Evangelism: 3 Up / 3 Down
On Monday I went to an evangelism seminar based on the material in the popular book Becoming a Contagious Christian. Evangelism and I have long had a tenuous relationship. In high school our youth group leader gave us an assignment to tell someone about Jesus the following week. I meekly mumbled something about Jesus’ love to a friend on the tennis team and breathed a sigh of relief. As my faith has matured and I have more fully embraced the importance of repentance, faith, and new life in Jesus, I have come to appreciate the importance of evangelism much more. However, there are still some things that bother me about the way it’s normally presented. So here are three things I love about evangelism and three things I don’t motivated by this seminar.
3 Things I Love
Evangelism Styles. We spent one segment of the seminar looking at different evangelism styles. The five styles discussed were direct, relational, invitational, service, and . This made it easy to see how everyone can be involved with evangelism in a way that fits their personality and gifts. At the same time, it helps people understand that evangelism doesn’t necessarily mean walking up to someone and asking them if they’ll go to heaven when they die.
Really believing it. I can’t morally say that I truly believe salvation through Jesus Christ is essential and then not desire this for others. It doesn’t mean I have to ram stuff down people’s throats, but it’s nonsensical to say I believe that what we do with Jesus is of immediate and eternal importance and then not give a lick if anyone else believes or not.
It’s biblical. Jesus proclaimed the gospel, so did the disciples. While overzealous evangelists from street corners to TV screens get a bad rap (usually deserved), I know far more people (often including myself) who have a hard time opening their mouths to talk about how much they love Jesus and how important he is. I don’t want to start thumping people on the head with a Bible, but I do want to be more like Jesus–which means engaging people in authentic and meaningful conversation about Jesus and his gospel.
3 Things I Don’t Love
Misunderstanding Discipleship. At one point in the materials (Contagious Christian) they quoted the Great Commission as proof that we all need to be involved in evangelism. Last I checked Jesus didn’t say, “Go and make converts of all nations.” No doubt that we cannot make disciples if we never make converts, but I’m sick of discipleship being minimized. Evangelism is a part of discipleship, it is not discipleship.
Over-simplifying. At this seminar they used the ever-popular bridge illustration. I get that it’s simple and it communicates some of the truth of the gospel (that we do need Jesus to be reconciled to God). But this makes the gospel so much less than what it is. The gospel is about the restoration of everything sin has destroyed–that includes people being saved from their sin, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. I think we hurt ourselves when we dilute evangelism to something that goes on a napkin.
Conversation Turning. This one is sort of a 75% dislike 25% it’s okay one for me. Part of the the seminar, and part of many evangelism talks I’ve heard, is the “fine art” of turning conversations to spiritual things. In other words, how can you make any conversation you’re in about Jesus as fast as possible. If all we’re doing is looking for an opening to work Jesus in it’s not really a conversation, it’s a sales pitch. However, I hope if following Jesus is truly the defining characteristic of our lives that it will come up. As we honestly engage in conversation as disciples of Jesus it should be natural that following him will be a part of our conversations. So I’m not for looking to turn conversations, but I am for our real faith to come out as we talk to people.