Monday, September 3, 2012

a bigger picture

So I think I mentioned that I've started taking some classes, kind of just for fun.  We've been talking and reading some about evangelism, and I'm starting to be able to articulate where my thoughts and experiences are fitting into the whole.

When I was growing up (and in the books I'm reading for class now), evangelism is mostly talked about like it's a one-time conversation you have with someone, usually a stranger you go up to on the street.  Depending on your denomination and approach to faith, you might bring along a tract or just your Bible.  And that's when you have a conversation about salvation.  Maybe you start with a question like, "If you died tonight, and God asked why should I let you into my heaven, what would you say?"  But usually you start the conversation somewhere around creation and try to fit in the whole story of redemption in about 2-3 minutes.

My sense is that evangelism is much deeper and much wider than that.  Because I think I see evangelism more like how you teach your kids about God--one day and one small moment at a time.  It doesn't happen overnight, and living a life of faith is something that you only learn by living it out in concrete ways.  You're confronted with an angry co-worker, and you have to decide in that moment how to respond.  What does God want you to do?  What does your heart tell you to do?  How can you invite God into that moment to change you and make you more like Jesus?  It's a million little decisions, day after day, to follow Christ.

I'm not saying that most people don't have a point of decision where they choose for the first time to follow Jesus, but I am saying that we usually don't expect to teach our kids about it all in one sitting.  It's a long, slow process of introducing concepts, ideas, and relationship with God over time.  It's just so much bigger than one conversation.

And I think this is an important distinction, because when we're thinking about evangelism, training for evangelism, or trying to imagine ourselves doing it, we think of it like a confrontation rather than a long relationship of mutual sharing.  And because we don't think of it as a long relationship, we don't really take advantage of all the different opportunities that pop up--just to love someone or to listen to them or to share a story of how God's impacted our own lives because it's relevant in that moment. 

In most of my relationships where I've seen someone come to faith, it hasn't been because I walked up to someone on the street and started talking about sin, judgment, and salvation.  It's been a 2 or 3 year process of listening, learning, and sharing.  Yes, I've had great opportunities to share the whole story of the gospel, but they've been buried in between mundane discussions about life and sprinkled out over a long period of time.

How do you define evangelism?  Is it a one-time conversation or a lifetime of sharing?  Who are you sharing your life with right now?


  1. You can see which type of evangelism is most effective when you look back over the years. Which type of convert begins growing in faith and continues to grow. I believe of lifetime of sharing is the way to effective, life-changing evangelism. We like to have a one-time experience to validate our conversion but it really comes from embracing the Gospel and letting it work in your life to develop your faith.

  2. Brenda,
    I can't agree with you more! I was reading one book this week that talked about how when we're just conversion focused rather than discipleship focused it's like birthing a baby and leaving it out in the elements. How can we expect that such a spiritual newborn can grow and thrive? There has to be some community, some family in which that person can grow up in relationship with Christ, and we're doing them a disservice when we're not integrating them into a community.