I personally have little formal authority to speak on the topic of evangelism. I am not a pastor, minister, leader or theologian, nor have I attended sufficient formal classes or seminaries to be considered an expert. However, I do know people, I do know the Gospel and I do know God.
I know enough about people to understand there is no pamphlet or sermon or road that will work best for the majority of people we come across. I know enough about the Gospel to see that reducing it to a rehearsed presentation is insufficient in explaining its transcendence. I know enough about God to understand no conversation about salvation is complete without love.
When Jesus was asked by a scribe what commandment is most important, this was His answer:
“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29–31).
Christians today often simplify this to “love God, love people.” Love is the key ingredient needed to effectively evangelize. However, it is necessary to fully understand how to love as God commands us to love, rather than how the world wants to be loved.
The difference is key.
I often see two sides of the spectrum when it comes to Christians trying to teach the Gospel to unbelievers: Those who try so hard to plant a seed they forget to care for it and end up breaking it, or those who just show the ground their bucket of seed and either never end up actually planting anything or toss the seed in the air and hope something happens. Love is not at the center of either of these approaches.
Taking a love-first approach means the Christian must care for the ground first, carefully plant the seed and continue cultivating that seed where it was planted. This is how God invests in His relationship with us. To lead people to Christ, we must be reflections of Him. There is no better way to teach a Gospel of love than to show even a fragment of what God’s love is.
The first step to take a loving approach to evangelism is to love God. This is the single greatest commandment, not just to love, but to love with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, which is much easier said than done, and those extra details matter. This all-encompassing love for God is what makes up who we are as people. It’s a true appreciation and understanding of what the gospel is. Without this love for God, there is no reason to evangelize. It’s similar to any other passion or pursuit we may have. It would be pretty difficult for someone to become a famous musician if they didn’t have a love for music. Their songs would be bland, they would never want to perform shows or record, and any fans they somehow gained would be an afterthought.
A true love for God, like the love He commands us to have, enables a sufficient understanding of God and His gospel, a transformed perspective on life through Christ, and an unrelenting drive to work toward His kingdom.
This is where the “love God, love people” mantra starts to become inadequate. Jesus clearly states one must not just love people, but “love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving someone as yourself is shallow when the love you have for yourself is shallow. The more you grow to love God, the more you grow to love the things God loves, including, you guessed it, you! As we grow stronger in our identity in Christ, we begin to realize the gifts and abilities God has given us. God enables us to bring Him glory, and the more we love ourselves for that fact, the more we can use those gifts to advance His kingdom. This kind of confidence is noticeable and attractive. Loving ourselves for who we are in Christ is an essential step that cannot be overlooked once we have learned to love God first.
Love Your Neighbor
This is the culmination of the previous two steps. We have received the love of God and loved Him back, loved ourselves in our identity in Christ, and now must direct that love at those around us.Without first loving God and loving ourselves, this step can be quite daunting. Love can turn into a chore and is often conditional when love comes from within ourselves alone. When we choose to love through what we have received from the Holy Spirit, loving our neighbor becomes natural. Our thoughts are consumed with the well-being of others rather than our own comfort. Our words have the intent of encouragement instead of seeking affirmation. Our actions are constantly building others up instead of serving our own self-interests. The fruits of the spirit are on full display. It attracts attention, and those around us inevitably feel loved.
With a re-centered attitude, our approach to evangelism is naturally much different. Opportunities to share the gospel are much more organic, friends and acquaintances are more willing to listen, and the love of God is clearly on display for all to see. Talking about Jesus no longer feels corny or forced because genuine love that can be felt is being used instead of a story about love that sounds like it belongs in a children’s book.
Investing in our relationships with others provides a glimpse of how a relationship with God would change their lives, and investing in our relationship with God enables us to bring Him close.
The need for love is too often filled with temporary satisfaction. Everyone is looking for it, and Christians have the answer. All we need to do is show it.