When you see that word, what do you think?
Do you picture a guy with a bullhorn?
Do you picture yourself telling the lady sitting next to you on the plane about how she's heading for hell?
Is it the 'Jesus sales pitch' you learned in Sunday school complete with visual examples, like your keyring?
I gotta tell you, I don't get excited by any of those situations. Let me explain why: I love genuine relationships and chances to build community with people. But when somebody has an ulterior motive, it ruins the chance for relationship.
If you start telling me about how you think I'd be a great sales rep for your multilevel marketing business, we're probably done talking. I don't think you're interested in me, I think you're interested in what you can get out of me.
If I only view someone as a 'potential convert', it prevents me from seeing them as the person which they are. (The book The Art of Neighboring talks about ultimate motives versus ulterior motives - I recommend it.)
But on the flip side, I take Jesus seriously, and he talks about making disciples throughout the world. So how can I spread the Good News of Jesus without coming across as a disingenuous huckster?
It's times like this where I ask myself some questions. (Perhaps I should call this the 'Self Socratic Method'.)
So here are three questions I tried to answer about evangelism in my everyday life:
1- Why do we need to share the ‘Good News’ about Jesus?
The traditional answer, as we alluded to earlier, goes something like this: when people die, they will either go to heaven or hell. We need to tell people about Jesus so they go to heaven.
But Jesus’ message is different from that. There a phrase he uses which I find the same phrase at least 5 times in the first person observation accounts of Jesus we call the Gospels. The phrase is this: “The Kingdom of God is near”
Let me include one of the places we find it:
Matthew 10: 5-8: “Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: “Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep. Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!”
Let’s break that down for a minute:
Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: (And by the way, it's important to notice the whole 'sending out' part. Following Jesus constantly involves engaging with other people)
“Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep..."
- God made a promise to the descendants of Abraham, so they (the Jews) are learning of the fulfillment of that promise first.
"Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons..."
- God’s Kingdom is near. Not "God’s Kingdom is out there. You need to get to God’s Kingdom." Rather, "It is arriving where you are. Don’t miss is."
Notice that it involves healing and deliverance for those who don’t avoid these messengers about the coming Kingdom.
"Give as freely as you have received!”
- The Kingdom of God is giving, not taking. The Kingdom of God has been generous to those of us who have accepted it, now don’t try to horde your blessings. Give em away.
This generosity...that’s the Kingdom of God. That’s what Jesus was bringing. Not this whole ‘you better love God or he’s gonna fry you’ concept that pervades our society. That's not good news.
We’re called to work against social injustice and murder and hate. All the crap in this world being set right - now that’s good news. We need to share the Good News because most people don’t know that Jesus is Good News.
We need to share the Good News because most people don’t know that Jesus is Good News.
The Good News of Jesus will undermine hate, bigotry, demonizing people over politics, all that stuff.
That’s why we need to share the good news.
2 - Why is now so important?
I've talked elsewhere about the Parable of the Talents.
It's a story Jesus tells to reinforce a couple points. One of the them is, "Use what God has given you."
God has given you life and breath. God has given you relationships with certain people - coworkers, family, friends, etc. Your job isn’t to wish your life was different, it’s to do what you can with what you’ve got. To be faithful with what God has given you.
God has given you influence with a particular group of people, and I don't think it's an accident. I think God wants you to influence those around you.
Maybe you tend to think, "I don’t know that many people, I’m not great at talking about faith. I’ll leave it to people who are good at that."
That leads me to point out another big concept in the story.
The boss never explains why the servants get different amounts of money.
If the third employee had said, well, you didn’t give me as much as the first employee, that wouldn’t have gotten him off the hook.
God has given you abilities and relationships. Whether you have many or just a few, are you working to infuse the Kingdom of God into them?
I don’t know the people you know. If you don’t tell them about the Kingdom of God being near, who will?
Now is important because now is when you’ve been entrusted with what God wants you to use.
3 - What’s the goal?
Here's my final question on this topic. Maybe you've been a part of a church that made you feel like crap if you 'didn't get anybody saved in the past year' or something to that effect.
Personally, I don't think we should have that as a goal. Besides the fact that it makes God seem like a bit player in our own performance, I think it again reinforces the idea that we're using people rather than valuing them.
Jesus says that everyone who seeks will find.
The goal of telling people about the nearness of the Kingdom of God is not about telling people what to think; it’s about getting people to seek. If I can get somebody seeking what is true, what’s good, what’s worthwhile, then God handles the rest.
If I can be kind when others are being critical, caring when others are cruel, generous when others are stingy, perhaps I get inspire someone to ask, "Why? Why are you doing that?" That's seeking.
If we can get people seeking something better than what they already have, I know there is an answer to that question.
I see it like this: if I try to shove delicious, gourmet food down somebody's throat, they're going fight me and probably barf it back up at me.
But if I let someone smell the aroma of the meal, and then tell them they can join me, maybe they take me up on the offer. Either way, it's definitely going to make them hungry.
Am I living in a way that makes people want something more? That's my goal.
Jesus went to parties and dinners with pretty much anyone who invited him - religious elite, red light district workers, criminals, friends, anyone; and everywhere he went, people were changed. They wanted whatever Jesus had.
That's my evangelism goal.
Look, here’s the bottom line: school shootings and child abuse and broken marriages aren’t magically going to stop happening. Humanity is not going to grab itself by the bootstraps and pull ourselves up.
It will take the renewal, restoration and salvation God freely offers to impact our world.
I respectfully suggest that now is the time to be sharing that message, through our actions and our interactions, and certainly with our words whenever we are asked.
May we be people who make others seek the God who knows everything about them and loves them just the same.