…and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of the present age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) I used to be scared of this verse. At the very least, I was annoyed. Whenever I head it preached, studied, published, or flashed up on the screen, I knew I had a weekend of looking forward to awkward door-knocking conversations or handfuls of tracts to hand out and leave in “strategic” locations. I heard words like “saved”, “born again”, and “testimony” and I would feel a sense of dread spreading through my gut. Evangelism was a buzzword for “get ready to be annoying and feel persecuted.” If someone was receptive, awesome! If someone slammed their door in your face or cursed you out, even better. Jesus likes that too! Oh, the memories…
The crowning jewel of my evangelistic upbringing was the $20 bill tract and the fake money tracts.
It was this particular proclamation tool that poisoned any real sense that God was looking down and smiling upon any of this. Half of the tract looks like a twenty-dollar bill. The other half is a mocking revelation that you’re not actually lucky, but probably damned for all eternity. Cagey for sure, but Christ? Sure, it had a sinner’s prayer on the bottom, but who could read it once the recipient burned it or tore it apart in a frustrated rant that Christians can be real tools?
Evangelism had become synonymous with guilt, shame, fear, and awkwardness. When one friend of mine didn’t go down to the altar one night, a youth worker asked him, “don’t you want to live forever with Jesus rather than going to hell?” That’s like asking cake or death! An evangelistic approach that pushes others towards God using the lowest of human emotions denies a God who draws all things to himself through complete love and grace.
So what does healthy evangelism look like? I imagine it looks most like Jesus. The attraction of knocking of doors and handing out tracts is that it doesn’t require a relationship. In fact, it doesn’t even involve a name or a story. All stories are the same, and names are not important. Jesus sat with people though, he heard their stories, met their needs, healed their hurts, called them by name, and demonstrated the complete love of God instantly in their lives. There is an assurance that we matter and are individually significant. God knows our name and speaks life into our stories. With Jesus, there wasn’t only a quick prayer attached to a vague promise of eternal love and acceptance in the future kingdom of God. Rather, a deep and abiding love was fully realized in that very moment coupled with an answer to their heavy and honest prayers.
What’s so shocking about the Great Commission is that most Christians I know can quote it and recall it at will; however, the promise of Jesus’ presence is forgotten, edited for length, or dismissed. He, himself, will be with us every day until the end of the age. We seem to structure our evangelism programs on one of two models. Either we’re doing evangelism because Jesus commanded us to make disciples when he left and we have to do it while he’s gone, or we don’t do anything and leave it completely up to God and we trust him to make disciples independently. I don’t see a faithful Church in either model. As with most things when it comes to the Gospel, to the Good News, it’s done purely when it’s done in relationship. It’s done when we don’t have all the answers and we’re willing to take risks and allow the gospel to come alive in new and crazy ways for others and for us again. The Church needs to look like it’s message. It’s time to start our discipleship and evangelism with a risky commitment to share our lives with others and become a people of stories and names, not tracts and shame.