If I had to choose, give me Jimmy Stewart in Call Northside 777, or even Bob Hope in Call Me Bwana or the classic, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs with Sidney Poitier. I would also be happy with A Fish Called Wanda or the great Swedish movie (based on the book), A Man Called Ove. And if push came to shove, I would also agree to An Inspector Calls or The Call of the Wild or Better Call Saul or even Total Recall. I would agree to any of these, but please don’t make me watch Call the Midwife. Now Jo really enjoys Call the Midwife, and I am sure there will be people reading this who will side with Jo on this one (so what else is new?); but really, who wants to watch a group of overworked and overwrought nuns running around rescuing desperate women and delivering babies week after week. As I understand it, here’s a typical episode. There is a diphtheria outbreak in London while three women come into the clinic all with various pregnancy complications. One is a 15-year-old prostitute with fear issues; one is a 72-year-old former nun (not pregnant, of course) with faith issues; and one is a 33-year old unwed immigrant with family issues. Meanwhile, this widower wants to adopt one of the newborns, and this other doctor wants to marry one of the nurses; and this father refuses to be reconciled to his daughter, who I think is the 72-year-old former nun. Meanwhile, Sister Bernadette, Trixie, Dr. Turner and Dolores McEvoy all receive devastating news. But somebody has a baby, and so the show ends with smiles all around. Phew, it is exhausting! I just don’t understand why all these women don’t go to their local hospital and have their babies there like women have been doing for millennia. And I also don’t understand the attraction. I saw two babies born, and that was plenty for me. I have no desire to see any more.
And yet, the midwife can teach us a lot about evangelism. Behold, the midwife! (That’s right, we are CALLED to be Spiritual Midwives!) The midwife comes, assesses the situation and then does what is proper and good for that particular moment. Let me put it another way. The midwife discerns where the person is on their pregnancy journey and acts accordingly. See, a midwife doesn’t cause the birth. She just comes along at the right time to assist the future mom. The midwife is also not the authority or the person in charge. She takes her cue from the woman in labor. She sees her job as to assist in whatever way she can and help circumvent any potential difficulties that arise to the best of her ability. The midwife also acts as a guide. Since she has been around a few births, she knows a lot about birthing and pregnancies. Therefore, she can answer any questions a woman might have. But the real key to the midwife’s role is timing. The midwife knows when to tell the woman in labor to push and when to wait. She knows when it’s false labor and when it’s real. And if you ask a midwife, you will find out that she knows what the whole pregnancy process looks like, from conception to birth. And as a result, she is able to determine what needs to happen at each and every step. A midwife is never pushy, combative or coercive. Rather she is patient and gentle, knowing that there is a definite process that must run its proper course and that attempts to rush that process are, at best, dangerous and, at worst, deadly.
Read that last paragraph and insert the phrase, “the person sharing the gospel,” where the word “midwife” appears, and it will birth a whole new vision for evangelism in you. Here’s the bottom line: evangelists don’t cause people to have a new birth. God does that. We just come alongside to assist in the process. Think back to the evangelistic scale (the rock metaphor). Spiritual midwives discern where the person is on that scale so that they can speak to that person in ways he or she can hear. While a physician of the soul listens for the needs of the person’s heart and speaks into that need with wisdom and grace, a spiritual midwife discerns where the person is on their spiritual journey and acts accordingly. See, it is all about the timing. And that is where we often go wrong. We mistakenly think we have to give people the whole salvation story when we talk to them. But 99% of the time, people aren’t ready for all of that. In fact, they may not even be interested in that. But we ignore where they are and fire away with both gospel barrels. But there is a better way. If we called the midwife, she would tell us to take it one step at a time and meet the need of the moment and don’t rush things; and everything will turn out just fine.
But you say, whoa! What happens if I don’t give them the whole gospel presentation complete with four laws, a bridge and a sample prayer, and then they go off and get hit by a bus? Isn’t their blood on my hands now? Isn’t it better to err by giving too much than too little?
I think one of the main reasons we jump the gun and give too much “information” is because we forget that saving people is God’s job, not ours. See, we believe that evangelism is a process in which God is sovereign. Yes, God invites us to participate with him; and yes, he works through us, but God is the one who does all the work. Remember 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 where Paul says: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” That’s our calling. Each of us is to see ourselves as just one part in a much larger process in which God is at work. We are simply one link in the chain, and we are definitely not the whole chain. As a result, we can relax in all of our evangelistic efforts and simply allow the Spirit to do his work on his timetable. Our job is to have faith that God will accomplish through us all that he wants to accomplish as we interact with the person. We don’t have to rush things. We don’t have to manufacture things or push the person to make a commitment now before the bus arrives. We can share the piece of the story that we feel the person needs to hear at this particular moment and leave it at that. If they ask a follow-up question, great! Answer away and keep answering until they stop asking, and then be done. If the Spirit is at work, they will keep asking. If the Spirit says, “That’s enough for now,” the person will stop asking, which is the Spirit’s way of telling us it’s a good time to stop.
I am reminded of the story of the rural church in Montana one Sunday when a blizzard came through. The pastor trudged through the snow from the parsonage and opened up the church but figured no one in his right mind would show up. But sure enough, at 11am a farmer walked through the door. No one else was there, and so the pastor asked the farmer what he wanted to do. The farmer said, “When it’s feeding time, if only one cow comes, I still feed her.” So the pastor had church with the man. They prayed together, they sang together, they recited the creed; and the pastor preached his sermon. After he said the benediction, he asked the man how it felt to be the only one in the congregation; and the man said, “When it is feeding time, and only one cow comes, I feed her; but I never give her the food I had prepared for the whole herd!”
Now, just because we aren’t necessarily going to give the person we are talking to the whole gospel presentation does not mean we can be lazy or lackadaisical or insensitive. In fact, it may mean we need to speak more meaningfully and wisely when we speak and simply trust that God will use our economy of words to accomplish his will in this person’s life. It’s all about timing and letting go of our “need” to be there when the person comes to faith. Here’s the job of the spiritual midwife: we are to move at God’s pace, following his Spirit, giving just the right response—not too much and not too little, but perfectly fitting for where the person’s heart is. Balance is the key.
Let me give you an example. Unfortunately, this is a true story from one of our former teachers in one of our mission organizations. I share this, not because I want to be critical of this person, but to help us all see how easy it is to miss seeing where the person is on their spiritual journey. The truth is, we really don’t want to be a spiritual midwife. We want to deliver that baby and be the hero, but that is not necessarily a good thing. It was a few days before summer and the end of classes. Our teacher, Dr. Turner (I won’t use his real name here; but I made him a doctor, so that should balance things out) was having dinner with one of his students, and she asked him what he believed. And so, he shared with her his story and then went into a gospel presentation. When he was finished, he asked her if she wanted to become a Christian; and she said “Yes.” It was so cool! So, Dr. Turner led her in a prayer and hugged her as a sister. He then went back to his apartment and emailed everybody about what had just happened. What a way to end the school year! The day before Dr. Turner was to leave for the airport, he received a text from this student. In it she said she was sorry but she couldn’t be a Christian. She said she just wanted to please Dr. Turner and knew that if she said yes, he would be really happy with her. And so, she said, “yes.” Her intention to honor Dr. Turner was great, but she had no real interest in actually becoming a Christ follower. Dr. Turner felt miserable, especially because he said he gave her a great gospel presentation. It was clear, concise and emotionally moving. The problem was, she wasn’t ready for it! Now, if Dr. Turner had done his job as a midwife, he would have seen that it wasn’t the right time (she was barely showing—it was clear that she wasn’t ready to deliver! By showing, I mean barely showing any interest in Christianity before this). But like all of us, Dr. Turner saw a golden opportunity and took it. But it crashed and burned because Dr. Turner was not able to recognize false labor from the real thing. But all the classic signs were there. He just missed them. He should have called the midwife!
See, midwives are patient. Scattered throughout the New Testament are all sorts of verses urging us to be patient. Take Ephesians 4:2, for instance. It says: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” The physician of the soul is to speak words that are helpful for building others up according to their needs (Eph. 4:29). The spiritual midwife is to be patient, gentle and humble. But, here’s the problem. We don’t like being patient. Especially when we are sharing our faith, we like to get to Jesus, the cross and resurrection as fast as we can. We like to seal the deal. So what do we normally do? We bypass speaking to the need of the heart; we sidestep the work of the Spirit, and we say what we want to say. We rush the whole process because we want to be in on the excitement and lead someone to Christ. The spiritual midwife, on the other hand, understands that she has to be patient and put the other person first. She runs at the woman’s pace and not her own (how hard is it to run at a pregnant woman’s pace?). But here’s the good news: if we wait and are patient when we verbally share the gospel, our friends will be more open to hearing what we have to say and be able to grasp the little piece of truth we are giving them. If we rush it, however, we mess everything up!
But how do you know where a person is on the evangelistic scale? You can’t show them the scale and say, “Where are you?” No, you have to ask great questions and listen carefully and discern where they are from what they are saying. But people aren’t likely to open up like that to you unless they know that you truly care about them. It is an old adage, but it is still true: people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. And that is the thing about the Netflix series, Call the Midwife; there is no doubt that these women care deeply about all the people in their lives. They care so much, that they are not going to rush things; but instead, they will patiently walk with the women that God entrusts to them so that, at just the right time, they can experience the glory of childbirth.
But being a spiritual midwife, assessing the situation, figuring out where the person is, responding to their needs at this particular moment, moving them closer and closer to Jesus with just the right words, never rushing, always caring, always gentle, never pushy, trusting that God is going to work through this whole process—that’s a beautiful thing. I could go on, but the Call the Midwife’s Christmas episode is on, and I have to watch the sisters as they travel to the Outer Hebrides and to the Isle of Lewis and do their magic there with all those Scottish lasses. And since you have read this whole blog, I can trust you not to tell anyone. . . . Call the Midwife is a pretty good show. But you didn’t hear it from me. I have an image to protect.