Early in my ministry, I was responsible for a Sunday worship service that met in a local theater. Because it was unconventional, it was attractive to many people who had for a variety of reasons felt unwelcome in or disaffected by the church. Many were only nominally Christian; others were not Christian but were interested in exploring faith. I ministered among these people for eight years, and many of them had a profound effect on me. As I sought to extend open arms to them, I felt their response, and it was often a surprising experience of “being held” by them as much as my “holding them.”
Several years after leaving that position, I encountered a woman who had attended regularly. As we spoke, she recalled that she was in a confused and unhealthy place in her life during those years and sensed that I knew this about her and in some ways disagreed with or even disapproved of some of the ways in which she was coping. Much to my relief, she continued that this was a good thing, because even though we might not have agreed, she felt there was a place for her no matter what. The security of that space had challenged her to seriously reevaluate her life. And, she added, it was important to her that despite our differences, I took her seriously, always open to the possibility that she might have something to offer me. Our embrace, physical and figurative, was reciprocal.
Have you experienced a relationship in which you did not feel reciprocity? How did the uneven nature of that relationship make you feel? Have you had a relationship in your life that was marked by reciprocity, in which you felt that you were both holding and being held?
In a full embrace, the identity of each self is both preserved and transformed. The integrity of each is intact. Each sees both themselves and the other in a new light. A gentle touch allows the other space to freely respond. Integrity as a core value of authentic evangelism is not only about our integrity, but about the integrity of others as well and allows space for the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Most every Christian believes in the Holy Spirit’s power to transform; however, when we engage in evangelism, often we assume that the one being transformed is the other rather than us. We evangelize, spreading the gospel with expectant hope that others might be transformed, at the bare minimum, into persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. At times our assumptions can go a bit further and involve others being transformed into Christians who resemble us, thinking and believing exactly like we do. Thus, recognizing the transformative power of embrace for both selves is crucial. The will to embrace must always involve openness to the power of the Holy Spirit to continually work not only through us toward others, but also through others toward us. In this way God works for integrity and wholeness for all.