26 February 2008

Basic Evangelism

One of the things that I try to be aware of is patterns. If I begin to recognize patterns in ministry, relationships or culture, I tend to take notice, and often times, those are the things that I will share on this blog. However, in the interest of privacy and anonymity, I'll refrain from using the names of people that I encounter.

One of the patterns that I've recently recognized is the challenge that Christians have with evangelism - sharing their faith with people in their everyday lives. I've had no less than six conversations in the last two years with young Christians admitting that this is a struggle for them. The people I've had these conversations with range from new believers to full-time missionaries (if you can believe that).

As best I can tell, the struggle primarily lies in the ability to naturally incorporate their faith into their relationships with non-believers. They either don't know how to share their faith in relation to the Gospel narratives, or they don't know how to naturally engage people who don't share their same beliefs, background or upbringing.

At least two of the people I've talked with simply stated that they don't know how to share their faith without the appearance of having "an agenda," or making the other person feel like a project. The missionaries I've spoken with confessed that they "don't know how to cultivate missional relationships with non-believers." When I heard this, the beast in me writhed and seethed; teeth bared, muscles clinched, knuckles white - missionaries who don't know how to build relationships with non-believers?!?!?

(I'll refrain from addressing the obvious topic of the church's responsibility to train and develop her people for the Great Commission... at least for now).

...The still, quiet Spirit in me, however, wept; broken-hearted, exhausted, defeated - missionaries who don't know how to build relationships with non-believers. Isn't that why we're here? Nevermind the fact that we're ALL called to live out the Gospel and share Jesus... missionaries leave their homes and their families; obedient to a call to go preach the Gospel to a foreign land.

For a long time I didn't understand this struggle. Not that I'm an evangelistic dynamo, but I've never really experienced difficulty in making friends with non-Christians. As Jasheen says, "They're not monsters. They're not mutants. They're just people, like you and me." Here's where much of the rub likely lies: the us-and-them approach. I've even heard missionaries refer to non-believers as "neo-barbarians." I don't know a person here who wouldn't take offense at that. As far as I can tell, there is no us-and-them until judgment day, where the Lord separates the sheep from the goat. There's just US, inasmuch as we are all inhabitants of a fallen world... and we all need Jesus (whether we know Him or not).

Lately though, I think I've discovered what the problem may be. I think that Christians, often times, over-think their approach to evangelism. They consider strategies, systems and methods for connecting with non-Christians. I'm not suggesting that we just float through our days and engage people at random. I think there is purpose and merit to recognizing where God is moving and getting involved. I also agree with being intentional about seeking out relationships with people who don't yet know Jesus.
But instead of operating from a recipe of one part fear, one part ignorance, and one part passivity, I suggest that we look to the people that we observe in scripture. Of course, there are accounts of evangelism in scripture, but lately I've been looking at the people that encountered Jesus personally for the first time.

There is one pattern that I see in almost every account of someone encountering Jesus: they went and told others what they saw, who they met, what they experienced. They just said, "Come and see." Whether it was Andrew (John 1:41-42) who stopped what he was doing and at once, found his brother Simon and told him that he'd found the Messiah, and brought him to see Jesus; or the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) who left her water jug, rushed from her encounter with Christ and said to the men, "Come and see a man..."; or Mary Magdalene (Mark 16) who after seeing Jesus risen from the dead, went and reported what she'd seen; all of these accounts and more reveal the most basic form of evangelism: I've seen Jesus. Come and see Him for yourself.

People were compelled to share Jesus with others. Aren't we? There were no long discussions about how to tell people about the Messiah. They just rushed out and said, "Come and see." Three little words that leave the rest up to the Spirit and the free will of those sought out.

It's not rocket science. It's not brain surgery. It's not a military surgical strike. Sometimes people may think you're nuts. They may think you're a fool. They may say, "NO! I don't want to," but our job is to simply bring people to see Jesus. It's certainly not the only form of evangelism. There are countless ways to share your faith... through words and action; through apologetics and discourse; through mercy and generosity.
But if you struggle getting to know non-believers; if you have a hard time cultivating missional relationships with people at work or in your neighborhood, perhaps you could apply the most basic approach we know:

OPERATION: ANDREW - Come and see the Messiah! He changed my life... perhaps He'll change yours.

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