A few summers ago, I found myself on the downtown streets of my city. Yes, I was passing out tracts. Yes, I was asking people if they knew where they would end up if they died that night. I was doing this under compulsion, for the purpose of passing evangelism class in seminary.
The first night had gone horribly, because I had paired myself with a guy equally awkward at this as me. So the second night, I latched onto a guy who was like the chief boy scout of evangelism.
Not that we made any converts that night.
Since then, the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and even some Baptists have knocked on my door, and none of them look like they’re actually expecting any more success at sharing their faith than I did. But I take heart in this: Jesus did some amazing miracles. He had some great teachings.
But he would be terrible at this. Jesus was not a good evangelist.
Only One Way
I took evangelism class over the summer because it was a one week class. A semester’s work could somehow be crammed into five days, eight hours each.
My professor was kind of a meathead. He had one definition of sharing your Christian faith. It was stopping strangers on their way to catching the bus. He made fun of nancy-boys who watered down this definition and talked about “living” their faith. He went on a tirade against Billy Graham. The textbook was five-hundred incomprehensible pages he had written himself, illustrating how his definition of “sharing your faith” was the only valid one, and various Bible translations had diluted this definition, verse by verse.
There was one phrase that came to mind as he exhorted his own virtues and preached from his own book: theological masturbation. I was glad to only be there for a week.
The Night’s One Convert
When it got dark, and no longer safe for a bunch of suburbanite seminarians to be hanging out on the mean streets, we carpooled back to our side of town.
There was one convert made that night. A student and the professor practically carried a guy, falling down drunk, toward our group. They praised God that he had accepted Jesus. They gave him a card with the address for a local shelter, and we left.
Give me a break.
As we drove home, someone asked if the rest of us really believed everything our professor was teaching us. The group was unanimous: no.
Jesus: Not So Good at Sharing His Faith
The thing is, it seems to me that Jesus was terrible at sharing his faith.
He gave sermons with no altar call. He told parables with no explanation. He performed miracles and immediately blew town. He never knocked on doors (he said he stood at the door and knocked, but he wasn’t being literal about it). He never asked people about where they would go when they died. He didn’t ask people to accept him into their hearts. He didn’t argue with people who rejected him.
But it wasn’t just that Jesus did it differently. Jesus seemed completely ambivalent toward what people thought of him. If they liked him, great. If not, that’s their business. Either way, Jesus had things to do, and trying to convince people to follow him was not on the agenda.
Yeah, Jesus was a crappy evangelist.
A Gift or Requirement?
At least, by our definition, Jesus was a crappy evangelist.
But that’s just the thing.
Jesus brought good news. It was good news for hungry, hurting people.
Jesus looked at good news and faith and belief as a gift. A free gift.
We’ve turned faith and belief into a requirement.
And the only good news we have to offer is that if people believe what we say, they’ll be in our little club.
And most outsiders look at us and say that’s the good news? If I believe what you say, I get to go to church and be a Christian? Thanks, but no thanks.
Am I right? Was Jesus not the great evangelist? Or have we changed the definition to something that Jesus didn’t do and most of us don’t want to do either?