Go therefore…

…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.

 20bucks2-1023x477dollar evangelism

dollarPrepare To Meet God Money Tract

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.

Nets

I’m constantly amazed at how people measure their tasks and achievements differently.  When talking with soldiers about their PT routines, I might hear them describe the distance that they ran on a particular morning.  Others might talk about how much weight they lifted or even how long their workout session lasted.  Time, distance, weight, and change in appearance all seem to be measures of success, but they only tell a small portion of the story.  A focused view on success neglects the passion, the purpose, and the limits that so often define a larger commitment to wellness, capability, and faithfulness to God and ourselves.  Take some of Jesus’ disciples, Simon, Andrew, James, and John for instance.  Fisherman who seem to be quite successful in their family fishing businesses suddenly dropping their nets to follow a Rabbi down the beach.  As of that morning, these fishermen might have measured their success in a day or a year upon how many fish they caught, how many men it took to haul up a particularly heavy load, or maybe the size of the largest fish caught, knowing it would catch the highest price.  Their success was tied directly to what they could pull in with their nets and their hands.  Putting their nets down was more than just a rest or a short break, it was a life decision to pursue something more important…or at the least, mysterious.  All of a sudden their lives didn’t rely on their catch of fish.  Their livelihood wasn’t dependent upon making repairs to the nets and patching up the boats.

This seems to be the point in the story that I struggle over and I am sure that many others might hiccup as well.  There is something uncomfortable and disconcerting about a man who will walk away from his work before it’s done.  There is something scandalous and disappointing about a pair of sons that will walk away from their father and leave the employees under their care without direction, assistance, or an explanation.  They just walk away.  From the four young men’s perspective, they can measure their steps following after Jesus.  There might be an excitement, a curiosity, or even a stirring within their soul, but for those who are left in the boats or on the beach, I wonder if those measured steps stir feelings of abandonment, uncertainty, fear, or resentment at having to carry on through the day while shouldering more than their share of the work.

If we take these four fishermen and measure the rest of their lives in fish.  Following Jesus was a complete failure.  They’re quitters and they can’t cut it.  Even after Jesus has died and is buried, they need him to rise from the dead and yell from the shore about where to throw their nets before they catch anything of any significance.  However, if we measure their lives in faith, these four men don’t abandon their lives; rather, they finally begin uncovering their deep potential and priorities.  They being to learn to be fishers of people.  They lay down their nets to take up the larger and more meaningful nets of Christ.  They were caught up, drawn out, and prepared to become nets themselves– cast out into the world not to trap or capture souls, but to heal, comfort, and speak life into a world drowning in hopelessness, anonymity, and profound discouragement.  They begin to measure their lives in faithfulness and sharing their lives with others.  Questions about quantity, quality, and distance become less about fish and more about faith.  How much of my life am I willing to give?  What areas of my life are holding me back?  How far down this beach am I willing to follow?

I wonder if that’s a measure of discipleship.  Are we becoming a net for those who need the unconditional regard of God or are we back on the beach, too caught up already in our own nets?