The presumption is that, yes, there needs to be change. Things are not the way they should be. By focusing in on things we can affirm, we are not denying the Fall. Instead, we are shifting our sole focus from the Fall to Creation.
Theologically, when we practice affirmative inquiry, we are saying that the essential nature of humanity is not our depravity but our being created in the image of God. For far too long, our evangelism efforts have started with our falleness, our sinfulness. While our sinfulness is certainly true, it is not the beginning of the story of humanity; the story begins with our uniqueness as image-bearers. The story begins with telling us about God’s glorious intention for humanity: that we would shine forth His glory as we reflect His loving essence.
However, we must be honest while we do this. The goal is not to gloss over where we fall short of that glory. The goal is not mindless happy talk. We can’t ignore the real problems in the world and in our own personal lives. The goal is to approach these issues from the other side, the side that says God is willing and able to empower those who yield to Him to grow spiritually. This spiritual growth is called “conversion” or “transformation” or “redemption” or even “salvation.”
The goal of evangelistic conversations, then, shifts from (initially and primarily) laying guilt on someone about how awful they are. The goal, instead, is to affirm how God has uniquely created, has been calling, and has been molding each person to be what God wants them to be.
There are four stages of Appreciative Inquiry (see diagram). Here is one suggestion as to how to lead a person through AI in an evangelistic conversation. You can tailor these steps if you feel you need to highlight another aspect of the gospel with a particular person or group.
1. DISCOVERY. We help them discover positive things that would glorify God if put to the right use. We steer them away from selfish ambition and toward the things that serve others and cares for the Creation. We begin our inquiry by saying, “Tell me about times when you have experienced living in a way that loves others - when you served others, or cared for the world around you.” “When God looks upon your life, what do you think makes him smile and nod affirmatively?”
2. DREAM. Once we do that, we can help the person dream about what a future could look like if they yielded to God so that they can be all that God intends them to be. As we ask people about what they see as their future, we communicate to them that God is about hope. We move a person into an eschatological understanding of God that is not primarily about Armageddon and being “Left Behind,” but into a positive vision of the way God intends things to be. We continue our inquiry by asking, “What do you think is God’s vision of a better world?” “In a world that is the way God intends it to be, what do you think God would have you doing?” “What would be your unique contribution and purpose in God’s redeemed world?”
3. DESIGN. This is where the rubber meets the road. Here we need to help the person understand God’s way of designing this future vision. We continue through affirmative inquiry to do so, by asking, “The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of all things. When you think of Jesus as redeemer (as the One who can make the world the way God intends it to be), what does that mean to you?” “When you think of the way Jesus lived, died, and resurrected, what does that say about the love of God and his intentions about the world?” The goal here is to help a person come to their own realization (by the conviction of the Holy Spirit) that the world and themselves are not what God intends and that Jesus is the way to make things right. The design phase only is worthwhile if the person yields to God's design for their lives (through their faith in the person of Jesus Christ). A person’s personal design for life will fall short of God’s glorious intentions without the Lordship of Christ. The goal is to reframe a person’s understanding—they will most likely think of Christianity as an institutional killjoy. While that often is the case(!), the person of Jesus Christ came that we would have life in abundance. Jesus' resurrection assures us that God is working toward renewing the creation. Jesus needs to be seen as the person’s personal guide into God's good intentions and dreams for them and the world, instead of a religion that snuffs out dreams. We need to ask, “What will it take for you to trust that Jesus can design your life in the way that is God’s intended purpose for you?” The key issue here is trust. For many people, it is not an easy thing to trust in God. We must gently help them to open their hearts to God. They must decide that their personal design for life is contrary to God's design and turn toward God's design instead (this is repentance).
4. DESTINY. Real change means sustainability. The Destiny Phase of AI suggests that what is absolutely needed is a network-like structure that creates a convergence zone for people to empower one another—to connect, cooperate, and co-create. We are not converted as individuals; we need to be converted into a community that walks with us toward a shared destiny, one in which we all contribute and which needs others in order to arrive at it. This is the beauty of the body of Christ. The eschatological future is not about persons experiencing individualistic bliss in some ethereal heavenly realm. The eschatological future is where God and His People (plural) all live in Shalom harmony on a redeemed earth. This destiny is arrived at in community. So, we ask, “In a redeemed future, people live in peace and harmony with God and each other on a renewed earth. We move toward that future as we live that way in the present. What can you do to connect with God and people in community so that you can positively move toward that destiny?”
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