This summer I’m adjusting to the self-controlled schedule of online classes. I’m taking Introduction to Evangelism. I know, I’m taking an intro. class my last semester of seminary. To share with you a moment of honest transparency and confession, I put it off until the last minute, praying they might change the core curriculum for my degree program. Alas, they did not and, in the words of that well-known singer/theologian, Garth Brooks, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.”
This class has reminded me of the need to urgently and intentionally share the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost and dying world that surrounds me all of the time. While living in Seminary World I sinfully and selfishly fooled myself into believing that we lived in such a gospel-saturated area that my sharing would only annoy the people around me. I went to three continents in three years to share the Gospel, but never walked across the street to do so. But God even uses our disobedience and fear for His glory. In His perfect timing, I avoided taking Evangelism until I was back in the “Real World” and was forced to once again face head-on the vast lostness present right here in the Bible Belt of America.
While I was watching Doc Reid lecture this morning, he made a statement that I’m sure I’ve heard before, but it resonated in my heart as it shattered my last remaining excuses for not intentionally sharing my faith. His words were simple: “Play to your strengths.” He was discussing the differences between relationship and lifestyle evangelism. For some of us, the idea of going door-to-door, cold calling people or striking up a conversation with the person in line behind us at the store with the intention of sharing the Gospel brings up images of panic attacks and faking illness to avoid the situation. We are not outgoing people with salesman personalities, and the idea of “selling” the Gospel to a complete stranger makes my head explode.
I am much more likely to develop a relationship with someone, get to know them, share my life with them and then, after a connection has been established, confront them with the Gospel. That works for me and my personality and how I live my life. The problem is that when most of us think of evangelism, we only think of visitation with the deacons from church on Tuesday nights. That limited thinking stymies our desire to share our faith.
While Dr. Reid did encourage us to play to our strengths, he also challenged us to develop our weaknesses. I don’t naturally share my faith with strangers, but I also can’t tell you what part of the Christian life comes to me naturally. Naturally I’m selfish and self-centered and a host of other ailments and sinful tendencies. Just like I have to die to self and discipline my fleshly nature in the battle against sin, I must also die to self and discipline myself to practice evangelism. Consider the alternative: I can die to myself for a few moments and risk the possibility of rejection and ridicule before I go along with my day in relative ease. Or I can choose to love myself and my comfort more than that lost soul, essentially telling them that my personal comfort means more to me than their eternal destiny.
So in an attempt to find ways to be more intentional with those I do not know, I began to pray that God would show me things I can do to create opportunities to connect with the lost around me. Connecting with those around us is the key to being able to share the Gospel with them. How do you connect with your neighbors? According to Jesus, who is our neighbor? That’s right, the guy next door AND the lady standing in line behind us at the grocery store and and the Muslim woman in Afghanistan and the gay guy that works in the cubicle next to you and the single mom on welfare shopping next to you at Wal-Mart and everyone in between. Who is your neighbor? Anyone who comes across your path. The common denominator is the image of God found in every human being. Osama bin Laden and your BFF are equally your neighbor when discussing who you should care for in light of the Gospel.
In an answer to my prayer from earlier this morning, Reformissionary blogger Steve McCoy posted some fun and practical ideas on connecting with those around you in a blog entitled Summerbia:Connection Tools. Check it out, then grab a tennis ball and some kids and head to a local park and have some fun and share your faith. It’s guaranteed to be an evening you won’t soon forget.