Introduction to Embrace

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Rob Haynes 0:10
Welcome to World Methodist Evangelism’s Real Faith Real World podcast, where we are connecting the faith within us with the world around us. Our mission at World Methodist Evangelism is to provide resources and events to strengthen discipleship and equip Christ followers to share their faith in Jesus Christ. My name is Rob Haynes of World Methodist Evangelism and I’m here today with our Executive Director Kim Reisman. Today we’re excited to discuss Kim’s recent publication Embrace: Showing and Sharing the Love of Jesus. Before we get into the conversation today, we want to make a mention of a few things. First is this podcast is made possible through the generosity of Christ Church Global in Memphis, Tennessee and we are very thankful for their support. We also want to remind you to submit your Ministry Moments; tell us what’s going on in your part of the world, what God is doing there. We want to encourage you to submit your Ministry Moments, you can visit our website for instructions on how you can send us a two or three minute audio file with a testimony or just a witness of what God is doing in your part of the world. So visit our website, you’ll find that in the show notes and we would love to hear what’s going on there today. We’re very excited to talk today about Embrace, which is really a fantastic resource on learning a posture of evangelism. I’m excited that we have Kim not only as our Executive Director but someone who has produced a piece of material that many people are resonating with when they want to share their faith in an authentic manner in a way that is approachable and in a way that anybody can do. Kim, you’ve described Embrace: Showing and Sharing the Love of Jesus as a faith-sharing resource that melds personal experience with theological integrity in order to equip Christ followers to share their faith with confidence, competence, and grace. Now there’s a bunch in that, can you explain more about what you mean by that?

Kim Reisman 2:26
There is a bunch in that. Well historically, evangelism has had a very negative reputation. That’s evolved over the years primarily because I think sometimes evangelism is equated with tactics of manipulation and coercion and things of that nature. It was very important to me to find a way to help people become more natural and more comfortable in the context of their sharing, to get away from that sense of artificial manipulation and cut and dried methods that had to be done in a particular way. It became much more of a holistic understanding and a sharing out of the individual person’s experience and that’s what I think makes it become more authentic and more natural, because we’re not telling people what they are supposed to believe. We’re sharing what we believe, and more importantly, we’re sharing about who we trust, and who that person that we trust, that God that we trust, who that God is and how He has affected our lives. That’s much more a personal situation than it is kind of a particular step-by-step method. At the same time, when you get in touch with your own faith experience, which is so crucial, you have to also be able to see the overarching story of God. What we’re trying to do is help people to see how their story of faith and their experience fits into God’s overarching story of salvation and relationship with all of creation. When we can see how those two things fit together, that’s when our sharing becomes much more authentic, and again, much more competent and natural and so that’s where the theological grounding comes in. We want to make sure that people do in fact, understand the story and how they understand God is going to impact how they share about God and so we want to make sure that that also has integrity so that the whole process can be one. That’s again, not coercive or manipulative, but filled with integrity and authenticity.

Rob Haynes 4:51
So when we say evangelism, for many people that conjures up images of large stadiums of course, you know we think about people like Billy Graham. Those in the Methodist family may think about people like E. Stanley Jones or some of the United Methodist circles will think about the Harry Denman award. These were all people who were preachers or people who were speaking in the public realms or maybe even out in the streets. Is that the kind of thing you’re talking about with evangelism when you say giving them confidence in this? What do you mean by faith-sharing and not coercion?

Kim Reisman 5:29
Well, that is part of it. I mean, there is a place for those kinds of big events, where there’s a big speaker, there’s nothing wrong with that at all. But what I’m talking about…well, actually, I should back up and say, there’s nothing wrong with that at all and some of us may even be called to do that, you know, God may have given certain people gifts for preaching and for public speaking and witnessing in a way that absolutely there’s a great deal of integrity in those kinds of situations. However, what I’m talking about more frequently is simply enabling people to get in touch with their own experience of faith and to be able to share that in the trusting relationships that are in their life or in their circle of influence, it could be with a co-worker, it could be with a friend, it could be with a classmate, or a neighbor, could be on the soccer field, could be any anywhere. The point is that there’s a relationship that has been formed and that’s the context in which you’re sharing. Now, that relationship may lead you to invite someone to come to one of those big events, but our relationships are really the rope that leads people into the context of the gathered community of faith, whether that’s gathering for worship, or gathering for big evangelistic events, such as a Billy Graham crusade or any other kind of witnessing situation, it’s the relationship that’s going to provide the rope to guide that person in. That’s the distinction that I like to make.

Rob Haynes 7:15
Sure, so it sounds like relationship is the foundation for all of this and I think that’s one of the key differences in this, is that right?

Kim Reisman 7:24
Absolutely. Relationship is foundational, not only is it foundational from the perspective of our relationship with God and then foundational because we’re talking about relationships with other people. I mean, relationship actually grounds everything about Christian faith, you can’t really even talk about Christian faith without talking about relationship. It’s the basis for everything.

Rob Haynes 7:46
One of the things I love about what you’ve done with Embrace is base it on more of a holistic nature of evangelism, that term though can mean lots of different things, depending on the context. So what do you mean when you talk about holistic evangelism in terms of Embrace?

Kim Reisman 8:07
Well, holistic, when I use that term I mean the whole of our lives. The holistic nature of evangelism points to the fact that it’s not just one thing, it’s not just preaching on a Sunday, or at a big event, it’s not just what we say, it’s also what we do. Both of those components are important because our words have to be in sync with and reflect the way we live our lives and our actions and the way we live our lives has to be in sync with the words we say, we have to walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk. We can’t, you know, say one thing and do something that contradicts that or we will no longer have integrity. There’s also a third component of that and that’s the role of the Holy Spirit. Frequently people confuse evangelism with conversion and they’re really not the same thing. Conversion is the change that happens within people, the transformation that may occur, but it happens because of the power and presence and movement of the Holy Spirit, not because of anything that we have done. If we release that misunderstanding, we’re free to recognize that it’s the Holy Spirit moving and anything that happens, happens because of the power of the Holy Spirit. So we are on the one hand, a lot freer to relax and not have to carry the burden of changing someone and that protects us in a sense from any tendency to try to manipulate but it also makes us aware again of that third piece of the holistic understanding of evangelism and that is the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. It makes us more in tune with what the Holy Spirit might be doing, more willing to create space for the working of the Holy Spirit, more willing to be slow and wait and discern what the Holy Spirit might be doing. Also, that the Holy Spirit has been given ample space to move and work in our life and in the life of the people that we are involved with.

Rob Haynes 10:33
I don’t want to go too far into this, but sometimes when we think about holistic evangelism we mean mission as well and we can talk a long time about the relationship between mission and evangelism and we won’t do that today. When you say holistic evangelism, is mission a part of that quite simply, and just real briefly to what extent?

Kim Reisman 11:00
Well, I’ve always believed that evangelism is at the heart of mission, everything we do in mission we do because we desire people to come into relationship with Jesus Christ. It colors every aspect of mission, whether that’s humanitarian-oriented mission or educational-oriented mission, any other thing we do, evangelism, for it to be Christian mission, evangelism needs to be at its heart. That desire for people to know the love of Jesus Christ and to experience the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. If that is not at the very heart of everything we do, then there is nothing really to distinguish what we do from what anyone else does, feeding the hungry, providing clothing, any kind of humanitarian work — everybody and their brother does humanitarian work. That’s not the sole domain of the church, what distinguishes what the way we do mission is that Christ is at the heart of it. Christ needs to be at the heart of it, not just in our own minds, but in a visible way and a tangible way in relationship to the people we serve, or else there truly will be no distinguishing what we do from what anyone else does. So it’s a matter of, we give a cup of cold water in Jesus’s name, so to speak, if we only give the cup of cold water, we’re just like everybody else, but if we only give the name, well then we’re kind of irrelevant and certainly somewhat guilty of spiritual malpractice because we have not treated the person as a whole person. If we combine all of that, then we really have achieved in engaging in Christian mission.

Rob Haynes 12:55
Well, we will save a much deeper discussion for that for another episode.

Kim Reisman 12:59
I’m not sure how many seminary professors would agree with what I’m saying, but that’s basically how I kind of frame it.

Rob Haynes 13:06
Sure. Well, I think that’s really helpful and it helps us look at the relationship between our works, our words and in those things that we would try to bring to a situation with our hands. You’ve also mentioned the working of the Holy Spirit in that and showing up when the Holy Spirit is at work before we even get there?

Kim Reisman 13:35
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Rob Haynes 13:39
An old mentor has reminded me that you show up in someone else’s life and pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is doing because we don’t necessarily have to be the one to bear everything, but to witness to what the Holy Spirit is doing and help open up doors in those conversations. To what you were saying a moment ago about the Holy Spirit is more of an idea of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Trinity relationship to evangelism, as Wesleyans, we understand that God is at work and calling each person unto God-self all the time by that prevenient grace. Then how does a posture of embrace welcome that provient grace in someone else’s life while you’re out, whether that be in your own discipleship or in terms of faith-sharing?

Kim Reisman 14:42
The whole idea of Embrace is to get a more holistic understanding and that holistic understanding kind of relates not just to our words and our deeds and the power of the Holy Spirit, but it relates to how we understand God in the holistic sense and again, frequently in evangelism over these many, many years, the focus has been on we engage in evangelism and we reach out to other people, because of the Great Commission, you know, Jesus instructed us in Matthew to go to all the world and share the good news, make disciples, and all of that.That’s frequently what we use to justify our activity in evangelism. In my mind, evangelism is is a bit deeper than that. Certainly the Great Commission is important and it is, in fact, a mandate, but really living out our Christian faith, if we look at God as the model for our faith and the relationship that we have with God through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, there’s much more to it than simply obeying a particular command. What we’re doing is living out our faith, the same way and relating to others in the same way that God has related to us and that kind of shifts the emphasis. Jesus is certainly still extremely important and the Great Commission still bears great weight for us. There again, there’s a holistic understanding of who God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that is what then grounds everything we do and say about faith.

Rob Haynes 16:33
Then help us with the whole imagery of an embrace. We’ve talked about that as a term, but let people know what metaphor you’re using there when you say embrace.

Kim Reisman 16:47
Well, if you think about an embrace, you have to do four things in order to make an embrace happen. If you think about it from a visual perspective, the first thing you have to do is open your arms and then you have to wait and then you have to close your arms again and then you have to finally open them again. If all of those aren’t present, then there’s not an actual embrace. If we open our arms but never closed them again, then nothing has actually happened. If we open our arms and wait and then close our arms, but never open them again, then we’ve not embraced the other person, we’ve overpowered them and that’s not what we’re talking about either. You’ve got to have all four of those steps and those four steps in many ways, reflect the activity of God, when you open your arms, what you’re signaling to the other person is that you’ve made space for them. That’s kind of a universal signal of welcoming really, when we open our arms to another person, we’ve made space. That’s exactly what God does in creation, God makes space for something completely other than God, completely distinct and different from God and that’s creation. God has made space for that, within God’s very self in order to create that relationship, so our open arms model that. The waiting part is important because our God is a God that respects our own integrity, God never forces or coerces us and so therefore nether do we, we wait for a response from the other person, just as God desires to be in a relationship with us and “woos” us, so to speak, with prevenient grace, working in our lives before we’re even aware of that. God never coerces. God waits for us to respond and so we do the same thing, we wait for others to respond. Usually, hopefully, it’s with a reciprocal opening of the arms, they open their arms to us, just as we’ve opened our arms and that’s the way that embrace can happen then. The closing of the arms is when we’re able to connect with that person and the relationship begins to build and grow and that kind of thing, just in the same way in which our faith unfolds and grows, after we’ve responded to God’s offer of grace. Then the final stage is opening our arms and that’s really when we can see the the results of embrace, it’s usually not until after it’s over that you see what has happened and you recognize the impact that you’ve made on that person and they’ve made on you. Again, it’s the same with our relationship with God. The interesting thing for me about the whole idea of embrace is it points to the circular nature of what we’re doing when we engage in evangelism because the same open arms at the beginning are the same open arms at the end and when you open your arms at the end, you’re pretty much ready for another embrace to happen. So there’s an ongoing circular nature a that kind of mirrors the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the responsibility for us to be an ongoing presence in the life of others, welcoming and nurturing and welcoming and nurturing and welcoming and nurturing.

Rob Haynes 20:26
It seems like many would say today that the church is in decline in the west. That we who live in the west live in a post-Christian and I’ve even heard the term anti- Christian context being used.

Kim Reisman 20:44
Definitely post-Christian.

Rob Haynes 20:45
Yeah, right. I would go with post-Christian. In parts of the global south, the church continues to grow by leaps and bounds but the principle still applies, no matter what part of the world you’re in. I think that’s really important because some may be discouraged and say, “Oh, well, no one really wants to hear anything about my faith.” But I think what it comes down to is people want to know that there is something more to this life, that there is meaning and purpose to their own lives, that there is something that happens after we die, that there is something much bigger than ourselves going on in the world and just how do we do that. That has been seen again and again in anecdotal evidence and the research that’s done by Barna and Pew and others. That’s one of the things I think that is attractive about the idea of a relationship-based holistic evangelism tool, is that people can see that if I’m in the coffee shop, or if I’m at work, or if I’m out on the street somewhere, there is a posture that I can use that is faithful to sharing faith while respecting the other person and making space for them, because I really do think people want to know, but they want to know that people care about them, before they’re really tied into the ideas or willing to give them a shot. I think about a time when I was in college and I would not consider myself a Christian at that point, though I was interested in Christianity. We were out to dinner, we were sitting on a balcony over the entertainment district of the city in which I was and we could hear someone with a megaphone the next block over preaching to everyone going by on the street that night. My friends all kind of made fun of the guy for preaching on the street and I didn’t really stand up to defend him because I didn’t know what to say. I kind of felt sorry for him at the same time. Then the next day, those same friends and I were hanging out in one of our dorms, and a friend from down the hall who was not with us that night, but was a Christian was there. They were asking that friend some of the same things that the guy on the street was talking about and what they really wanted to know was “you care about me,” so now I care what you have to say and I think that’s one of the biggest differences.

Kim Reisman 23:19
I think absolutely. I think that’s it right there. I mean Christians talk a lot and our Scripture talks a lot about our love for other people the way we are supposed to love other people and we’re supposed to love them as ourselves. One of the problems is that people outside of the faith don’t necessarily trust that we love them the way that we say that we love them. We may talk about it, but they don’t trust that it’s true. One of the things that we have to really be aware of is being a presence in people’s lives that shows in a real way that we do in fact love them and that we care about what happens to them in this life and in the life beyond. We care about their well being, we care about their health, we care about their families, we care about what’s happening in their lives because we love them. When we make that evident in people’s lives, they’re much more willing to take us seriously when we talk about things that are meaningful to us. Again, we’re talking about what’s happening in our life, we’re not doing any kind of sermonizing and doing Christian doctrine one-on-one, we are talking about the way that God moves in our life and the way that we are finding meaning through that relationship. We can only share that once a relationship with another person has been established and they do in fact trust that we care about them.

Rob Haynes 25:03
You’ve had the chance to teach Embrace in some different contexts now, the book has been out for a little while and you’ve been working on this material for for a little while. Can you give us an example or share with us some of the ways that you’ve heard it impacting people’s lives? What is some of the feedback that you’ve heard after people have started to put this into practice?

Kim Reisman 25:27
Well the most meaningful thing for me about this resource is to see that it does in fact touch people deeply regardless of what culture they’re in. I think that’s because it really is focused on our human needs that all human beings have, the desire to be loved, the desire to be in a trusting relationship, the desire to know that people care about us; I mean those are very human needs. The whole Embrace curriculum focuses on that kind of thing and it’s just been very, very well received. I recall this past fall, fall of 2019, I was in Palo Alto, California, in an AME Zion Church and I was teaching Embrace there. That community is a really diverse community, there are all the Google, all the tech people, are there so it’s a very intelligent. I don’t know if that’s the right way to frame it but you got all these really smart techie people in that community, which I always feel like they’re smarter than me. So that’s why I say that, but you have that kind of thing. You have a really fast paced life with all the tech and so you’ve got a group of people that are used to not necessarily being intimately connected but so much of what goes on there is tech-oriented. We were teaching this and this congregation, which is also quite diverse, just decided that it was really, really important for them to as a result of what they learned through Embrace to become a much more active outreaching part of their community. They began walking the streets of their neighborhood and introducing themselves to the people in the neighborhood and being an actual presence right there in their neighborhood. That has made a dramatic difference in the way that their congregation operates because it was meaningful on a one-on-one situation, each of those individuals that came to that training, used those principles in their own personal relationships. The congregation as a whole determined that they would use those principles as a body and how they related to their community and that was a really, really incredible thing to hear about. It’s made a huge difference in the way the impact that that congregation is having in that part of of the world.

Rob Haynes 28:36
Yeah, that’s really interesting. It is interesting to see how people can learn new ways of doing things that they’ve heard about so much. If you’ve spent much time in the church, you’re going to hear about evangelism, either for good or for bad. Again, in the age in which we live it seems like it is at least well known around the world that Christians evangelize. The connotations that that has brought forth through the ages has been difficult sometimes. That’s not to demean anything that has happened but you know, you and I sit here today because someone shared faith with us and we need to celebrate that. At the same time, we need to continue to give people tools to share faith in their own lives and in the ways that are very applicable in the current age in which we serve.

Kim Reisman 29:38
Exactly, yeah.

Rob Haynes 29:40
So having said that, then, this isn’t just something that we think about and we get to sit here and chat about in a podcast. There are some very real ways that someone can learn more about this idea of Embrace and teaching. You and I have had the chance to do this a little bit together but why don’t you tell our audience how it is that you could get involved and engage with learning how you could share faith through this Embrace model?

Kim Reisman 30:14
Well, if you want to actually read the Embrace material or use the Embrace material, we’ve got to two ways currently that we do that. The first one is simply to do it in your small group. People call them lots of different things: small groups, or life groups or cell groups, but whatever you happen to call them, if you’re involved in a small group of people, Embrace is something that you could use to guide you for a six week study and it’s self contained. You would read a session per week for six weeks and each session is broken up with short bits of reading and questions for reflection and your own life. At the end of the week you would gather with your group and there’s a guideline for weekly discussion that’s in the book itself. You could discuss together the new insights and things that you discovered during the course of that session. That’s one very, very easy way to begin to utilize the Embrace material and you can order the books at the website and in the what are the notes called?

Rob Haynes 31:33
We’ll have them in the show notes.

Kim Reisman 31:34
Yes, that’s what it is, the show notes. If you want to get the website for that you can do that. The other way we do it is in a workshop setting; so your church might invite us to come and teach and you would gather on a Friday evening and a Saturday and go through the six sessions, but they would be condensed into a shorter timeframe. It’s designed like mini workshops where one of the staff people from World Evangelism would teach and hopefully everybody would be around round tables and would be able to intermittently discuss some of the questions amongst themselves kind of mimicking the way that the book is laid out then you would have those discussions around your small group. In that way then, over the course of the weekend, you would get all of that material. If your church is doing this in a coordinated way, where lots of of the small groups in your church are studying at the same time, we also offer some preaching tools, we call it a Church Resource Kit and that provides if your pastor wanted to preach along with what you were studying each week, we have some resources to help that along as well. That’s kind of an extra thing that we do to support people in using the material.

Rob Haynes 33:10
All of those are on our website and as I said that will be available in the show notes for today’s episode. So Kim, if one were to take away one little thing from Embrace, one nugget, what would you want them to remember? If they had to have done the six weeks or this workshop or whatever it is, what is the key thing that you would want someone to remember about Embrace?

Kim Reisman 33:37
Well, for me, the biggest thing about Embrace is that we do it before anything and everything else, we reach out to people. That’s just the very first thing we do. We don’t wait for people to get their act together. We don’t wait for them to behave in a particular way. We don’t wait for them to agree with everything that we say or any of that stuff. We reach out right from the start, we live our lives with open arms and we live our lives confident that the Holy Spirit is going to work. If we are open to others and we are in tune with the Holy Spirit in our own lives, then we can wait with our arms open with expectant hope, we can wait with confidence knowing that the Holy Spirit is going to be moving in the lives of the people that we wish to reach. We do it from the get-go, we do it before people even have a chance to recognize that they need us or recognize that they need to to have a change in their life or anything. We just do it. We live with open arms from the get-go.

Rob Haynes 34:53
I think that’s a great place to wrap it up there. Well thanks again to Christ Church Global for sponsoring this episode. We want to ask you to be sure that you rate and subscribe, that helps us get the word out to others about these resources and about the work of World Methodist Evangelism. Thank you again on behalf of my colleague, Kim Reisman. I’m Rob Haynes and you’ve been listening to World Methodist Evangelism’s Real Faith Real World podcast.

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