When Results Oriented Evangelism Isn’t Enough.
For this essay, results-oriented evangelism is defined as the efforts a church or group of Christians make to get others to embrace their religious beliefs, or join their church.
The following thoughts actually came to me in a dream where I found myself debating why it is that our evangelism efforts often fail. You know how dreams go. You’re never sure how long they last or what all has passed through your mind. You wake up and remember only a portion of what you’ve dreamed. I remember distinctly waking up with the thought embedded in my mind that we need to re-examine how we do evangelism. Why do we do it? Our intentions may be good, but unknowingly our motives may be self-serving.
What Motivates Us?
If our motivation for winning people to Christ is simply based on growing our numbers, fulfilling the gospel commission, or even keeping our kids in the church—as painful as it is to hear—we are focused on the wrong thing.
There is nothing wrong with wanting our children, friends and neighbors to be in heaven, but when we focus our efforts on this goal alone, we miss seeing and knowing their hearts. We see them as people to be won instead of individuals to be listened to and loved. We see them as “mission projects,” rather than individuals to be valued (apart from our desire to “win” them).
As a pastor, I have sat on planning committees whose stated goal was to come up with strategies to keep our youth and young people in the church. That’s a worthy goal, right? Maybe. If we aren’t careful, such discussions can lead to programs and initiatives that rely heavily on gimmicks with little relational value. Looking back now, I believe our time would have been better spent on activities designed to build better relationships with our kids, Without this, our efforts to “save them” can actually become a wedge that prevents us from identifying with their concerns and struggles.
The question of how to turn churches into caring centers of compassion—where authentic relationships are nurtured is worthy of our study. It is the essence of why we exist.
Theaters of Grace
Ellen White says, “Enfeebled and defective as it may appear, the church is the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard. It is the theater of His grace, in which He delights to reveal His power to transform hearts” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 12; Christian Service, p. 13).
How can churches be theaters of grace? Through relationships; where people from different backgrounds and ethnicities spend time together in community! In a world where expressions of hate are every day occurrences and where many vilify their neighbors and fellow citizens, the church is a counter-culture theater with live, real-time dramas that depict how people can defy conventional wisdom through demonstrations of love for each other, even in the face of hate! If a church cannot do this, they have lost their reason to exist.
A story from scripture illustrates the kind of love I’m talking about. The passage is a familiar one about a rich young ruler who came to Jesus because he knew he lacked something,
“As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do so that I may inherit eternal life?’” (Mark 10:17, NASV).
“But Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not give false testimony, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ And he said to Him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth.’ Looking at him, Jesus showed love to him…” (Verses 18-21).
The New Living Translation reads, “Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him.” Jesus loved him as a person! His heart went out to him as someone of value.
Do we love people this way? Can we love them more than we love our agendas for them? Sometimes our failure to lead people to Jesus may be because of our relational inattentiveness.
Jesus felt genuine love for the young ruler. He hungered for his friendship and soul. Do we have this kind of love for those around us?
The most effective way to win someone’s heart to Christ is not with a well thought out Bible study or evangelistic presentation. While these have their place, the most pressing need is for genuine demonstrations of empathy and compassion for them in their everyday lives.
Kindness is the key to effective evangelism. “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one” (Testimonies for the Church 9, p. 189).
“All who are consecrated to God will be channels of light. God makes them His agents to communicate to others the riches of His grace…. Our influence upon others depends not so much upon what we say, as upon what we are. Men may combat and defy our logic, they may resist our appeals; but a life of disinterested love is an argument they cannot gainsay. A consistent life, characterized by the meekness of Christ, is a power in the world” (The Desire of Ages, 141, 142).
The term “disinterested love” sounds like an oxymoron. How can we love someone we have no interest in?
The word disinterest has two meanings. According to the Free Dictionary, it means:
- Freedom from selfish bias or self-interest; impartiality.
- Lack of interest; indifference.
The intent of the above quote is that Christ’s followers should love people without bias or expectation. Compassion for the sake of compassion is a God-thing! He loved the world even though it didn’t love Him back.
Keep it Simple
Our best evangelism efforts mirror God’s treatment of us. When we love others as He loved us, they will be won by our compassionate spirit.
Some believe evangelism is sharing information, details and biblical texts about God. In reality it is much more. It has more to do with building relationships and learning how to treat people. The information is secondary to the way we value and treat them.
Who was the evangelist in the story of the Good Samaritan? It wasn’t the Levi or the priest (both church officials who passed by the hurting man). It was the questionable Samaritan who got off his donkey and rescued an unfortunate stranger in harms way. Through kindness, he embodied the essence of what scripture says about God’s kingdom (Matthew 7:12). Did He know Christ? We know very little about the Samaritan, other than the fact that his kind act became a pivotal teaching point in Jesus’ ministry.
The message Jesus wanted His audience to hear was clear. Don’t be like the priest or the Levi. Be like the Samaritan.
When Our Best Efforts Fail
Jesus loved the young ruler with infinite compassion! He did everything right, yet the man still walked sorrowfully away. Even Jesus didn’t win everyone He encountered, Success in soul winning is not defined by how many come to the altar or are baptized! Yes, we rejoice when there is a harvest, and that is certainly heaven’s goal. But our job is simply to love people well as we share God’s story, and ours. That’s it! True success occurs as people respond to God’s Spirit working on their hearts. Our part is to cooperate with the Spirit by making ourselves available to friend and love the people who cross our paths.
It is seldom one thing that brings a person to the point of spiritual conversion. However, showing relational kindness is a key action that God can use to inspire receptivity among those He is trying to reach.
How to Love People
When was the last time your church held a seminar on how to love people? Not how to “win” them, but how to love them? We are good at holding soul-winning workshops and evangelism seminars. It is probably what Adventists do best. But what about a seminar on interpersonal relationships? What about tips on how to relate to “difficult” people? What about a worldwide satellite extravaganza on the science of showing human compassion? Have we done this?
It is past time for Seventh-day Adventist churches to become more people-centric. Over time, we have tended to be more info-centric than people-centric. After all, we are known as “the people of the book.” We have the “right” information about God. We are known for our unique interpretations of prophecy and theology, which has its place. Knowing the truth about God and His character is huge! However, what if we were primarily known for actually reflecting God’s ideals and character qualities in our dealings with others? What if we were known for how well we treat one another, and people in general? Here’s an often shared quote that describes the need for us to be filled with God’s Spirit.
“Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own” (Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69).
Reading this should not motivate us to try harder to be good, or to redouble our efforts to live flawless lives. It is about us allowing God to do what He does best. Paul said, “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT). The emphasis is not on us, but on what God is doing in us!
It is tempting to think we intuitively know how to love people. And it would be amazing if life could be that simple. Yet, because we each have our own stories and different versions of what it means to love and be loved, we need to enroll in the “University of Love” and take the life-long course on “How to Love People.” It’s a course that we’ll never be able to say we’ve finished because there is always something new to learn. Karen Spruill, M.A., a counselor, author and friend, shares a list of timely definitions and thoughts on what it means to love. I highly recommend that you read Love Essentials.
Be courageous and love well! This is why we are here.
By Rich DuBose, Director of Pacific Union Conference Church Support Services© 2017 - 2022 Church Support Services. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.