The purpose of Christ’s church is to worship God and to make disciples of the nations. We’ve spent over two thousand years figuring out how to do this. Each generation has had its challenges in the process, often forgetting or ignoring two important elements: love for God and love for others. While there have been beautiful seasons of God’s movement on the hearts of people throughout church history into the contemporary period, there have also been prevalent lethargy and even outright apostasy. My point here is to highlight how a lack of people skills has impacted our efforts at evangelism, resulting in a demonstrable failure to show love to others.
Much of the older Christian generations in the West have been weaned on the idea that evangelism is kind of like salesmanship. You tailor your approach for the needs of the target audience. Some might woo them, wine them, dine them, all the while pointing out the need for salvation and the wonderful multi-faceted features of getting saved. Others more often simply state the requisite information, kind of in a professorial way. They may know the person they are speaking with; they may not. They often feel their duty is done once they have given the talk. Still others engage in roving evangelistic piracy (that’s gonna get me some stern emails, I just know it!), roaming sidewalks, shopping malls, workplaces, schools, and even church foyers, looking for people who show evidence of not being in, and then pouncing on them with zeal, letting the chips fall where they may (usually alienating people from the gospel for years to come; yes, I have had this happen to me, although I was already a believer and mature enough to avoid any bitterness, and also despite the fact it was years before I decided to cut off my shoulder length hair; what can I say? I was follicly blessed!).
I am all for evangelism. You know, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, his bodily suffering and death on the cross in our place for our sins, and his bodily resurrection which signalled the defeat of hell and death, plus the power of sin. I am also for social graces. Evangelism has a very bad name in the real world where people live. Why? Well, it would require a book to list all of the reasons, but chief among them is a pervasive and profound lack of people skills. We simply do not do a good job of relating to people. Oh, sure. On the whole, we may be sugary sweet at first. But when we close the deal, bringing them into the fold, the energy we originally invested in the person tapers off into casual disregard for their ongoing discipleship and our friendship with them. This is not true for everyone. But it is common enough to merit concern. We launch people into the smoothly running machinery of our church systems, assuming that relationships will continue to blossom, when in fact they more frequently wilt. Maybe this is why graduating high school students more often than not check out of the church and faith?
If we approach or befriend people with the primary motive of wanting to evangelize them, our desire to continue that friendship will naturally fade if and when they convert, or if they prove resistant to our efforts. It begs the questions: will we continue to love them and foster friendship with them after they convert to Christ? Will we nurture friendship even if they never choose to follow him?
Proclamation is important. No doubt about it. Relationships, particularly in people groups which are exceedingly difficult to penetrate with the gospel, are paramount. Relationships with no other agenda than to love in the way of Jesus Christ. Not to close an evangelistic deal, prove a theological argument, win a philosophical or political debate, or leverage social authority in a community. Each of those elements can destroy seedling relationships within a community.
Some plant. Some water. God brings in the harvest (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). Are we willing to be patient enough to allow God to do his work in his way even if it means the chief harvest will not occur until after our season of direct personal influence has passed?