Drawing on research and practical experience, a website has been launched of ‘Mission styles’ – the evangelist’s answer to learning styles and love languages. Miriam Swaffield explains how discovering your unique missional style could transform your approach to evangelism.
At a party, who are you? The one checking the playlist is set and everyone has a drink in their hand? The one enjoying the music by gathering a bunch of people into the middle of the room for a dance-off?
Maybe you’ve been having a ‘deep-and-meaningful’ for most of the evening with someone, sat outside in the garden? Or perhaps you’re scouting the room for an interesting conversationalist, otherwise you’ll make a subtle exit to watch Have I got news for you at home instead…
We are all wired differently: how we learn, the way we find our space within a social setting, the people who end up our closest friends, even the way we come to faith and most instinctively relate to God isn’t a carbon copy of the next person. And yet, when it comes to evangelism and how we live out the mission of God, quiet panic sets in and the defaults come out, as if mission is a one-size-fits-all expression.
Nervous of ‘getting it wrong’ or being asked questions we can’t answer, we scrabble around for what we already know: a free BBQ, an apologetics debate on a question we’ve chosen so that we can’t be caught out, any kind of event we can plan, brand, and leave invitations subtly dotted around. With beads of cold sweat on our foreheads and the words of Jesus’ great commission ringing in our ears, we hope this ‘counts’ as evangelism. We hope someone else had a ‘good conversation’ with a not-yet-follower of Jesus while we were busy helping, and we hope we’ll get better at feeling natural and comfortable with this stuff eventually.
Surely there’s more to mission than this? I struggle to accept the creativity crisis we have when it comes to sharing our faith with the people around us. I also struggle with the identity crisis we have when it comes to our own abilities to witness to the good news or encourage people towards Jesus. I totally get that some people are gifted to the Church by God as ‘evangelists’ and I love that their job is to strengthen the whole body in doing what it’s made to do, in unity, as Jesus called us to. Thank God for evangelists.
However, evangelists aren’t where we outsource our mission, even if some people do appear ‘better’ than others at sharing their faith (comparison will kill mission too, by the way: let’s not go there). Each and every one of us is created in the image of God, the God who sent himself to us, in his Son and through his Spirit. God is a sent God, we are his sent people. God is a God of mission, we are joining in with it. We’re blessed to be a blessing, disciples who make disciples, to the ends of the earth, our street, our family. We are a God-creation made for mission. So we’ve got to get through the crisis moments of identity and creativity and somehow find this thing freeing, life-giving and dare I say… fun?
Let me introduce you to Mission Styles, the new project myself and the Fusion team have been devising all year, and had lots of fun getting it up and running. It’s basically an online test which helps you discover how you most naturally share Jesus, and also equips you in styles less like you, so that you can understand and reach your friends in ways that make sense for them and for you. It’s all free, all online and stacked with resources and stories to steal lots of inspiration for evangelism. It’s made for whole churches, youth groups, friendship groups or just individuals. It’s personal, bespoke and not just pandering to stereotypes. Who doesn’t love finding out about themselves with fun questions and a personal profile all about you in response? After all, we all know which Harry Potter house we’d be in, our Myers- Briggs profile, and possibly which character from Friends we are… (Rachel, in case you’re wondering).
NO SILVER BULLET
Now obviously Mission Styles is not the key to all your evangelistic needs. It might not suddenly cause salvations on mass (no harm in praying for it though), but it will go some way towards crumbling those identity and creativity walls that stand in the way of us all sharing Jesus guilt-free and naturally. And it’s simple. We’ve not been clever really, just logical and we’re hopeful that every person can in fact help other people encounter God, so we made a tool to help that truth be realised. We’ve done a bunch of research around the ways in which different people are wired and how we learn best, and translated that kind of thinking to how you understand and encounter Jesus most naturally and instinctively. Basically, if who you are and how you work is deliberate, then you will in fact be gifted at sharing your faith in your style, and that gift is needed.
The four Mission Styles that you will be a combination of, to a greater or lesser extent, are: ‘Convince me about Jesus’, ‘Show me Jesus’, ‘Talk with me about Jesus’ and ‘Let me experience Jesus’. Maybe you can already guess from the titles which style resonates with your approach to understanding faith, but I don’t want to give away too many spoilers at this stage. You’ve got to take the test for yourself, as these styles aren’t stereotyped boxes but rather helpful springboards into how you (and your young people) might share Jesus with your (and their) friends.
So, in practice, how does Mission Styles help and release us into sharing faith? Well for example, one of my friends is an intriguing combo of ‘Convince me’ and ‘Let me experience’. In the 18 months before she fully gave her life to Jesus, we’d meet up very regularly and have a chat. As a strong ‘Let me experience’ style myself, there was a whole way of understanding Jesus and expressing faith that she totally connected with when I’d talk about what I’d experienced God doing in my week. I was able to play to my strengths. But, I’ve got very little ‘Convince me’ style in me, which meant this friend had some deep questions and wrestles that miracles, social action and sober nights out didn’t address. It was actually when she heard a physicist-turned-pastor preaching on how he loved physics and God that the gospel was made real for her and she realised Jesus demanded a response. She’s still a disciple today but mission and evangelism certainly wasn’t through a formula or one approach by one person.
When I think about another friend who came to faith, he basically gave his life to Jesus simply through joining in serving on the coffee rota and doing set-up alongside others in the church community. He must be a strong ‘Show me’ style, as he really understood God through the practical, problem-solving, serve-each-other culture he saw in churches. Even if it’s not my natural style, if I’ve worked out that a person I’m sharing Jesus with is ‘Show me’ then I now have some awareness and tools for getting them involved in ways that show the practical difference our faith makes. Ok, I might have to get myself on a suitable rota in order to ask said friend to come help alongside me for a bit, but knowing the styles allows me to spot the opportunities available to make some natural connections.
BECOMING MORE ‘YOU’
The genius of Mission Styles is not actually that you can steal handy ideas for how to share your faith. The power really lies in discovering more of who you are and being given the permission and freedom to share Jesus as you. No guilt, no comparison, but knowing there’s a call on you to play your part. It’s totally ok if you don’t just take things at surface value, but you like to debate and wrestle your way into really understanding what it means to know and follow Jesus today. Your ‘Convince me’ style is a gift to the Church, and for some of the people you influence, they want to engage in those debates, read that book and chew the fat with you. And don’t be feeling inadequate if your gift is the big life chats over a drink, a walk or on a long drive. The invitation as a ‘Talk with me’ style is to bring Jesus into the conversations you’re already having. Be honest about your testimony and how you experience God as a friend, during your conversations with others.
I wish Mission Styles had been around when I was a teenager. The power of being a bit more self-aware and God-aware as I grew into myself and how I follow Jesus would have been incredibly helpful. Being given more confidence in sharing my faith with my friends and feeling more tooled-up to speak to them in ways they might understand too, would have saved a fair bit of social angst and wondering what I was doing ‘wrong’. And being given a context for dreaming up new ways of inviting people to encounter more of Jesus, perhaps inventing creative connection points for each style, would have really helped me thinking beyond an event or just a Sunday meeting invite.
I wonder what the predominant Mission Style of your church is? (Since you can get whole groups to do it, you can actually find this out!) Is it the same as your youth group’s? Is your style the one you see most clearly in those you’re leading, or are you the total opposite to the culture you’re currently trying to connect with? And let’s say your youth group is full of ‘Let me experience’ and ‘Show me’ people, how might you grow in connecting with ‘Convince me’ and ‘Talk with me’ styles who perhaps struggle to engage as easily with your current expressions of community? And what about getting your mates who don’t know Jesus to also discover their Mission Styles? It’s not a jargon-heavy test, and it’d be handy not to second-guess your friends but find out together how they might be wired. We can’t be experts at all of the things all of the time, but I do believe that where there are people who struggle to connect with Jesus in how we express him, we can learn to live out different styles, and love our friends better as we do so.
When we remember that we are a body, each playing our part to help the whole thing move and function and live, of course it makes sense that how we play our part in sharing Jesus can be both different, yet complimentary and, in fact, necessary. We need you, ‘Convince me’ people, to help the Church be more thought-through, thorough, and grounded in how we explain the good news. We need you ‘Talk with me’ people to share the story of knowing Jesus, to listen to others’ life stories and spot the fingerprints of God already all over who they are. We need you ‘Show me’ people to empower us all to live the difference Jesus makes, providing and feeding, serving and solving. We need you ‘Let me experience’ people, partly because otherwise you’ll suffer from the fear of missing out, but also because you remind us to dive in, take risks, and find more of Jesus in living it out boldly.
So, enjoy discovering your Mission Style, enjoy getting those you lead to celebrate how they’re made and see the opportunities for sharing their faith just as they are. Stretch yourself to grow in styles less instinctive to you that might make a real difference to those you know who are yet to meet Jesus. And share your stories to encourage others, we want to embrace our God-given identity, and explore our God-designed creativity in how we live out the mission of God, whatever generation, location, personality or gifting we may have.
A ‘Convince me’ person likes to weigh stuff up before coming to conclusions. They’re thought-through, they know why they believe what they believe and if they’ve got questions, they’ll do their homework to find out more about Jesus.
A ‘Show me’ person is practical and down-to-earth. They know God’s love has to be shown through actions. They know what’s required to get the job done and fulfil the need.
TALK WITH ME
A ‘Talk with me’ person is looking to connect through conversation. They end up in deep-and-meaningfuls all the time and love it, especially when they get the chance to bring Jesus into the story.
LET ME EXPERIENCE
A ‘Let me experience’ person just goes ahead and tries stuff. They trust their instincts and have a go at sharing Jesus in new ways and with new people, even if they’re not sure how it’ll work out.
Check out missionstyles.org.