I was invited to a party last Saturday night. In deciding what to wear, I settled on a kitten Christmas sweater. That is, I decided to wear (over a tan collared shirt), a child's medium sweater that had a large white kitten in the middle surrounded by candy canes and gumdrops. Needless to say, I looked ridiculous.
Why I made such a decision is an entirely different conversation, but the fact remains, I wore a kitten sweater to a party that I expected to be very out of place at.
Normally I go to parties, find someone to talk to, and then get into as deep and philosophical a conversation as I can with that person. I'm normally near the edge of the room and it's normally awkward.
With the kitten sweater, I was popular.
For a nerd like me, being popular was a new and exciting experience. I've been respected (or feared) while in FISH, but by no means was I ever popular. That is, I could tell people to do things, but few people would ever want to spend time with me.
Normally, I could never break into a tight circle of conversing people. During the party, things were different. I simply had to approach the edge of a closed circle, someone would point out the lurking kitten at the periphery, and I'd be in. My attire (which everyone complimented) would be the center of conversation for the group for a few minutes.
The things that I said mattered greatly to the group. One person was discussing Messianic Jews. I said something like "Messianic Jews are lots of fun," and the mostly group (most of whom I'm sure had absolutely no idea what either of those words meant), decided I was right. After a few more minutes, the group of agnostics and Catholics literally wanted to go to a Messianic synagogue. If I'd been on my toes, I think I could have actually gotten a few of them to go. I've never had that kind of influence with people. I normally have a hard enough time getting people who are my friends to go to church with me, let alone semi-intoxicated secular strangers at a party.
I've recently started going to parties and doing evangelism. I would talk with someone, shift the conversation to spiritual matters, and share the Gospel as best I could over the music. This time, I was preaching Christ from a position of (what seemed to be) social authority. I was no longer a social beggar, barely holding on to the few minutes of attention I could steal. I didn't beg for a glace at a flyer or signboard (or worse yet, a 8' sign with "REPENT" on it). People wanted to give me their attention.
Learning the language and dynamics of a culture is essential in effective evangelism. Paul in Athens spoke the language of the Greeks, and made a masterful argument for Christ that was relevant to what Greeks valued: Reason. Today in college, we make our decisions based on what our social leaders are doing. For example, tonight there will be more than 5000 people running through UCLA in their underwear. Why? Because a few people with immense social authority did the same thing a few years ago and told their friends. Why are they running in their underwear and not to Christ? Because Christians do not have any social authority.
Perhaps Christians ought to re-learn the language of those around them to win them for Christ. We continue evangelizing with the outdated language of reason to a culture that no longer understands or cares.
Social authority, like money, is not inherently evil. If the analogy between social capital and capital capital holds, then the parable of the unjust steward applies:
Luke 16:8The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
For perhaps the first time, I believe I learned a few words of cool. I intend to continue learning the language and maybe one day, I'll be able to translate the Gospel to so many lost people.