Evangelism: A Rescue Operation, Not a War

I think a lot of people get intimidated by doing evangelism because they view it as a war when in reality it’s a rescue operation.  (Okay, technically, it is a war as well, but it’s not a war against people but a war against heavenly forces.)

The other day, I was passing out tracts near the campus with a couple Romanian friends. I was having a good but mostly boring experience. One of my friends, meanwhile, was getting into argument after argument with people. But was he sharing the gospel or just spouting truth?

At one point, I ended up talking with a young man who was volunteering to help a group of 300 elementary school-aged children. It was a good conversation. We hadn’t really gotten around to talking about God yet, but we were only 30 seconds into it, and I was just getting to know him. Then, out of nowhere, my friend comes up scolding, “You need to read the Bible. Why are you not reading the Bible?” and effectively shut down our conversation.

Now, in America this would not fly at all. In Romania, where people simply are much more blunt and in-your-face with their opinions, it might work. But there went my opportunity to get to share about the One who loves me so much that I *want* to read the Bible.

Now, I love bold preaching against sin, especially open-air, but I think sometimes we do evangelism all wrong. Rather than coming as rescuers to save the drowning, we go as warriors to shoot those who disagree with us, and end up with more wounded people in the water.

Without much explanation or biblical proof, here are just a couple of the thoughts I’ve been having lately about sharing the gospel.

1. People want to get saved, they just don’t know it yet.
We have to remember the gospel really is good news. People want Jesus. They want salvation. It’s the best message ever. But sometimes their minds are so clouded by sin that they don’t see the message is good. And other times the messenger is so full of religion that they don’t see the message is good. But, at the bottom of it all is the desire of all nations, and people really do want him.

2. The conscience is my friend, so use it.
If I had a nickel for every time someone argued about something that didn’t really matter… “You should go to church!!!” “Uh, no I shouldn’t. I’m not a Christian.” “You believe in reincarnation!!!” “Well, yeah, because the idea of standing in front of a righteous God scares the heck out of me, but you’d never find that out because you never stopped to ask.” When I share the gospel, I try as much as possible to bring things around to matters of the conscience. I’m not always good at this and often get on side arguments, but I’ve seen many times when a convinced atheist began to question himself as he thought about how a holy God would have to treat him; when the conscience starts speaking, dumb doctrines can’t shut it up. Everyone–from Jehova’s Witnesses who don’t believe in hell to Mormons who teach salvation by works and grace, from atheists who say there is no Judge of all to Hindus who believe truth is relative–has a conscience, a record of all the wrong they’ve done, and this is our greatest tool. Rather than debating doctrines and truths, bring the discussion around to the uncomfortable reality of the imperfection of man and God’s call on him towards purity and holiness.

3. Let God convince and convict of whatever sins he wants.
This is similar to the last point but worth its own. My job as an evangelist is not to get people to believe like I believe but instead to get them to recognize their eventual destination is hell unless something drastic changes. If God is hammering on their conscience about reading the Bible, then go along with him. But if not, then don’t just preach at someone whatever you think he’s doing differently than you. On that point, feel free to actually have a *conversation* while sharing the gospel. If you talk with a person (instead of preach at him), then you’re more likely to find out what issues he’s really dealing with and why. You can actually *help* him to change.

4. It’s okay to let a closed conversation end without having the last word.
This is one I’m good at only because I’m a bad debater. Believe me, if I was good at debating, my stubborn nature would kick in, and I’d never leave the conversation. But Jesus told his disciples to “wipe the dust off [their] feet” and move on from a city that wasn’t receptive, so we can treat people the same. If someone doesn’t want to hear, isn’t open to change, just wants to argue, then I don’t have to stick around. There are hungry people out there who really want Jesus, so why waste time with those who aren’t open. I can leave the conversation even with them thinking they won the argument; my job is not to win an argument after all, but to sow seeds and find those whom God is leading to himself.

5. Don’t waste your riches on pigs.
Really, this is just a subpoint to the previous point. Jesus talked about not throwing your “pearls before swine.” To throw your pearls to swine is to give something valuable to someone who cannot understand its value and so wastes it. The gospel is a pearl, the greatest treasure of all, but many people have no clue about the treasure that it is. If someone thinks it’s garbage, he doesn’t want salvation, then I can move on to another. Maybe my method of sharing is bad and needs to changing (perhaps I’m just preaching at him instead of loving him or spouting my pet sins rather than speaking to his conscience) or maybe he’s just plain not open. In either case, it’s time to move on to someone else.

6. Truth must be presented in an understandable language: love.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Although this isn’t Scripture, it’s definitely true when it comes to evangelism. People need to know you care about them before they’ll take time to listen to you. Just like no one would respond if I spoke Russian to people in France, no one responds if I speak without love. The only ones I’ve found who defy this are cults (who want to distract me and maybe convert me) and other Christians (who trust God enough to trust me). But all the rest need to know I care about them if I hope to help them to see Jesus. While there are times for hell-fire and brimstone street-preaching, one-on-one witnessing is awesome for showing people that you actually care about them.

7. Our job is to show Jesus, not to make converts.
Although I’m not advocating merely a social gospel, where instead of preaching Jesus came to rescue men from sin we preach go and make the world a better place, I do want to point out that our primary goal is not to merely get converts but to rescue people. If I go out to share the gospel, and I don’t get a single convert but I get to show love to people in Jesus’ name, then I’ve been successful. I may walk away from a conversation, and the person still calls himself a Buddhist, but if I’ve shown him the heart of Jesus, then it’s a seed planted and a successful encounter. My job is to show Jesus (his love, his power, his holiness, his presence, his partnership with me, his plans) to people, and that may not always result in a convert, now or ever. And that’s okay because I’m going to show Jesus; I’m going as a witness.

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