A wonderful post by my better half…
A good friend of mine has been struggling with some negative emotions related to the word “evangelist.” It makes him picture sidewalk preachers who hold signs saying “Repent!” and shout words of judgment about sins and how wicked people are living. It makes him angry, and I can see why he feels that way. Christians who evangelize by yelling at people and trying to convert through fear make me uncomfortable too, especially as a Christian. I can’t imagine how nonbelievers must feel.
I believe evangelists and Christians in general must demonstrate the love and mercy of Jesus to be an effectively evangelist. It can be as simple as talking to someone as a friend, meeting a stranger’s physical needs (like assisting with food, water, shelter, etc.), or looking into someone’s eyes and telling them “Jesus loves you.” The eyes are the window to the soul, and people can see the love of Jesus shine through your eyes even if you never mention you are a Christian. No matter how you talk to someone about Jesus, it is important to always approach people with love and without an agenda.
In the book Do What Jesus Did, Robby Dawkins tells a story about his experiences evangelizing on a university campus. He ministered to people about Jesus by walking around campus and praying for people he’d encounter. In one of his stories, he walked over to a man standing at a bus stop and asked if he can pray with him. The man said he was an atheist but agreed to let Robby pray with him if he could answer one question first. When Robby agreed, the man asked Robby, “If I were to rape, torture, and murder little girls, what would God say to me when I die?” The man was trying to get Robby to condemn him and say he would go to Hell; but Robby, a smart guy who loves debate, felt led to lower himself and ask the man again if he could pray for him instead of getting into a defensive argument. “You know, I can see that you’re really, really smart – way smarter than I am. I probably couldn’t answer all your arguments,” Robby began. “But sir, I am just a simple man, and if you would be so kind as to let me, I would still like to pray for you and bless you.” The man reluctantly agreed, probably just to get the religious guy to move along. Robby prayed over him that God would show the man how much He loved him. When Robby finished praying the man looked at Robby and then burst into tears, weeping for quite a while. What Robby didn’t realize at the time was that the man he prayed for was the head of an atheist group at the university who often spoke out heatedly against Christianity.
Many times, we as Christians try to rely on our own intellect and our own means when evangelizing. Instead, we should humble ourselves and get of the way so that God can work through us to reach people. Talk to people, listen to them, listen for anything the Holy Spirit might reveal to you about the person, and pray for them. There is so much power in prayer. Even if nothing happens, people will usually just be happy that you cared enough to minister to them.
The biggest problem with the street evangelists who hold up the signs and shout judgment is that they are seeing people through their own eyes. We need to pray and ask God, “Father, how do you see this person? What are you saying to this one whom you love?” God loves every person so much and that is what we should be portraying. Jesus said in John 12:47, “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”
When I think of evangelism, I often think about a famous magician, Penn Jillette, who is an outspoken atheist. After one of his shows, a man walked over to Penn and complimented him on the show and handed him a Gideon’s New Testament Bible. I thought this would have rubbed Penn the wrong way with him being an atheist, but there is a YouTube video where he says doesn’t respect Christians who don’t evangelize. “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you; and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”
Many times, evangelism refers to ministering to strangers; however, evangelism means also ministering to those around you – friends, coworkers, and students. It may involve discussions about Jesus, but it’s possible to evangelize effectively without saying a word about Jesus. You just have to live a life submitted to Jesus; others will take notice.
I will end with a quote my friend always loves to use: “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.”