This has probably been hashed and rehashed a million times, but I have never seen it done from the perspective of a pastor.
When I was growing up, “Evangelism” meant knocking on doors and “Sharing the Gospel” like someone sells a vacuum. We used Evangelism Explosion. It cheapened the Gospel to a negotiation of features and benefits. Push, push, push, close the deal, move on. You could knock on doors, meet at restaurants, converse on planes–always the same–two questions, benefits, features, objections, cute stories, close the deal, move on.
When I was in seminary, “Evangelism” meant making friends in order that you can “Share the Gospel” with them. We plotted ways to meet people and strategies to get them to like us and plans on how to transition to tell them about God. It sounded like such an improvement over the previous method, I thought it was exactly what was needed. It was real evangelism. Then I met J.
J was a student at a school where W, my wife, attended. J befriended W in class and they had a number of meaningful discussions. He was single and W was enjoying his friendship. She invited him to our home for dinner. We had a good meal together and then he began talking about the business he was in. It was very lucrative and he would like to see if we were interested in partnering with him. We were very interested. We were poor college students, after all. We made arrangements, and J came back to tell us about his business. He sold Amway. We knew we were set up.
The friendship was a sham. It was just a vehicle to share with us the gospel of Amway. We felt cheap. Used. Taken.
I knew immediately the Gospel was not meant to be a bait and catch game. Friendship could not be the bait that draws people in so we could catch them for Jesus and then cast our hook out again. That cheapened both friendship and the Gospel like prostitution cheapens sex.
The answer, of course, is really being a friend and continuing the friendship whether or not it ever results in a countable conversion. The answer is living as salt and light in the world and really loving the world in which we live.
The problem with that model is it doesn’t produce very good stats.
If you are a salesman, you can talk about “calls” you make. If you are a friendship evangelist, you can talk about people with whom you are “building a relationship” and what stage those relationships are in the process. Both salesman evangelists and friendship evangelists can count their conversions.
If you are a pastor, those conversions are proof you are doing your job. You can go to conferences and say, “We baptized 100 people this year–that is almost two a week.” You can stand in front of the church and put up charts and show you are winning the crusades against the community.
But if you are salt and light, the conversions don’t stack up quite the same. They don’t look like deals closing or the end of a Gospel process–they just look like changed lives. You might even stop talking about, “Conversions” and start talking about people who are closer to Jesus than they were a year ago. You might not even talk about it at all. You might just live and be.
Living and being don’t look good on a monthly ministry report.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not against evangelism. I want to spread the word of Jesus. I just think real evangelism happens as a parable and not as a pitch. A pitch is an infomercial trying to persuade someone out of something and into something else. A parable is a story laid alongside another story, and the stories take on greater meaning. Evangelism tells the story that changes our stories.
Evangelists live the story.
I will never be a good salesman. I detest friendships with purpose. But I can live my life and change the lives around me.