Video clip from Highway Video Volume 9 – Evangelism
Jesus himself gave us a simple command to go into the world and spread his message of love. Somewhere along the way we called it evangelism, and the whole thing got ugly. Meet some of today’s finest evangelists, reaping the harvest with a full court press.
You know, if you’ve hung around in church long enough, you’ve probably seen a few of the evangelism styles we just witnessed. Today, we’re talking about evangelism. It’s enough to make us want to end the sermon here and now and just go home. We know we’re supposed to share something about our spiritual journey with others, but it’s been so abused over the years, and we’ve accumulated so much guilt on the topic, that we barely want to even talk about the subject.
Let me give you an example. If you’re on the Internet, you know what spam is. It’s not the canned meat. It’s unsolicited junk email selling you all kinds of products you don’t want. For a lot of us, it outnumbers genuine email by a factor of ten to one. Somebody’s come along and invented Spam evangelism. They send out mass emails to all these addresses, and if you try to respond to the email, you discover that someone’s used a fake email address to send out their message.
Someone’s said that evangelism is one topic that everyone can agree on, regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey. Nobody likes it. The easiest thing for me to do today would be to guilt you into doing some evangelism. Some of you would do it, too, for about a week or two. But I have too much pity on the poor people who would be victimized by our efforts, since I too have tried some of these short-term evangelistic bursts motivated by guilt. I think there’s a better way.
If you’ve got a Bible, look with me at Matthew 10. Jesus has just looked around and recognized the spiritual needs around him. Matthew 9 closes with these words:
Jesus traveled through all the cities and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And wherever he went, he healed people of every sort of disease and illness. He felt great pity for the crowds that came, because their problems were so great and they didn’t know where to go for help. They were like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is so great, but the workers are so few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send out more workers for his fields.” (Matthew 9:35-38)
Jesus finished praying, and at the beginning of chapter 10, it’s like he looks around and says, “These guys will do. Thanks for answering the prayer.” He takes the group of followers and selects twelve. He doesn’t select the theological experts of those who are far along on their spiritual journey. The only thing that these guys had going for them was they had spent some time with Jesus. That was enough for them to be sent out on his behalf.
I can only imagine what happened. Jesus said, “Okay, you, you, and you.” They probably looked at one another and said, “Did Jesus just pick me?” And then Jesus gives them instructions on what to do.
The instructions should be good news for most of us.
Start Where You Are
Jesus said in Matthew 10:5-6, “Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel-God’s lost sheep.” This bothers me a little. Jesus spent most of his ministry among the Israelites, although not exclusively. There were probably a lot of reasons for telling his followers to start among Israel. Some were pragmatic. Some were more theological. Paul spoke of the Gospel as “saving everyone who believes-Jews first and also Gentiles” (Romans 1:16). Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus’ instructions in The Message: “Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood.”
Almost every time we’re told to talk about Jesus, we’re told to start right where we are. It’s a lot easier in some ways to go to prefect strangers or to a different people group. It’s a lot easier to go knock on a door or to speak to a stranger somewhere than to share part of our lives with those we see everyday, in the course of everyday life. It’s much better to start right where we are, with the people we already know.
The Kingdom’s Here
The heart of what I want to get at is in the next verse we’re going to look at. It’s a theme that emerges through Matthew, as we’ll see in a minute. It’s a very different message from what we usually think of giving when we talk about the good news.
For one thing, a lot of times we’re taught to give a sales pitch. Ever been taught a canned approach to sharing the Gospel? You name it, we’ve tried it. We’ve got all kinds of packaged ways to talk about our spiritual journeys. The problem with all these approaches is that we then come across as nothing more than spiritual salespeople, as this video clip illustrates:
Scene from The Big Kahuna: It doesn’t matter if you’re selling Jesus, Buddha, or industrial lubricants. That doesn’t make you a human being; that makes you a marketing rep. As soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore, it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being, you’re a marketing rep.
I’m pretty sure I’ve taught this approach before: to look for openings in conversations, and to try to steer conversations in a certain direction. When we steer conversations, we ultimately become disloyal to what’s taking place. We’re always looking for that angle, that way to manipulate what’s taking place. You know, I’ve never once steered a conversation so that my kids come up, but they come up all the time. Rather than manipulating conversations, it’s better to be prepared to just respond when the opportunities arise, as they often do. There’s such a spiritual hunger around that you don’t have to manipulate the conversation to develop a sales pitch. You don’t have to. You can just respond when spiritual conversations happen on their own.
We often try to deliver sales pitches, and sales pitches often lack sincerity. To make it worse, we’re often selling the wrong product. We offer a truncated version of what Jesus is all about, usually centering on the afterlife. The afterlife is only a small part of what Jesus offers. It’s not even the message that Jesus left us with. What’s the true message?
In Matthew 3:2, John the Baptist gave this message: “The Kingdom of Heaven is near.” When Jesus started preaching, this is what he said: “Turn from your sins and turn to God, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” In Matthew 10:7, Jesus gave his followers their message: “The kingdom of heaven is near.” Our message isn’t primarily about the afterlife or what will happen when we die. That’s only a small part of our message. Our message is about the Kingdom of God breaking into this world. It’s the dawning of God’s Kingdom. It’s already, but it’s not yet. It’s started, and it’s present, but it’s not fully here. But it can be seen, it can be experienced, and it’s near. It’s here.
Our message isn’t an abstract one. It’s something that’s real; it’s something in which we’re immersed. Jesus continues: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:7). The Kingdom is making changes here and now, in ways that can’t be fully explained. We’re to offer others only what we’re already experiencing. We’re to offer others something that we’re already experiencing.
This is very different from a sales pitch. We’re part of the healing stream of activity that is washing over the entire universe and will one day be complete. It’s healing our souls, setting us free, making us whole. We only talk about what we’re experiencing. If we talk about Jesus giving the abundant life, we had better taste some of that abundance. If we talk about the One who offers rest for weary souls, we better be living restfully too. Our message isn’t about a future Kingdom; it’s about a Kingdom that’s breaking into this world even as we speak.
A pastor in Michigan suggests that we stop using the word evangelism because it has so much baggage. A better phrase may be spiritual conversations. You don’t have to manipulate a conversation to have those. They come up all the time. When we have these spiritual conversations, we don’t have to take it all the way to the closing pitch. We can share honestly and openly about what we’re experiencing. That’s a lot more authentic, a lot less canned, than the sales pitch.
Keep it Simple
Jesus continues: “Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep” (Matthew 10:9-10). The Message paraphrase puts it this way: “Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.”
The disciples already had everything they needed. They didn’t need a lot of extra stuff. There were other times that other believers went out with more, so this isn’t necessarily a pattern for all time. However, you can safely say: you don’t need a lot of extras. You can go unencumbered, simply, low-budget. You can rely on God and others. You don’t need fancy budgets or programs.
Leave it up to God
I have a friend who goes to a church that lights a candle every week that someone starts to follow Jesus. That’s not bad, but if you ask me, there’s room to celebrate even when someone doesn’t make a spiritual decision. We ultimately don’t have control over what happens when we talk about the Gospel, especially if we give up the sales pitch approach. If you read the rest of the chapter, you begin to realize that the results really aren’t our business. On the contrary, Jesus says that the results are likely to be undesirable. Our message will be rejected. We’ll be imprisoned and persecuted and hated, maybe even by our own families. We may even be killed. The results may be exactly the opposite of what we want, but the results aren’t the issue. We simply leave that up to God.
I think we ought to celebrate when someone comes to God. But instead of just celebrating the results, which we don’t control, why not also celebrate our part? Why not also measure and celebrate the spiritual conversations that take place, regardless of the results. We can leave the rest up to God.
The best spiritual conversations I’ve had are those that haven’t been canned, and that haven’t tried to push someone to an end result. I’ve been able to share the reality of what’s happening in my life – the good, the bad.
Most of us fall into one of two extremes. On one end, we’re pushy salespeople trying to close a deal. On the other end, we clam up and say nothing. How much better to talk with people we already know about the fact that the Kingdom is here, and it’s changing our lives. Instead of manipulating conversations, we just prepare for when spiritual conversations take place. We talk about only what we’re experiencing. And then we leave the results to God.
Some of the best actions we can take following a message like this have nothing to do directly with evangelism, at least at first glance. But a few, simple steps may be the best things that any of us can do to live this out in our lives.
First, get out there and do what Jesus did. Hang around with the type of people that Jesus did. Most of them weren’t the church crowd. Some of us spend far too much time with those who believe what we do, and not enough time with what Leonard Sweet calls normal people. If you’re invited out after work, take the invitation. Get to know your neighbors. Don’t just befriend them to make the sales pitch. Get to know them with no agenda than being their friends.
Then, really begin to live what you say you’re living. Your life is the message. I’m not talking about becoming a super-spiritual person. I’m talking about being authentic – drinking deeply from what Jesus offers so that what we talk about, we’re actually living.
I’m also thinking we can just be prepared to contribute when conversations of a spiritual nature come up. Don’t manipulate, don’t steer. You don’t need to. Just respond. That’s what Jesus did. Spiritual conversations come up all the time. There is more openness to spirituality these days than in any time in recent memory. There’s less of an interest in spiritual sales pitches, but more of an openness to talk about what we’re really experiencing.
And then we can leave the rest up to God.