I’ve had somewhat of a strenuous relationship with the word “evangelism” over the years. Don’t get me wrong …
I’ve had somewhat of a strenuous relationship with the word “evangelism” over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the Great Commission (and the Great Commandment) but the traditional understanding of evangelism has always been something that rubs me the wrong way. I’ll admit, I think that I’ve gathered some baggage about how evangelism is supposed to happen and that’s the real culprit of my tense relationship.
Some of the stereotypes that I believed early on about sharing my faith where that I had to memorize a spiel or a formula to make it work and I had to make every person out to be a target for my God-talk. I also thought that I had to make room for a conversion experience by the meeting’s end to actually do evangelism. I hated that. I felt guilty about hating it though so, on occasion, I did it.
I remember one youth camp where we went through a town sharing a “spiritual” survey. I talked to these two guys in an old beat-up Buick. I asked them if they went to church–question one on the survey. They said, “Yeah, we do, we have one in our basement.” I thought, hmmm, that’s strange. Then they told me that they worshiped Satan and that I should come to their church. As they said this, the guy in the passenger seat stuck out his tongue like a snake and hissed. I’m not sure if they were serious about their passion for evil but, needless to say, I didn’t get to question two. However, the story did make me more popular at camp–courageous camper stands up to Satan and delivers powerful survey!
Since then, I’ve traded in my prefabricated methods and my surveys for something more relational and organic, which is good. I’ve gotten over my early stereotypes for evangelism and you probably have too. But I’ve also discovered that it’s easy for me to sway so far to the other side of the spectrum that I never intentionally connect with others that need to see and hear the message of Christ. Lately I’ve been wrestling with this. I think that’s where many young adults are today–they’ve relinquished the old-school tactics but they struggle with what it looks like to be natural and intentional about sharing their faith today.
I like how Jim Henderson, the author of Evangelism Without Additives puts it—he says, “Jesus advocates two basic evangelism practices. He said we should speak the gospel: ‘Preach the good news to all creation.’ He also instructed us to serve the gospel: ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ It is the intersection of these two practices that we discover what ‘truly personal’ evangelism looks like.”
Recently, I was on a plane to Orlando. I sat by Jim. It was early and, honestly, I didn’t feel like talking. I just wanted to get a cup of coffee and look out the window. But, I couldn’t take the silence so I asked Jim one question—”Where are you from?” I discovered that Jim was coming home from Iraq after a year on duty as a combat medic. He was about to see his family. He told me about what he went through—the extreme heat, the lack of good food, losing friends—and he said he couldn’t wait to have his first beer. I asked him if they served beer this early on the plane. He said yes. I felt like God was leading me to honor Jim and buy him a beer. So, somewhere over Charlotte I bought a $7 Heineken for Jim at 7a.m. He guzzled my “cup of cold water” like liquid gold.
After that, Jim and I had a great conversation about life that lead to a discussion on faith. It was natural. It was open. I talked and listened. I was trying to see Jim as Jesus sees him. There was this unmistakable sincerity to our conversation. God was in it.
I’m still wrestling with what it looks like to live out what is, for me, a new evangelism. Here are a few other observations I’ve discovered along the way that I hope to pass on to the people I lead.
The best motivator for being intentional about sharing the Gospel with others is not guilt or even duty but mission. When we are compelled by the heart of Christ it is natural to both speak and serve the Gospel.
Methods and formulas don’t convey passion, they boil down truth–truth that many people need to process over numerous conversations.
We need to see others, not as targets but as actual human beings that God loves, people with their own stories that are worth listening to.
The new evangelism doesn’t tack God onto every conversation with the hopes that it breaks open an opportunity to deliver a Baptist-length sermon. Instead, the new evangelism is more open to real conversations that may-or-may not lead to a discussion of faith. In fact, every conversation I have should be sacred, holy, whether I mention God or not.
Instead of reducing the message we need to expand it’s impact to the world in tangible ways. Involving myself in the world’s greatest needs is a bold form of evangelism. At the center of the Gospel is the fact that Jesus demonstrated His love to us. The truth of the message needs a demonstration, an example, and that’s why a life of love and service for others, both locally and globally is where the church needs to continually progress.
It’s at the intersection of serving and sharing that personal evangelism finds it’s power and influence. In my case, I’ve gone from sharing spiritual surveys with Satanist to buying beer for combat medics (seriously, $7!), which might not seem to be that far, but for me, it’s been quite a distance in understanding God’s heart for a broken world.