There are a great many terrifying threats to our holy task of sharing, embodying, and living the good news of Jesus Christ in our world. One doesn’t have to do mental gymnastics to identify some of the reasons behind the evangelism struggles of our modern time. Here are just a few:
- We have an addiction to abdication.We have, for some time, placed the responsibility of evangelism on others (be it para-churches, famous evangelists, or our local church pastor).
- We have no free time to develop relationships with those around us. Because we are so busy, we look for the immediate response of the quick conversion in response to our perfectly articulated rational expression of the gospel with the turn of a creative phrase that catches the pagan neighbor off-guard. But our addiction to quick evangelism is endemic of a real problem:
- We simply don’t have time for the long, hard, often dull humdrum of actual relationship building that almost certainly takes years and years and years to nurture.
- Or, even worse, we have become so isolated in the church that we simply don’t know the language of those not in the church.
Leaving the Seeker to Seek
I was at a denominational gathering last week when Brad Brisco, a missional guru and founder of the Sentralized conferences, unpacked one of what he believed to be the major challenges of being missionaries in the 21st century: we have effectively set up a church world that requires the seeker to come to the church, transform, conform, and assimilate. Brisco said it well: “Our sin is that we are now requiring the seeker to become the missionary to the church. They have to seek us out.”
We have erected, in essence, an endless array of ways to keep people from seeking us out.
When someone suggests Jesus is a better evangelist than we are, I will agree. The problem is, and I may be wrong here, I am unaware of the last time Jesus went door-to-door sharing the message in my neighborhood.
Jesus is the best evangelist, but he seems to like working bilaterally through us. For some odd reason, God has chosen to place his precious message in the hands of a bunch of misfits like ourselves. Sometimes, I remain frankly confused as to why Jesus even likes working with us and through us. We are lazy, abdicating, busy, religious people who often live in bubbles. But alas, Jesus does love working through us. Because whenever God works through us, he will inevitably work in us.
What might we do to overcome these terrifying threats?
How to Evangelize When You're Busy
The story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana immediately comes to mind when I think about entering faithfully into evangelism in my frenetic life (John 2). Of course, in Cana Jesus soon turned water into wine. Now it may seem odd, but there are two things Jesus did at the wedding that stand out to me as evangelistic brilliance.
- Jesus showed up. Yes, at a wedding where folks would get drunk. Nothing, not one iota in the text, suggests Jesus agreed with what was going to happen at the wedding or that he even wanted to be there (his mom perhaps dragged him). Jesus simply showed up. And there is a reason. God’s love language is incarnation, being present. And incarnation does not require agreement.
- More importantly, Jesus did almost nothing at the wedding—well, other than tell others what to do. Now the creative and dynamic power to turn water into wine, yes, that was Jesus’ doing. But look at how he did it—he told the attendants to fill the banquet jars with water and then serve it up (John 2:7-8).
Jesus himself didn’t lift a finger. He merely offered some words.
We mustn’t forget the subtle but central image of all those wedding busboys running around, grabbing the massive water containers, stumbling to and fro, sweating, working, toiling, doing what had been told of them to do—all the while Jesus apparently sat down at the table waiting for something to drink. His hand in the miracle were his words.
And look what happened when his words were obeyed! Years ago, this story caught the eye of Shasaku Endo, a Japanese novelist and theologian. In reflecting on the Cana story, Endo pointed out that this showed a unique relationship between himself and the disciples.1 In my estimation, I see this same parallel. Jesus’ disciples would come to learn that doing what he said—just like the attendants did—would lead to powerful and unexpected results. Obedience, or metabolized revelation, had the power even to turn water into wine.
Why is that important for us?
It is important because our tendency is ultimately going to be to try and fix our modern problems. We are going to want to fix our loss of time, fix our abdication of ministry, fix our fear and insular lives. Listen, if we could have fixed them by now, we would have. But what if Jesus at the wedding were our model?
Keep showing up.
Do what Jesus tells you to do.
The Lord of the harvest knows the harvest better than you. Listen to the Lord of the harvest. Listen closely.
And do every little, tiny, humble, seemingly insurmountable thing he tells you to do—even if it seems as silly as filling a banquet jar with water.
As my friend Matthew Sleeth has said, “I believe there is no more persuasive evangelism than the theology of an open door.”2 Even God has an open door to us to enjoy his world that he made and is so gracious to allow us to wander through. Open doors are opened by someone. Where is Jesus asking you to open a door?
Taken with permission from www.evangelvision.com.
1 Shusaku Endo, A Life of Jesus, trans. Richard A. Schuchert (New York, NY: Paulist, 1973), 34.
2 J. Matthew Sleeth, The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book Is a Green Book (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2010), 51.
Dr. A.J. Swoboda (@mrajswoboda) started and serves the Theophilus church community with his wife in Portland, Oregon. He is a professor of biblical studies, theology, and Christian history at George Fox Evangelical Seminary and Concordia University, among others. A.J. is author of Messy: God Likes It That Way. Learn more: http://ajswoboda.com