The Bible does talk a lot about public evangelism. In Acts, for example, the apostles preach to large crowds of unbelievers on many occasions. Their preaching is often direct and, even, confrontational. (e.g., Acts 2:14-40, Acts 14, Acts 7:1-51).
However, there is also a component of relationship and community that is evidenced throughout the Scriptures. (1 Thes. 2:7-12, Acts 19:9, 1 Thes. 4:12).
In my own life, daily discipleship is much harder than one-time events. I don’t particularly mind large, attraction-based, event-oriented evangelism (though I question their effectiveness in today’s culture). However, one-time evangelism must be accompanied by daily, sacrificial, authentic, missional living. I find it much harder to mentor a student weekly than take teenagers to camp once a year. It is much more time-consuming to volunteer in the local middle school than throw a Superbowl party. I have to be vulnerable when I share my life with other people and that scares me. When you share life you share success and failure, strengths and weaknesses.
By God’s grace I will strive to demonstrate the gospel not just once in a while but every day.
Pastor Tim Piland shared an excellent message from Matthew 28:19-20 this past Sunday at Nansemond River Baptist Church. I love to listen to Pastor Tim share; he is biblical, passionate, and relevant. I like to tell people that he’s 65 going on 20. He has the energy and passion of a young man with the wisdom and wit of a seasoned veteran. I think he has a faint hint of Jimmy Stewart in his voice as well .
In any case, Tim made a comment (I think I’ve heard similar comments before) about sharing the gospel:
The gospel is not a commodity to be sold; it is a relationship to be shared.
I grew up learning all the methods of evangelism (E.E., Romans Road, 4 Spiritual Laws, Steps to Peace with God, F.A.I.T.H., etc.). As I’ve grown (a little) older I’ve found methods to be helpful but often inadequate. Each person is different and, therefore, every time I share my faith it sounds a little different. The content must always be biblical but the method of organization and communication is often ad hoc.
More important than the method, however, is the relationship. We must build relationships with people that can bear the weight of the gospel. The message of sin and salvation is heavy stuff and casual conversations rarely offer the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue. Talking about football and the weather is hardly a natural segue to the magnitude of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Too often fervent evangelists see people as converts to be won. I am reminded of Kevin Roose’s experience at Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University chronicled in the book Unlikely Disciple:
When I told the Liberty students at Thomas Road that I hadn’t accepted Christ as my savior, the entire dynamic of the conversation changed. It began to feel distant and rehearsed, like a pitch for Ginsu knives.
People are unique and interesting and the gospel is not formulaic. Different people have different objections and hangups to the gospel. I know that I value authenticity and honesty much more than a polished presentation.
Sunday I taught an overview of the small book of Jonah. We looked at the role and shape of Jonah among the minor prophets. In the antihero of Jonah, I tried to demonstrate the love of God for the nations.
To the very end of the story Jonah never embraced God’s call. In the words of VeggieTales: “Jonah was a prophet and he never really got it.” Jonah, the seemingly good news prophet ends up being the bad guy.
His selfishness, nationalism, and pride prevented him initially from obeying God and ultimately from enjoying the love and mercy that God extended to the Ninevites. Jonah didn’t want God to show mercy on his enemies.
Jonah was not willing to sacrifice his reputation, comfort, or life for the story and glory of God. The call to go is bigger than my reputation, my comfort, and even my life.
In conversation with one of the pastors at my church I was reminded of the importance of seeing God for who he really is and myself for what I really am. It is so easy (like Jonah) to think that God must act the way I want him to. He must love who I love and punish who I hate. Just like Jonah fostered an us versus them mentality between the Israelites and Ninevites, I often foster an us versus them mentality. With the recent anniversary of 9/11 I am reminded how many Christians still view Islam as the enemy.
I am reminded that our power and hope is in the gospel. It can break any chain of Islam. As a Christian I am called to demonstrate the scandalous love of Christ.
In 2004, five Southern Baptist Missionaries were serving in Mosul, Iraq (geographically analogous to ancient Ninevah). They had moved to Iraq to share the glory of the gospel with the Iraqi people and serve them by researching opportunities to provide clean water. The five missionaries (Larry and Jean Elliott, David and Carrie McDonnall, and Karen Watson) were ambushed by gunmen. Carrie McDonnall was the only survivor. Prior to leaving for Iraq, Karen Watson had written a letter to be read upon her death. She knew the risk of going to such a difficult place.
I wasn’t called to a place. I was called to Him,” she wrote. “To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory was my reward, His glory is my reward.”
Anticipating her death may cause others to question the need for the humanitarian work in Iraq to continue, Watson clearly said one of the most important things is to “preserve the work. Keep sending missionaries out. Keep raising up fine young pastors.”
In making a few requests for a funeral service, Watson said to keep it simple and preach the Gospel. “Be bold and preach the life saving, life changing, forever eternal GOSPEL. Give glory and honor to our Father,” she wrote.
Watson quoted The Missionary Heart, which says in part, “Risk more than some think is safe,” a line that resonates with the endeavor she undertook in a war-torn country. She listed some of her favorite passages of Scripture, including 2 Corinthians 15:5, which says, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” Another was Romans 15:20, which says, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” In closing, Watson wrote, “There is no Joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving Him.”