How can Christians evangelize without undermining themselves or the Gospel in the process? Janelle Alberts shares her experience with the mistaken temptation to “sell” her faith, and how to avoid it.
Is this a sales job?
My friend is an agnostic. Her thoughts around Christianity are largely measured and educated ideas that are most often rational rather than emotional – except for one.
The “ick” factor.
This “ick” factor is a feeling. It is not exclusive to religion. It creeps into hard-sell situations, like when professionals are glad-handing and turning up the volume on closing a deal. If they are bad at that part of their job, it can feel manipulative, but that is not worth getting too upset about since they are literally, simply, doing their job.
But what is a Christian’s job? This is the proverbial hinge where most of us begin to mess things up.
We know the call. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” However, how well do we Christian laborers even know how to do that, especially as a whole team that might not be starting from the same page?
If we are of the mindset that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, we might focus on cultivating the workers that God is sending out. If we are the “you know I love you” crew for every time Jesus asks, we might zero in on feeding his sheep. If we are more old school and centering on practical ways to let God be God while we “be his people,” well, how does one develop a whole job criteria around that?
I’ll speak for myself that this business of letting God be God is tricky. Mind you, the way I know Jesus was not that I introduced myself to him. He introduced himself to me. As in, very young, (and you’ll know this is true because no one would write this kind of fiction; it’s too ridiculous) I was flipping around Bible stories and came to king Xerxes calling for the annals and that reminded him he owed Mordecai a favor and that greased the skids for Esther to accomplish her “such a time as this” rescue of the Israelites. And a very, very young me thought one thing in light of that story: I recognize that God.
I’m not even exaggerating. It was palpable that the God they were talking about was the same God who had introduced himself to me in real life. That is the experience I had and let me tell you, I am actually omitting the most dramatic parts.
It’s not a “hard sell”!
The point is, I can discuss Scripture and care for the alien the orphan and the widow, and bear witness to the gospel but my relationship with Jesus also hinges on that experience that I could not have drummed up myself. I’m surely not able to drum it up for somebody else.
Unfortunately, I try to anyway.
It happens when a friend starts opening up to me about basically anything – life, pain, joy, family, work – and the dialogue is heading in a very TOV (good) trajectory, but it’s just missing, what? Xerxes? Esther? My personal experience?
At that point, it is such a temptation for me to start…filling that in for them. To start compensating for what I don’t see in their story.
Christian laborers deeply want people to believe. In fact I am realizing that there is nothing anyone can say that hurts my feelings worse than the fact that they…don’t. It is terribly painful, actually. I will gladly use every tool in my toolbox to bring about their belief.
But that is not my jurisdiction.
What then is a Christian laborer to do?
At the very least, we can do our part by listening to and believing the gospel ourselves. We can act like we are privy to our job as laborers, who just start, and try, and work, and pivot where we get it wrong and stand firm with endurance rather than disdain.
We can act like the apostle Paul, whose dialegomai (to discuss, dispute, reason) tactics engaged legitimate conversations with people as people, not as deals to close. We can remember that that behavior would not be acting in loyalty to the story of Scripture. That’s not even how the story goes.
We can act like we believe that God pursues people personally, in ways we do not even know.
Because, he does.
And, we can pray. We can pray that as God shows himself to others, we can be ready with words that explain and edify rather than up-sell God because we so badly want others to believe. An up-sell on God is not what is called for in these times (or any time in the history of ever). What these times call for is, for God to do what is his to do and for laborers to do what is ours to do and for God’s word to do what is its to do. Otherwise, all is lost.
Spoiler alert: all is not lost. That is the truth. That is good news.
There is nothing “ick” about that.
Resource: Mark 16:15, Matthew 9:37, John 21:15-25, Jeremiah 7:23, Esther 6-10, Genesis 1:31, Acts 17:2