I am a missionary. Even if I were not sent to Arequipa, Peru with the title “missionary” I would still be a missionary. It isn’t my vocation. It is my life, what I am called to do, be. Through my teenage years and into my college years I struggled with the word “evangelism.” I had some major misconceptions about what it meant to evangelize. A few are: 1. I had to have some major sob story to really bring people to Christ. 2. I had to know a lot more than I do to even try and talk to someone about Christ. 3. Getting a person to come to church with me on a Sunday morning is evangelism.
So much of my thinking has changed. People evangelize in many different ways, and I am going to be honest with you. I have been in groups to “evangelize the lost” and I don’t think I was doing it in a way that was pleasing to God. Evanglizing isn’t only about telling. It is about being. We tell others about Christ, but it does no good if we are not being Christ in their lives. If I had to sum up evangelism in one word it would be “relationship.” That is how Jesus did it. It is true that people listened to his preaching and believed. It is true that Jesus would right-out confront people of their sins without first inviting them over for dinner. I do believe that there is a time and place for some of those actions, but I step back and think, “He was the Son of God. I am not.” I believe there are many gifted teachers and preachers. There are people that have horrible pasts with a story resulting in redemption, and when they share their story people cry and sometimes come to faith because of it. Well… I don’t think of myself as a gifted teacher. I don’t have that personal story that brings people to tears. But I do have the Holy Spirit. And I do have a love for God’s creation.
To address the three statements I listed above:
1. I had to have some major sob story to really bring people to Christ.
I have a story. Everyone does. I have something to share. His name is Jesus, and he transforms my life. I really believe that if someone struggles to know what to share, they may have some searching to do. Seek and you will find. When Jesus is truly transforming one’s life, there is plenty to share–it flows from you. You see, you don’t even always have to use Jesus’ name. His power and work is evident in the most mundane things going on. At least for me, that is what I have discovered. Recently we met with another NGO here in the city. We call our development work “holistic ministry.” I was talking to one of the NGO leaders and expressing my excitement of how much has occurred in our work in the last three years. I have no clue what faith these volunteers have or share. I wasn’t used to trying to describe the good being done without mentioning God. Yet I found myself trying to be careful about too much “religious talk.” But it is evident in our work here. What has been done is because of a power bigger than ourselves. We are the feet and hands of Jesus. Any good that comes about is in accordance with his kingdom plan.
2. I had to know a lot more than I do to even try and talk to someone about Christ.
I will never “know” enough. My Christian journey is a constant path of learning, reflecting, changing, being molded. Things are hard for me to “get” sometimes. The Bible is hard to understand in certain places. There are cultural things going on, arguments that I need to understand more fully (when Paul is specifically writing to different churches). I used to just flip through my Bible and think, “If I could just memorize enough of the ‘right’ verses to quote to an unbeliever…” I believe that God works powerfully through his word. But I think I had replaced sharing God with just a desire to know the Bible. The Bible is wonderful. It is a book of love letters from God through the hearts of so many of his people. But I think that there is a major reason that John calls Jesus the Word. The Word isn’t a book. The Word is God made into flesh among us, loving his people, serving his people, building relationship with his people. I love that there are four different gospel accounts. I want to know Jesus. I want to hear from the people that walked beside him or were friends with those that walked beside him. I love that we pick up on so many different things from all four different accounts. Isn’t that human? We relate differently. In the Bible, we have four different people to try and relate. I love to learn more about him. I love to read the stories that I have read my entire life with new eyes because of the way the Holy Spirit is guiding me, changing me. Everyone is in a different place. All I can do is share what I know and why I believe it. I don’t have to know everything. I don’t have to have all the answers for someone’s doubts. I still doubt, but isn’t that really where the faith part comes in? You know what has come to be such a comfort to me? God has left us with the “Comforter–the Holy Spirit.” He is the one that does the convincing. It isn’t all up to me to bring someone to Christ. God and me, we are a team. Apparently I am not the only one that has struggled with that idea. I seem to remember Paul having to remind the early Christians about the watering and growing process. When that really clicked with me, there was such a burden lifted.
3. Getting a person to come to church with me on a Sunday morning is evangelism.
I remember limiting my thinking to evangelism as the “Bring a friend Sunday” that my home church would host. I think a special Sunday where the outsiders are invited in is a wonderful idea and wonderful way for the church family to open themselves to the public, but I sadly viewed it as “the way” to help save someone. Church buildings serve some wonderful purposes. There is a blessing to hear 500+ people in an auditorium lifting up their voices together in song to God (I have really come to appreciate that since being away from such a large group of believers). A building can serve as a wonderful outreach tool to a community, but when it becomes the outreach tool, when we pour all of ourselves into making that our only personal outreach tool, we have missed it… big time. Getting people to come to a place is not what evangelism is about. Jesus didn’t tell us to tell others to “come.” He told us to “go.” We are to be in other’s lives. Remember? We are the hands and feet of Jesus. So much of what we read about him takes place in people’s lives: their workplace, a boat, a well, their home. We don’t have a number of the people Jesus preached to and saved. But we do have the part of the story where he devoted three long years to a specific 12 men. We do have the many stories of where he took the time to sit and know someone. That is some major relationship building. Have you read Acts? Have you seen what came from the fruit of investing himself fully in those men’s lives? I have prayed for relationships here that I have now. I am disappointed if something doesn’t happen in three meetings with someone. Well, first of all, I need to make myself available. Secondly, I need to care about a person and invest in them not solely because I want to “bring them to Christ” but because they are God’s child and I am called to love them. Thirdly, with the Spirit’s prompting, I need to be ready to share what I do know. And fourthly, I need to depend on God’s power transforming them. It isn’t me that changes them. It is God’s Spirit and them coming into faith in him.
I have a long way to go still in forming my strategy to evangelize. I wasn’t planning this post, but this morning I read from two different blogs that really hit home with me. Here are the links if anyone is interested:
So, what do you think? Do you have anything to add?