Someone once told me that in order to fully “enter the Kingdom,” it was necessary to make sure that each and every person I encountered knew Jesus by the end of our interaction. Hmmm…Interesting, but a totally foreign concept to me. What does it mean to “enter the Kingdom,” let alone make sure that people “know Jesus?” Whose job is it to make sure that both of those categories are covered? Better yet, what role does a Church/Churchgoer have in ensuring that both happen?
I have often shared about my church at home and the influence of religion/faith/belief in my upbringing, and this time is no different. One thing that is tremendous about my church is that they are and always have been open and upfront about their positions on a wide variety of topics, one of which is Evangelism. In modern 21st Century America, Christians are known for evangelizing – meaning handing out Bibles and pamphlets on street corners, or preaching on soapboxes about the end of the world (repent or burn style stuff…). However, most Christians are nothing like that. The reality of mainline Christianity (what I often call a type of Christianity that is rooted in tradition and 400 years of trial and error; ex) Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists/UCC)) is that most churches don’t openly evangelize, or spread the word of God in public to others. That is left exclusively to others. My church growing up wasn’t interested in converting the “heathens” or the “unsaved.” That isn’t something they are focused on. Instead, I was taught that the biggest way to show God’s love was to show love and kindness to others through our actions. This was done through midnight runs, home visits, meal deliveries, clothing closets, just to name a few. At no time did we or were we expected to force the Gospel down people’s throats on the street corner. Not to say that that is by any means evangelism by definition; that is a gross misrepresentation of what it used to be all about. Rather, evangelism is about spreading the Word to people and building relationships. Unfortunately, it isn’t always portrayed or acted out in such a manner.
But what is the big deal with evangelism anyway? Jesus taught the disciples to go out and preach the gospel after he returned to heaven so that the word was circulating among mankind in preparation for his return to Earth. Want Proof?
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:16-20
“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16
“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John 20:21-23
Enough proof for you? This is what God commanded, so preaching the gospel to others who perhaps might not know Him is ok, right? Ordinarily yes, I would say! But it is all in the delivery. One aspect of my job this summer was not to evangelize directly through words, but rather through actions. I have said this probably in every blog post that comes before this one. It may seem as though I have beaten this concept to death, but it is critically important that I mention it again, as I see this as the only acceptable form of evangelism. It is our spiritual imperative to preach the Gospel, but over this, I believe that it is more important to build a relationship and form bonds with people over God than it is to drive by evangelize – just throwing the gospel and message of Jesus at somebody and then running away.
We are taught that we are supposed to touch as many people in our lifetimes as possible; my favorite metaphor for this set of circumstances is that of an eager high school or college student, much like the average Smithie. We as Smithies are taught to be strong and eager, pursuing every opportunity we can before our time at Smith ends, with the hopes that at the end of the four years, our resumes will reflect the fact that we slept infrequently and attended a meeting of at least 2/3 of all student and college-run orgs (organizations…) that Smith has to offer. Christianity can have a similar if not identical tendency; In our enthusiasm fueled by the message of Jesus Christ, we try to meet as many people and “change as many lives” as we possibly can for fear of leaving anyone behind. But who are we kidding? When we drive by someone with spirituality and a belief in Jesus Christ, are we really touching their lives for the long haul, or are we just trying to accumulate as many notches in our belts as possible? Be honest, is it more worthwhile to “convert” or proselytize to 100 people or just one? Which is easier? Obviously, the 100 in the long run is easier, because it involves less time and effort, but is it more meaningful?
I have not attempted to “convert” anyone or “spread the word” literally. That isn’t my emphasis, that isn’t what I want for my life. If it means that I won’t be going to heaven because I haven’t converted people or shared the word with them, then where did I go wrong? I think the big problem in general is that so much of an emphasis is placed on teaching others what “the Word” says, rather than just being an embodiment of it. Yeah, talking about the Gospel and what Jesus did is essential, but why can’t we just be satisfied with enacting the Word, rather than blatantly preaching it and ramming it down people’s throats? Plus, the great part about living and acting out the Word is that eventually, the opportunity will arise to actually talk about it! If you’re living it the right way, people will be curious as to why you live a certain way or do things in a specific manner. And that opens “the door” far wider than if you were to knock on the door, shower people with the Gospel and then run away. I think God would be far more pleased with my actions if I loved people first and preached the Gospel second, rather than just stood up on a soapbox and preached empty words and actions that I myself had no connection to.
But if this isn’t ok, or the right way to go about spreading the Word, then what is there to do? How can I get involved and show the teachings of Christ in ways that build relationships and start productive and constructive conversations about God? Well, dear Watson, that’s a good question! A dear dear friend of mine asked me recently how my church evangelized. WOAH, HOLD THE PHONE! Instead of evangelizing, my church tries to do things for the community, spreading the Word of God through random (and not so random, rather well organized) acts of kindness and love as taught by Jesus Christ. I think the important thing when trying to preach the Word is to not try too hard. Sometimes you get into a situation where you are chatting with someone and it feels forced because you’ve walked right into their homes (either literally or figuratively…) and told them how it is and essentially what they have screwed up in their lives. “Oh, yeah, so you don’t know Jesus…hmmmm…” awkward pause… “well, don’t worry, its not too late!”
Yeah, lets not get ourselves in that situation as Christians (or churchgoers) for a change. Lets preach the Word with our actions first so that they may start the conversations where the words half can come into play.
How to Evangelize Properly 101:
- Don’t think of it as evangelizing
- Think of it instead as forming a relationship that you want to sustain for a lifetime – whether or not you intend it, helping someone grow in their faith is a lifetime commitment, a lifetime bond that neither you nor they will ever forget
- Don’t treat it as a drive-by conversion – in the end, only you get converted this way
- Talk to the person as you would want to be talked to regarding faith
- Remember that faith is something that is unique and personal – just because you came to faith overnight doesn’t mean that each and every subsequent person will have the same experience as you
- Go into the experience as invested as you can, but wary that the person you’re talking to might not necessarily be as enthused as you are
And Lastly, but perhaps most importantly…
7. Try to preach the Gospel through your actions and interactions FIRST BEFORE using your words