I have never really understood personal evangelism. Maybe it’s because I have never really been good at sharing my faith — at least not with complete strangers. I have never stood on the street corner preaching to all within earshot. I’m not the guy with numerous stories about how I shared my life story with the person sitting next to me on the plane, inducing a tearful admission that he needs Jesus. (I am not condemning these types of encounters, nor am I condemning these practices altogether.) To be completely honest, I don’t think I have even one story like that.
Recently, I have been trying to better understand the Great Commission. I have to tell you what I hear Jesus telling me in that particular passage. You might be surprised to find that he isn’t telling me to share the Gospel with all who will listen (although, that is part of it); rather he is telling me (and you) to go and make disciples. The former is really just words; the latter is words and actions, ultimately culminating in a relationship.
I like to compare our typical evangelism tactics to the customer service techniques employed at big corporations like Wal-Mart. When I am finally able to track down a sales associate and tell them of my quandary, they usually point their finger in some obscure direction and tell me the item I am looking for can be found in such-and-such an aisle. Instead of taking the time out of their busy schedule to physically walk me there, in order to make sure I actually find what it is I’m looking for, I am offered directions that usually result in more aimless wandering.
The same is true of us when we try to evangelize the “lost.” When someone finally works up the courage to open up to us, we try to give them some formula to find salvation, i.e. Roman’s Road, the Four Spiritual Laws, or the Sinner’s Prayer. We simply tell them that Jesus can make them moral, offer them freedom, save them from that addiction, or heal them from their infirmity. We tell them these things because it is much easier than reciprocating their openness, honesty, and trust. It is easier to offer some obscure “truth” than it is to walk with them along the journey to find that truth. In the words of a friend of mine, “sharing your faith without a willingness to share your life is pretty lame!”
I think where we have gone wrong is trying to entirely separate evangelism from discipleship. In my mind, there is so much overlap, they just might be one and the same; either that or they are inseparable. Let me try to make this simple. We tend to think of evangelism as simply converting someone to our beliefs and discipleship as putting action to those beliefs. While the former may happen in an instant, the latter may take a lifetime. To separate the two and to simply evangelize the lost hasn’t really solved anything. We may be able to add numbers to our church statistical report. We might have even “gotten a few of them into heaven.” But has that kind of evangelism really lead to a true and lasting salvation — one that not only saves from hell, but helps to make life here on earth “as it is in Heaven”?
If we try to evangelize without a relationship, we are just adding converts. And God knows Christianity doesn’t need any more of those. What Christianity needs is more disciples.
Jordan Davis is an aspiring writer, aspiring preacher, and aspiring pastor. Every day, he is trying to figure out what it means to follow in the footsteps of an itinerant Rabbi. He graduated from Oklahoma Wesleyan University in 2005 with a degree in Pastoral Ministry and now resides in Sioux Falls, S.D. He blogs at http://jordanddavis.blogspot.com/.
Image: The Roman Road, Barry Barnes / Shutterstock.com