Let's cut to the chase: most evangelism sucks. Generally, the only people who dislike it more than the unbelievers being evangelized are the Christians doing the evangelizing. Now, that may sound odd, but as one of the dutifully conscience bound saints, I can testify that I hated sharing my faith with unbelievers.
Why such angst? Because nobody really wants to be a jerk, and yet no one really wants to see their friends burn in hell either. I shared my faith because I felt like I had too, and the results were unequivocally dismal. Ask an honest believer and you'll find this is a common sentiment.
Now, Christians typically respond in one of three ways:
- a) we try and pretend that evangelism doesn't matter
- b) we know that it does, but we just shut our mouths anyway and don't say anything (feeling guilty all the while), -OR-
- c) we start looking for a secret formula, the right ingredient which is "guaranteed to produce results" (just like all those emails that promise to add 3 inches of you-know-what to you-know-where). We think evangelism can be reduced to a technique.
At the same time, I am equally convinced that evangelism is exactly what God intends for the church to be doing. Its not an optional thing. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if we want to take the Bible seriously, we need to see evangelism as part and parcel of the ordinary Christian experience. To be a Christian is to be evangelistic. To share our faith.
Eph 4:15 tells us to "speak the truth in love." Paul doesn't just just have other Christians in view here - we need to be truthful and honest with non-believers as well. And that's precisely what so many people don't like about Scripture - it has some really hard things to say about our eternal destiny and stuff like that if we won't tow the line and play according to Jesus' rules. Jesus himself said some pretty harsh things, like "no one comes to the father but through me." Ouch. Not exactly words of tolerance.
So where does this leave us? Actually, forget about you - where does that leave me? You see, I want to plant churches, churches that reach unbelievers even, and that generally involves, well, uh...evangelism! Holy converts, Batman!
First, we need to get something straight: if you think that God loves you more because you share your faith (or less because you don't), you don't understand the gospel. God does not love you more or less because of what you do - he loves you solely because of what Christ has already done, and the way you gain his favor is by putting your faith in Christ's work, not your own.
I'm not pointing the finger at you here - I'm pointing it at me, because for years I didn't get this fundamental fact. Yet its this fundamental fact that makes the good news, "good news".
Whether we like it or not, Jesus believed in Hell (and frankly, I think he probably knows more than any of us ever will). But he also believed in Heaven. And he said that all I have to do to get there is realize that I can't get there on my own - that I need his righteousness because mine is like filthy rags (think dirty diapers, folks). And the way I get that righteousness is simply by believing his promise - both to give and to guarantee it on my behalf.
Now listen, what I am saying here is for all of us Christians. We don't need to worry about what God thinks about us when we share our faith (or when we don't). And that promise is tremendously liberating. It means I can relax a bit, have a beer, and just be myself. Around myself. And around non-Christians (trust me on this - most non-Christians will appreciate it if you just relax and have a beer).
What I'm talking about here is preaching the gospel to yourself. Now here's the cool part. Whatever gospel I preach to myself, whatever thing I think commends me to God - that is what I will offer to others. We cannot help but do otherwise. And as we start to undestand the gospel in terms of believing God's promises about what he has done for us, that realization will change the way we share our faith with others.
The concept that I'm talking about is called "Lifestyle Evangelism," and I'll write more about that in the next day or two.
(to be continued...)