Go with me on a little imaginary journey. Imagine you've decided to "bite the bullet" and join a friend for some street-corner evangelism. Close your eyes. What do you imagine? Are you clutching your pamphlet-of-choice with sweating, trembling hands? Muttering an incoherent prayer to the Holy Spirit to "be with you" as you walk out your door, as your stomach tries to reject the notion that it's responsible for your digestion? Breaking out into a cold sweat as you approach your first person?
When author Tim Downs was in college, he had this experience ... and worse. He and a friend approached a young man on campus, who listened to their opening line, averted his eyes, and began walking away. They dogged him all the way to his dormitory, all three now at a dead run, trying to get through The Four Spiritual Laws while in breathless pursuit. In for a dime, in for a dollar! Needless to say, the door was slammed and the young man's impression of Christians was not improved.
In Finding Common Ground, Downs bucks standard evangelical thinking. He believes we are so certain we are living in the end times, that we are trying to "harvest" without first "sowing". When we rush evangelism, we are engaging with others in such a way that it's really more about us than about them. And in the process, we are needlessly driving others away from engagement in issues of faith.
He argues that recent growth in the numbers of people coming to faith are the result of those in previous generations who created a culture where faith was possible. They were sowers. And if we don't learn to sow, we will be like farmers gathering all the harvest without doing any planting. There will be no harvest for future generations.
In talking about what it means to be a sower, Downs gives many examples from his own life and others, which I always find so helpful. One section that I especially appreciated was the one where he described a day in the life of a sower, all the folks he made contact with who are in varying places spiritually, and how he interacted with each of them. A notion he holds very strongly is that talented, devoted individuals in the workplace who ask the question "should I be doing full-time ministry?" are too often encouraged to come out of the workplace, get some seminary training, and then return to try to leverage their contacts in their former workplace. His contention is that they are most valuable where they are, and most credible without the specialized training.
Downs also lays down some helpful fundamental principles, such as asking good questions that provoke thought rather than defensiveness, hearing the underlying world view in a person's statements so that you can respond to that rather than the statement itself, finding points of agreement as a means of lowering walls, balancing love and justice (love: only telling them the truth when I feel they're ready to hear it [Jn 16;12]; justice: the times when it's just important to tell the truth, whether we feel they're ready to accept it or not), recognizing the value of indirect communication, and more.
I found this to be one of those books with such a rich "harvest" of thoughtful ideas that I had to go back and highlight it and read it through several times. I just may make it the first book ever on my "Read Every Year" list.
This book is the best book i have ever read on how to share your faith in a real, relavent, non threatening way with the people you work and live around that are not open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ! This is a must have for any believer who is serious about their faith.