Unlearning EvangelismPosted: April 21, 2016
“Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade”
This is one definition of evangelism I just came across. It’s a pretty good one, in certain situations. But what happens if you’re talking to someone who doesn’t want you to teach them, and doesn’t appreciate your attempt to persuade? This approach is fine if someone, or many someones, have asked a question, or otherwise shown their openness to engage with you, and then only if doing so actually answers their question.
In my ministry, that kind of favor, or permission, usually happens AFTER there has been a genuine God-encounter; a healing happens, or someone is powerfully set free from some bondage, or we interpret a dream and the interpretation rocks their world. That’s when they start asking questions: “How are you able to do that?” “How did you know that?” “Why do you do this for free?” “What are you guys all about?” See? Now we have permission. And people will listen. If they are offended by my answers, at least they aren’t offended by my presumption. The truth is, I can’t remember the last time someone got offended. We’re living in a time when people are very much interested in talking about God (“The fields are white…”). They just don’t want to feel he is being shoved down their throats. Having experienced the love and power of God, they WANT to talk about it. Sometimes they come to Christ, right then and there. But they pretty much ALWAYS go away knowing there is a God who knows and loves them, often even if they have not asked any questions.
I love it when that happens. Those are the times I identify with Jesus when he said “I have bread to eat you know not of”. But though I do the work of an evangelist, getting people “saved” is not my first concern. In a real sense, it is not my concern at all.
I notice with some amazement that Jesus demonstrated the power and the love of God without requiring anything of those he served. Even among the “stiff-necked” who had no intention of following him, such as the Galileans in John 4 when he healed the nobleman’s son, he did a miracle and met the need. It used to puzzle me that he would often perform some miracle and then, while he had their attention, fail to lead them in the sinner’s prayer. It’s true that he was continually preaching the good news about the Kingdom, but he DIDN’T REQUIRE ANYTHING OF THEM! This, despite the fact that the people were thronging him, pressing him, crowding him, anything to be in his presence. He had them in the palm of his hand!
And that is what most would-be evangelists today don’t have.
There are two kinds of evangelists out there. There are the ones who preach in churches, or in stadiums for pre-packaged evangelistic rallies. These are “preaching to the choir” for the most part, to people who are already Christians who are there for the show. Many of them bring their friends and neighbors and many of these do “get saved.” All good.
Then there are the street preachers, brave souls who go into the marketplace and shout their version of the “good news” at people. Trouble is, with most of these, nobody ever takes what they are saying as good news. Including me. Or my fellow prophetic evangelists. It doesn’t help that these same street preachers purposely seek us out and will often stand as near to us as they can with their bullhorns and announce to the crowds that we are “of the devil” and leading people astray. As proof of this, they often point to the line of people waiting to talk to us.
Jesus had crowds of people waiting to talk to him too.
They waited, because they knew he had something real to offer them. They wait for us, because they know we have something real too. The street preachers come with nothing to offer – and expect to be heard. They think they are evangelists. They are actually “clouds without rain.” (Jude 1:12)
To do the work of Jesus, you first of all must be genuinely concerned for the people you want to reach, and to be genuinely concerned means to see their real, earthly, flesh-and-blood needs. Meeting those needs has to be your real motivation, out of compassion. When I and my teammates go to minister, we try very hard to do only what we see the Father doing – because that’s what Jesus did. As for their salvation, I personally believe that their “getting saved” is between them and God. My role in that is to make the introduction, to answer their questions, and possibly to lead them to where they want to go if they don’t know how to get their on their own. I am a facilitator.
My definition of evangelism looks something like this: To love my neighbors in truth – to get to know them, to listen to them, to truly “see” them. To be available to them, and to not give up on them – ever.
That is, after all, how God treats me.