I used to volunteer at a pregnancy resource center, an outreach ministry of my church where counselors present abortion alternatives to pregnant women. When I went through training, the leaders encouraged us to set appointments for all callers, even if they insisted they wanted an abortion. “Should we tell them that we don’t perform abortions here?” one trainee asked. They discouraged us from giving a straight answer. They emphasized the importance of setting that appointment so the woman had to come in. At the very least it would stall her a few hours or days, they reasoned.
A friend of mine recently returned from a year-long ministry overseas. She ministered primarily by teaching English to university students. They hungered to learn the language, but some rejected the English program after they discovered it used the Bible as curriculum. In fact, of the three facets being taught—reading, writing and speaking—two of them consisted of religious material. One girl attended the program the first day, only to walk out upset halfway through. My friend called to follow up with the girl, and she objected to the misrepresentation of the program’s advertisements. If she had known they used the Bible to teach English, she never would have come. “You should have told us,” she accused my friend.
Some church planters from Europe recently visited my community group. They told us of their attempts to share Christ in that culture and of the many rejections they had experienced. They rattled off about fifteen methods of evangelism they had tried, many of them admirably creative, yet which largely resulted in disappointment. Finally, this couple decided that in reaching out, they had to make it clear from the beginning that they were, as it would appear, “religious fanatics.” Then the other person could choose whether or not to pursue the friendship, and they wouldn’t need to worry about being guarded, or how to “spring” the good news on them. It freed them up to be more natural, they said.
Not all pregnancy resource centers or ESL programs use deceptive methods. Many people have trusted Christ as a result of these programs, and I don’t mean to belittle that. But what about the others whom we alienate through our less-than-honest approach? How do they feel, in general and toward Christians, after they realize we have manipulated them? Have Christians decided to trick nonbelievers into getting an audience with them, rather than relating to them naturally? This cripples our ability to build trust, the foundation for relationships, and it fails to treat nonbelievers with dignity.
Jesus did not minister this way. He had a strong sense of purpose, but He never had an agenda. He loved people where they were, and this is what drew them to Him, not being lured in on a pretext. Wouldn’t it be great if the Church were known for loving people without an ulterior motive, the way Jesus did? He related to people naturally, honestly, with tremendous love. And He wants to impart this love to us.
In His last recorded prayer before his arrest, Jesus prayed, “Righteous Father, … I have made you known to them [the apostles], and will continue to make you known, in order that the love you have for me with may be in them, and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:25-26). We show that Christ is “in us” when we see nonbelievers as people, not as projects, and love them for themselves. Only through love without an agenda will we build a relationship that earns us an audience to share Christ.