I stared at a plaque on the door of my new office that read “Minister of Evangelism.” This was my first full time staff position at a church, and I felt ill equipped. It’s not because I had not been adequately trained or lacked passion. Rather, it was the legion of lies I felt I had to combat in order to move forward. One cannot hear the word “Evangelism,” these days without visions of awkward encounters, slamming doors, and sales pitches. We have made a very natural activity into the equivalent of an adolescent boy staring in the mirror, practicing his best “Will you go out with me?” Every few years there is a new Acrostic to learn, and scripture to memorize. Meanwhile, every member of the congregation knows it is just a matter of time before this strategy gives way to a new one. “This too shall pass,” they remind themselves. We try to tell ourselves that each new method has numerical fruit, but fail to count the number of those who are pushed further away from the Church by rote presentations. As I attempted to help the congregation learn to engage our community, I saw three prevalent myths that drive our fear of, and ineffectiveness in evangelism.
Myth #1: We need better strategies. Who is more likely to share the Gospel, the recently baptized Christ follower, or the “lifer” who has been immersed in church culture for decades? I will place my bet on the new believer. He doesn’t have airtight theology, or years of Sunday school lessons, but he knows Jesus loves and forgives him. It’s fresh in his heart and mind. Evangelism is intuitive. Everyone preaches what they believe to be “good news.” Consider Facebook. It’s a collection of millions preaching “good news” of homeschooling, political ideology, gluten free diets, cat memes, and great restaurants. We all share good news. No one worries about whether or not they know the menu by heart at Cracker Barrel before they extol the greatness of homemade biscuits to the world. What we care about naturally oozes from who we are. The question is not so much HOW to share the Good news, but WHAT is the Good news? When we believe the truth of who Christ is, and what He cares about, the “how” will come.
If we need to be taught anything, it is to listen. We cannot find evangelistic formulas in the Gospels because Jesus responds to need. He listens. He speaks of the kingdom in a myriad of different parables and illustrations that relate to the lives of individuals and their interests. Strategies attempt to put us in a place of control rather than response. On one occasion, Jesus even tells His disciples “Don’t worry about what to say. Just say what the Holy Spirit gives you at the time.” He could have given them a book of talking points, steps, and arguments, but instead He gave them something better: His Holy Spirit. Listen to others, Listen to Him. He is in control, so you don’t need to be. Notice how Jesus prefaces the Great Commission. “I have been given ALL AUTHORITY in heaven and on earth.” Authority does not come by your knowledge, personality or methods. The Holy Spirit does not need your strategies, just your trust.
Myth #2: “Boldness” means becoming an Extrovert. Being an Extrovert myself, I am often guilty of thinking this way. In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit brings “boldness” in testifying to the work and person of Christ. Two of the most obvious examples are Peter preaching to the masses at Pentecost, and Stephen publically recounting the history of the Jew’s stubbornness before being stoned to death. Unfortunately, it’s easy for us to think these are the ONLY examples of what true boldness looks like. Therefore, we begin to look for the “homerun” moment of witness, when the stakes are high and anything short of a death wish doesn’t count. The heart of boldness is freedom, and confidence, not obnoxiousness. Type “A” personalities are not the only people capable of being “bold.” Believers need only be who God created them to be. When we try to shape people into our own image or personality, we often crush the gifts God gave them! We need people who demonstrate and proclaim Christ through art, science, music, and social change, not just verbal persuasiveness. We don’t need to conjure up Holy Spirit boldness. We need to keep from squelching it through comparison, and “one-size fits all” thinking. Guilt trips and shame bombs from the pulpit only produce more timidity. It reinforces the idea that “you” are not enough. Be who God has created you to be… boldly.
Myth #3: We love people so that we can preach the Gospel. Hang with me here. I know this will sound like verbal gymnastics, but I believe it matters. We don’t love people in order to preach the Gospel, we preach the Gospel because we love people. When we see love as a means to an end, we treat people as a means to an end. I hate the phrase “soul winner,” for this reason. I imagine some kind of zombie limping toward me, mumbling “I have come to take your soooooul…” Its like we have no use for the rest of them. People easily become notches on a belt rather than bearers of God’s image.
I had a U-verse salesman come to my house a few weeks ago. As I open the door, he tells me that his company is concerned for the well being of our neighborhood, and is offering their product at a discounted rate as a favor. Yea. right. He was a nice guy… with an obvious agenda. When I tried to tell him I was not interested, he kept coming at me with different approaches until I finally just said “no thanks,” and closed the door. Now, if a close friend told me about the same product, I would respond much differently. Why? Because I assume he cares about me whether we agree or not. I don’t think he will stop coming over for cookouts if I don’t share his love for the Boston Celtics, or pimento cheese sandwiches. No one likes being around people who have an agenda. You can’t be present in relationships when you live with a constant agenda. You become obsessed with fixing others, instead of just enjoying them.
Do we want others to know Christ? OF COURSE! However, I believe this particular myth has lead to a sort of co-dependency (what can I do to fix others) among believers that causes burdens of anxiety and posturing that Christ never intended us to bear. Christ is not our agenda. He is our identity. There is a difference. When we take up His identity and authority, we trust Him with the results, giving us freedom even in rejection. When we take up an agenda, we try to force the result. In the process, we lose trust in the Spirit, and take up a yoke of responsibility that is not ours to bear. “What did I do wrong?” is the constant question of the agenda burdened.
The Christ follower lives, breathes, and speaks Christ all the time no matter how anyone responds. “Come to me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.” These words were spoken to people who felt the desire to know and follow God, but could not bear the burdens laid on them by the religious leaders of their day. Hear Jesus’ words afresh and trade in your yoke of striving, comparison, and posturing for His yoke that brings grace, freedom, and love for one another! Have you felt the burden of these myths? What might you add to this list?