A Plea for Patient, Relational Evangelism

Ah, evangelism: The ever-so-daunting task of telling people about the saving grace of Jesus Christ; the gospel; the very heart of the Christian faith. And yet the idea of evangelism makes many Christians uncomfortable. Why is that? If the gospel is such great news, then why are so many of us terrified to share it? And if we’re afraid to share the gospel, does that mean we don’t truly believe it?

No, not necessarily.

Actually, I’m willing to bet that many Christians are uncomfortable with evangelism, not because they’re indifferent about the gospel, but because they see evangelism as a cold, terrifying, cosmic sales pitch that rarely ends well.

But what if there’s another way? And what if, based on the teachings of Scripture, this “other way” is actually more faithful than the daunting, spiritual ultimatums that many of us have in mind when we think of evangelism?

What if God has actually given us the freedom to approach evangelism with patience and care for others?

We Can Afford to Be Patient

Contrary to popular opinion, we do not need to demand a spiritual response from people every time we “do evangelism.” We don’t need to end every evangelistic conversation we have with, “Great, now would you like to become a Christian?” This sort of salesman-like, close-the-deal approach to evangelism is prevalent among Christians, yet absent from the Bible. This doesn’t mean that we should avoid encouraging people to place their faith in Christ…after all, that is our aim! But it does means that we don’t need to cram all of our evangelism into a single conversation.

Paul, for example, spent years building relationships, caring for people, and preaching the gospel all along the way (See 1 Thessalonians 2). In the same way, I believe we are free to be patient with people as we share the gospel with them, not insisting that they make a decision and not implying that our friendship with them depends on the way they respond to us. When we try and close the deal every time we share the gospel, we’re essentially saying, “What’s mostimportant about this interaction is not that you respond to God and his gospel, but that you respond to me!” When we do this, we’re unintentionally communicating that our part in evangelism is more important than the spiritual well being of the person we’re sharing the gospel with.

The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that, “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Psalm 3:8). Jesus even specifically taught, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them…” (John 6:44). In other words, we can talk until we’re blue in the face–eloquently explaining every detail of God’s redemptive plan in the most compelling of ways–but if the Spirit of God does not draw that person to Christ then they will not respond in faith.

The Helpful Tension of Evangelism

Now, you might ask: if God is the only one who can draw people to himself then why should we do evangelism in the first place? Great question! The answer is that God, in his infinite wisdom–even though he doesn’t need to use us to bring people to faith–chose to use us to bring people to faith. The key here is that God chose to use us. It’s God, then, who does the real work of bringing a person to faith; we are the ones he uses to make that happen.

The Apostle Paul explains it this way, “Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7). It’s truths like this that make evangelism both extremely important and yet completely out of our hands at the same time…absolutely critical for us to do, yet not up to us to succeed in.

We should sleep well, then. God is in control. He will work. Our job is to obey the call to be his witnesses and point people to the gospel that saves us (Acts 1:8).

We have to let this sink in: no one will ever come to Christ because we convince them to, and our sense of urgency or angst will never coerce God to work in the ways we want him to. For these reasons, we’re free to be patient with our non-christian friends–diligent in sharing the gospel, but trusting that God is all powerful, completely in control, and eager to work through our feeble attempts at pointing people to Jesus.

Focusing on People, Not Just Conversations

Instead of spring-loading every conversation we have with non-christians, what if we wove evangelism into the relationships we have with non-christians? What if, instead of “closing the deal” in one sitting, we become friends with people who are not Christians and engaged them in a long, ongoing, patient conversation about the gospel (and a host of other topics, just like we would do with any other friend)? What if we did away with the self-imposed tensions that we bring into our evangelism (which are not found in the Bible) and embraced the freedom we have in Christ to patiently share the gospel with people, because we care about them (a concept is found all over the Bible)?

I’m hoping you’ve found this helpful! Here are a few more passages to consider as you think through your approach to evangelism…

1 Thessalonians 2:8 – “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

Colossians 4:6 – “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

1 Peter 3:15 – “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”

Philippians 4:5 – “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.”

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 – “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”