Q&A with Michelle Jones

Q&A with Michelle Jones


Michelle D. Jones is a pastor and writer serving at Imago Dei Community Church in Portland, Oregon, and a sought-after conference speaker, workshop facilitator and preacher who serves diverse audiences in the US and abroad. She is also an award-winning sitcom writer and producer. Her credits include In The House, Parent ‘Hood and In Living Color, for which she earned an Emmy nomination and an NAACP Image Award. Michelle has a passion for women, singles, creative communities, mentorship and sound gospel teaching. Read more of her work at LifeElastic.wordpress.com

Q: What do you see as the natural links between evangelism and spiritual formation? 01

“I catch ‘em, you clean ‘em.” That’s what a leader in a well-known evangelism ministry said to me when I told him my area of ministry is spiritual formation. We had a good laugh, but the truth is, Christians do typically view formation as following a faith decision versus interacting with it. But I think the relationship between growth and the gospel is more complex and beautiful, developing and deepening over time. The unfortunate consequence of the common view is that it deprioritizes evangelism for people who are already “caught.” That leaves them ill-prepared to share their good news with others.

In the past, I focused my attention more on personal growth than on evangelism. I see now that what I and others have unwittingly done is equip an army to feed and care for itself while leaving it unprepared for a wider war. Sharing faith has to be taught as an integral part of formation.

So much of what I do on a daily basis involves helping an individual grow after he or she becomes a Christ-follower. I don’t think the average staff pastor like me spends enough time teaching how evangelism can be formative, not just proof of formation. Moreover, we replicate leaders who instruct and shepherd people, but rarely train them how to share their faith should the opportunity present itself. We talk about “salt and light,” but those images of faith (meant to benefit culture) too often get lost in our consumer-shaped ministries.

As believers we are stewards of our gifts and calling, but we also steward the attention of others. We give those who encounter us a glimpse—for better or worse—of Christ on earth. When we give ourselves to evangelism, we are lifting him up and presenting him to a world crying out for a Savior, instead of just secreting him away as a tool for our own personal sanctification.

Q: In your experience in a very secular city, what kinds of evidence do non-Christian friends and neighbors find compelling? 02

While Portland is a “secular city,” it is also, like many other places, a searching city—and one that wears its probing on its sleeve. I mention that because a label like “secular” can imply a lack of desire for the mysterious, the spiritual or the religious, and that’s not the case. For many searching places, the greatest weakness is also the greatest strength: It is open to pretty much anything.

But in such a place, “evidence” does not automatically mean “proof” or something visible to draw a person to the sensibleness of a belief. In my experience, the concept of God / Christ / Spirit as Creator is one of the most compelling ways to engage friends and neighbors, to draw their attention to faith. An understanding of how creation cares for us as we care for it shows the value of humanity to a “Supreme Being.” This is evidence. The order and beauty of human form, creativity and the wider glory of nature speaks to a culture floundering in uncertainty.

The gospel, like Apple products (to use the words of Steve Jobs), is “elegantly designed, and useable right out of the box.” When we locate and communicate the simple and profound beauty of divine wisdom present in nature and art, it speaks and is understood. It’s convincing evidence.

When we offer this evidence, it’s important to remember that evangelism is how we love the world, as God does, but conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. Live the truth you tell. Tell the truth you live. The rest is God’s business. When we wed ourselves to the idea that we are responsible for making people believe, we put ourselves in the place of the Savior or the Spirit. We take glory that doesn’t belong to us.

An agenda-driven, score-keeping Christian is the easiest thing to sniff out. Most of our seeming inauthenticity comes from the impression that we are keeping score—waiting to notch our belt if someone accepts Christ. Or we give off the impression that the person we’re “presenting evidence” to is not as acceptable to us as they would be if they came to faith. That can make people feel like we are insincere or untrustworthy. And they would be correct.

Q: What element of sharing faith do Christians need to rediscover today? 03

Listening as an act of love. Sharing faith is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. It’s not an information dump or a game of show-and-tell. It is an answer to an inquiry, an invitation to the lost and a gift offered from a place of humility and generosity.

Everything Jesus did was personal before it was anything else. He listened to what people said to him and extracted from it the cry of their hearts, their suspect motives or their uncertainties. God knows everything, yet he “inclines his ear” to us—not for his sake, but for ours. There is something kind and big-hearted in that act.

Listening makes room for people. In a culture that places high value on acceptance, this is no small thing. When we make space first for who people are, and then for what matters to them, only then can we know how to offer ourselves and our faith to them.

Listening is the first duty of a servant. Without it, he or she has no way of knowing what the “master” requires. When we share our faith, we are servants, not sages. We are the poor, holding out only what we have received by the grace of Another. And when we listen, we are giving ourselves to others—in that moment saying, “Master, what do you require?”

We are spiritually formed by and in the love of God in Christ. Evangelism is the fruit and the root of our formation. To give the grace we have been given is not only evidence of our transformation; it is itself transforming. Every opportunity to share our faith with others challenges us to live out what we say we believe. And every time we refuse to shrink away from that responsibility, we are strengthened in our faith and as a witness.

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