church, but how about the rest of us? Is it something we can learn? Is it something we can do in a way that is genuine and unique to us and our personality and faith?
Connect! says an unqualified, “Yes!” to all these questions. Beginning at our lunch at Chili’s, Phil agreed to partner with 15 of our district churches and spend a year of coaching together to answer all these questions. It was a year of discovery. Each church brought a team of five, and we gathered together every three months for a day of learning together. Then each month Phil provided the coaching for the experiments each church was conducting. Phil brought the leadership and the passion for sharing the Gospel to this project, as evidenced in the Hospitality section of his book Shift. Phil also brought the mental and verbal clarity to communicate these ideas, and put it together with interactive visual and technical skills.
This became a vivid learning experience for all of us. First, Phil helped church teams find ways to connect with new people in new places by building relationships. Second, he helped each individual on these church teams become ready and comfortable with sharing their own faith story. He gave us lots of questions to help us think about how we wanted to share our faith, and lots of opportunities to practice and try out those stories with each other. Then, later, whenever we were able to connect with someone in a caring relationship, we would also be ready to connect with our faith. There was wonderful coaching throughout this experience. And many exciting new relationships with Christ came out of our year together. Many of those stories are included in the pages of this book.
Connect! taught us that faith sharing is not something we “do unto others” out there. It is something we do with others with Christ. Jesus is already out there in the world, placing the hungering and yearning for a relationship with Him in people’s hearts. We have only to join Him as ourselves, offer genuine and caring relationships to others, and connect our faith journeys when He tells us the time is right.
“Come, follow me,” Jesus says. Connect! helps us discover new ways to do just that.
Rev. Carol Wood
District Superintendent, West District
Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church