I don’t think evangelism is sinful. I do, however, think the way we do evangelism might be. I think many of the evangelistic models we’re taught are rooted more in anxiety and ego than they are in love for others and trust in the sovereignty of God. When we act as if it’s our job to convince, convict, coerce and convert these people, we confuse ourselves with the Holy Spirit. And when we do that, the result is always anxiety. My friend Ken Boa says, “When we realize that our task is to love, serve, and pray for outsiders and to share the Good News when the opportunity arises, we can relax in the sovereignty of God and leave the outcome in his hands.”
Relax? That’s not a word we typically associate with evangelism, is it? Typically, church leaders act as if the average church member is too relaxed about evangelism. Legend has it that an angry church member once accosted Dwight Moody over his aggressive evangelism tactics. Supposedly, Moody replied, “I like the way I do it better than the way you don’t.”
Pastors love telling stories like that, and I think I understand where they’re coming from. If we really believed that every person we saw was going to spend eternity either with God or separated from God, that would motivate us to get out there and share the gospel with as many people as we could, right? The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few – and all that.
I was raised with this kind of evangelistic anxiety. I remember it distinctly. I was attending a youth rally at my home church, where we used drama (cutting edge at the time). It wasn’t much more than a camp skit, though, a couple of guys meeting up at the Pearly Gates. They have a warm reunion – hugs and laughter – sharing pictures of the kids. Then one of them turns to face an unseen Judge. He is told that he’s going to hell. He can’t believe it.
I’m breaking out in hives just recalling this.
He turns to his friend (who was always involved in stuff at church) and asks him why he never bothered to share the truth with him. He’s angry and sad and really lets his “friend” have it. “How could you? You knew I was going to hell, but you never told me!”
He storms off the stage, and we see the other guy turn now to face the Judge. Blackout. Then we would sing a terrible song called “You Never Mentioned Him to Me”.
Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.
It was supposed to scare us into sharing our faith with a sense of urgency. Was anyone besides me subjected to this kind of thing?
From what I understand, teenagers rarely hear this kind of talk anymore, and that’s probably a good thing. But, then again, how will they understand the urgency of sharing their faith with others? Should they feel that urgency? Are we doing an end-run around the sovereignty of God? Are we absolving them of their personal responsibility?
These are tough questions for which I don’t have a complete answer. I do have some thoughts, though.
Maybe, just maybe, we should stop saying that everyone is someone who will live for eternity. It’s not that it’s untrue, but it’s not true enough. It’s the truth, but it’s not the whole truth – not by a long shot.
These aren’t just people who will live forever; these are people for whom God sent his one and only Son to die. These are people about whom Jesus said, “I’d rather die than live without him. I’d willingly go to the cross on her behalf.”
I bet if we began to see people that way, if we heard the voice of Jesus in our heads as we had conversations, we’d probably love those people better. And I bet our words would carry more weight as people figure out that we don’t just see them as projects, but as people.