I had just finished a delightful lunch with my family at Wendy’s. My wife and kids were heading out to the car when I got the feeling that before we left, I should probably “go”.
So I trotted myself back inside and into the restroom.
And there I saw something that changed the way I look at evangelism.
Evangelism? What’s that, you ask? The word evangelism simply means “to bring good news”, and since I’m a man who is in love with the man Jesus and seek to follow His every step (though I quite often lose him in the crowd), the word “evangelism” is one that I have heard, oh probably thousands of times in 34 years. Evangelism is something that “Christians” are told they should do. The most well-recognized verse in the Bible is Matthew 28:19 where Jesus said to his boys (just before lift-off), “So go and make disciples–teaching them everything I’ve taught you–and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And I’ll be with you always, even to the end of the age.” This was the last explicit instructions that Jesus gave his closest student followers.
And we (as well-meaning as we are) have simplified it down to a small pocket-sized book, often called a “tract”. Here’s the idea: You keep a handful of these tracts with you wherever you go and you give them away; usually to strangers like that waiter in the restaurant who’ll find it on top of his 9% tip after you split the scene. Or you give it to the toll booth lady in the exact change lane, right after you cut off 4 people to get there before them, and speed off before she can give it back.
Or if you’re “lucky”, you can actually read through it WITH that stranger on the street who you somehow roped into listening to your Jesus sales pitch.
All that to say that you can probably sense my disdain for these little booklets–these tracts.
But you should also know that as a teen who frequently went to youth conventions and retreats and things like that, tracts were THE way, bar none, to communicate the message of the Gospel to unassuming strangers. I was one of those little Jesus G.I.’s who was released on the streets in the roughest part of Philadelphia; tracts in hand and memorized questions and responses in mind. Evangelizing. So, I’m not lobbing grenades of questioning and criticism from afar. I’m dropping one right where I grew up.
So, back to the Wendy’s restroom.
I walked in the door, turned the corner, faced the urinal….and there it was…as if to send a clear message about what the previous holder of that tract thought about it.
Now, I know I’m using a pretty broad brush stroke, and I know that the thought of my taking a picture of it might be seen as crude; I was just struck by the imagery. But what I saw there confirmed what I have sensed in my heart and known for some time. Literature isn’t going to do it. Signs aren’t going to do it. Little silver fish on the backs of cars aren’t going to do it. When it comes to bringing good news, there’s no better way than the way Jesus did it. Friendships. Real life friendships. But here’s the catch–not friendships for the sake of bringing good news, just friendships for the sake of friendships. Friendships without agendas or strategies. Just friendships that honor, esteem, and cherish every human life–because God created every one of them.
Years ago, when I was a much younger youth pastor, and therefore much dumber one, I remember a night when one of my students came to me and needed to talk. The week before, she had brought a friend of hers; a non-Christian friend from school. And that was the night I was talking about the need for us as Christians to share Christ with our friends–the talk was all about “evangelism”. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but whatever it was caused that (non-Christian) visitor to feel like a project, or a mountain to be conquered by her Christian friend. I immediately felt a deep pain inside and realized that the message I was sending was on the wrong tract…I mean, track.
More recently, I was standing on a Sunday in the lobby of our church building with our Executive Pastor, and he was talking about his plans that afternoon. He mentioned that he was planning on cutting his grass. Someone asked him, “But Pastor, what will the neighbors think about you cutting your grass on Sunday?” His reply was, “Well…I guess they’ll think I’m just like them.”
More people will find Jesus when Christians stop acting like “Christians” and start living more like Jesus.
Even more recently (as in yesterday), I was talking with one of my new neighbors (we just moved into our house a couple weeks ago). In the course of our conversation, we were discussing our typical weekly activities with our kids and when I mentioned to her that it seemed the nights her family has plans are the same nights my family typically has plans…well, I could feel the tension in me starting to rise. The reason? Well, on Wednesdays, my kids go to our children’s ministry program at our church. Thursdays? Well, that’s our student discipleship night. Fridays? That’s our small group Bible study night. My inner thoguhts were, “what’s she going to think and how is she going to act when she realizes that I’m ‘one of THOSE’ people?”
Here’s the thing: I have a sneeking suspicion that she and her husband are also two of “those people”. And the fact that neither of us were quite ready to divulge that kind of information outright tells me at least one thing:
We followers of Jesus have learned how the culture at large views us; and its not typically pretty. Consequently, we (albeit unwittingly) end up living incognito Christian lives for fear of being lumped into the same crowd as “those people”.
[Even if the truth is today, 2008, “those people” are more imaginary than ever. That’s a separate blog altogether.)
So, what to do? Honestly, do what you want. But here’s my plan…
I want to live a life that cherishes every person because they are a person. I know, of course, that being a person means being a creation of God. I further know that being a person qualifies you to be included in the forgiveness that Jesus died to provide. Additionally, I know that being a person means that you have a soul, and that soul is eternal, and that eternity is a really long time for a soul to be anywhere. I know all those things. I believe all those things (and more) with all that I am and all that I’ve got. And knowing that has, does, and will always affect how I live, and how I bring good news.