I am a Calvinist, and that means that I have always lived under the shadow of the "You don't believe in evangelism!" critique. Well, honestly such a thing could not be further from the truth. My understanding of the doctrines of grace has been the primary energy behind the drive to share my faith over the last several years. My thinking is that if God is the one who acts, then I just have to be faithful to tell people about Jesus and He will take care of the results. No pressure on me other than to be faithful.
In fact, my theoretical understanding of all things Christian is that if we are just faithful to do what we have been commanded to do in God's Word, then he will bless us with fruitfulness. Such thinking led me in Kentucky to start a door-to-door evangelism effort at our church. We got a bunch of manly men together and boldly went out to proclaim the gospel to our neighbors.
Our message was simple and biblically faithful. We started the conversation by talking about church, then we asked about heaven and hell and how a person gets assigned to either one. The heart of our presentation was the four step explanation of God's holiness, man's sinfulness, the sacrifice of Christ, and the necessity of faith and repentance. Beautiful and powerful, really. One would honestly expect some fruit from such an effort.
The truth is: we tanked. Hundreds of conversations - no conversions. We wanted to share the gospel with integrity, so we weren't just offering false hope. We had three opportunities to lead people in a prayer and claim victory, but we didn't take them. We explained the gospel more carefully and they didn't want it after all.
Failure like that when you're trying to be faithful is a real bottle-rocket in the butt. It hurts. I just want to lead someone to Christ, you know?
Today I took a walk to the post office and I thought about these evangelistic failures. What went wrong? I think I might know the answer.
It always seemed weird to me, when we were laying out the gospel for people, that we were asking them to make a major life change after a fifteen minute conversation with a stranger. I also realized today that just by setting up and carrying out an evangelism strategy like ours, we were drawing a line in the sand. Us versus them. Church people on one side, lost people on the other. We started our conversations by saying, "We're from Hazelwood Baptist Church..." We're not people - not individuals who want to talk - we represent an institution. We are door-to-door salesmen: marketers of an idea. And the people we talked to treated us like door-to-door salesmen. They listened to the pitch and then graciously declined our offer. Some treated us like I treat telemarketers: *click*
Then I think about the New Testament. The apostles were some of the greatest evangelists of all time. So how did they do it? Uh, they didn't go door to door. No, instead God made a big noise during a crowded festival and made a bunch of people start talking at once in different languages and drew a crowd for the apostles. Then, just to stave off the crowd, one of them, Peter, stands up and answers their question: "Are these guys drunk?" As a result of his answer, 3000 people come to Christ.
Then I look at the Great Commission. Surely it says something about cold-call evangelism. What it says is go all over the world. And as you are going, you will make disciples. How? By baptizing them and teaching them to obey what Jesus commanded. Yeah, but what about conversion? Apparently, Jesus does that. Jesus changes their hearts and we make disciples out of new men.
So, now I'm wondering how they'll hear in the first place. I think that the answer is: you have to be friends with people who don't know Jesus. Real good friends; open and honest friends. You can't just pull yourself away from everyone in the world in an effort to be holy and then look on people outside of the church as the enemy to be converted. If anything, we have to climb into the world even more (remember the Great Commission?) and really get close to these people. In so doing, they will see and hear the gospel from our lives and our lips. Not in some fake, clunky way that is all logic and no heart, but they will see and hear the gospel wrapped in flesh.
Wouldn't it be freeing to just think about being friends and loving people rather that telling them some spiel you've memorized about the Roman road? And then, if you yourself are a maturing Christian person who loves Christ, the gospel will just ooze out everywhere in that friendship. You friends will want to come experience your church worship service with you. They will hear the preaching of the gospel. They will hear the praises sung. They will know that it is real, because they see it really lived out in your life. And my thinking is that we will be far more fruitful in winning people to Jesus.
That's my new theory anyway. ; )