If you’re a millennial and if you’ve grown up in an evangelical church, chances are you’ve been introduced to the video series The Way of the Master (hosted by my friend and yours, Kirk Cameron). The series focuses on connecting those from outside the Christian faith with Jesus, as strangers are asked questions meant to showcase their depravity and their need for a saviour.
These moments, awkward to watch at best, highlight the way our generation has been instructed to share our faith. This sort of evangelism can be likened to canvasing the neighbourhood with Jesus flyers; a sort of Christian shock-and-awe campaign, if you will.
This is what I was taught. This is the example I was given. This is also what I dreaded doing for much of my life. In fact, it got to the point where I began to suffer from immense guilt for not wanting to share my faith with zeal and gusto, like those who stood on street corners and accosted people walking home with their groceries.
Now, lest you think I have something against evangelism, I don’t … within reason. In fact, I envy those who have the gift of talking about their faith in an effective and gracious way to those whom they have just met. But, when I think of evangelism in 2014 — a post-modern, post-Christian world, where truth is relative and everything is a conversation — I feel as though we need to begin with the following and work out from there.
1. Respect other positions and world views.
It can be easy to enter the fray with the idea that we have the truth they desperately need. But when we have this mentality, we tend to elevate ourselves while demeaning those we are speaking to. I have to believe that Jesus listened as others spoke; I don’t think he simply waited for a lull in the conversation so that he could jump in. Rather, he desired to honour and respect those around him. God has chosen to use us as his representatives, and notwithstanding the idea that the Holy Spirit can change anyone’s heart in a moment, conversion tends to begin with a conversation — a conversation that cannot happen if we alienate those who have different values and beliefs.
2. Focus on people rather than hidden motives.
Befriending with a motive isn’t befriending at all, is it? It’s more like choosing a target. Clearly if we are in Christ, our entire being will long for as many as possible to join us on the journey. But entering into friendship circles based upon who we think we can convert seems to me, well, icky. The best life lived (and maybe the most effective means of sharing Jesus with others) is a life lived with God at the centre. I’ve had more chances to talk about Jesus with people through living in relationship with God than any amount of street evangelism of which I have been a part.
3. Christianity isn’t just an escape from hell.
The idea of avoiding eternal punishment while booking one’s ticket to paradise can be extremely motivating. And the fact is, Christianity includes theological positions on both heaven and hell; the Scriptures tell us that a life lived in Christ continues after our earthly bodies are no more, as does a life lived for the self, void of Christ. But a decision to follow Jesus cannot come down to the need for fire insurance. Following Him is the highest calling on this planet: it’s what we were created to do, it’s who we were created to worship, it’s instruction on how we were built to interact with others. So in our evangelistic endeavours, whatever form they may take, let’s make sure that we make Jesus known, rather than making heaven the reward for saying a prayer and believing a few theological truths.
If we have made a commitment to follow Jesus, then telling others about him must be built into the fabric of who we are. But the way we do this must be filled with humility, love, and compassion, as we share the hope that’s only found in Christ.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Rachel Citron.